The Province of Yorkshire, North and East Riding
Is one of the 47 into which the Freemasonry of England and Wales is divided for the purposes of administration.
These Masonic Provinces broadly correspond with the English and Welsh Counties prior to the Boundary Commission changes of 1974.
Here is a brief history of the Province.
The Early History of the Province.
Here in the County of the City of York, or Yorkshire, long before Freemasonry, our forefathers saw the need to divide the biggest County in England onto the three Ridings, a word derived from the old Norse thrithjungre meaning ‘third part’, which later evolved into the old English thriding.
The three Ridings were the North, East and West Ridings, whose boundaries met and encircled the ancient City of York which was independent of them all.
In terms of size they were always somewhat unequal thirds, the West Riding covering 2775 square miles, the North Riding 2128, and the East Riding 1172.
The Masonic Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings shares its early history with our sister Province of Yorkshire West Riding, but initially the North and East Ridings were overlooked.
The first two Provincial Grand Masters in Yorkshire were William Horton in 1739, and Edward Rookes in 1740, for the West Riding only.
It was probably not until 1769 with the appointment of a true Yorkshire man, James Heseltine, as Grand Secretary in London, that the Premier Grand Lodge of England became better acquainted with the geography of the County. It was no doubt upon his advice, that in 1771 Sir Thomas Tancred was appointed Provincial Grand Master for the whole of Yorkshire.
These were the early years of Provincial Grand Lodges, which had not yet evolved into what they are today. Originally there were no Provincial Grand Officers, nor Provincial Meetings, the office of Provincial Grand Master not being much more than that of an honorary local representative of Grand Lodge.
It was only after the Provincial system had developed considerably, that in 1817 it became clear that a Provincial Grand Lodge for the whole of Yorkshire based in York, was not satisfactory. The Industrial Revolution had brought about demographic changes whereby the bulk of the population lived in the industrial West Riding as opposed to the more rural North and East Ridings.
This was reflected in the distribution of lodges, the West Riding had 29 lodges in 24 towns, and the City of York and the North and East Ridings had 9 lodges in 6 towns. Accordingly, Grand Lodge divided Yorkshire into two Provinces, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and North and East Ridings which included York.
It was a logical and amicable split, and today we enjoy the closest of fraternal relations with our sister Province of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The first Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings was the Rt Hon Lawrence Dundas, 1st Earl of Zetland, which was the start of a long and happy association with the Earls and Marquesses of Zetland as Provincial Grand Masters that lasted until 1984.
Regarding the City of York.
York occupies an intriguing place in the legends, myths, and history of Freemasonry, and has lent its name to the York Rite of America, and even a Grand Lodge in Mexico.
Two important supposed events which have made York famous, are the Assembly of Masons at York in 926, held by Prince Edwin, and the even more mythical alleged attempt in 1561 by an armed force acting upon the orders of Queen Elizabeth I., to break up an Assembly at York under the Grand Mastership of Sir Thomas Sackville.
The latter story continues that the visitors were well received and returned to the Queen with a glowing report, “who esteem’d them as a sort of Men that cultivated Peace and Friendship, Art and Sciences without meddling in the Affairs of Church or State” – Anderson’s Constitutions of 1738.
These two legends have created a belief, that a General or Grand Lodge was established at the City of York in the tenth century, and that no similar meeting was held elsewhere; that a General Assembly and a Grand Lodge are one and the same thing; and that the Constitutions of the English Lodges are derived from the General Assembly or Grand Lodge at York.
In the words of the great Masonic historian R F Gould, writing in the 1880s, “These pretensions, though reasserted again and again in times less remote from our own, are devoid of any historical basis, and derive no support whatever from the undoubted legends of the Craft.”
Back in the real world, in 1717 four old London lodges founded the first Grand Lodge in the world, the Premier Grand Lodge of England. For reasons far too complex to explain here, in 1751, a rival Grand Lodge which confusingly called itself the ‘Antients’ whilst referring to the older Premier Grand Lodge as the ‘Moderns’, was founded in London. In 1813, the Premier Grand Lodge and the Antients Grand Lodge united to form the current United Grand Lodge of England.
Along the way, in 1725 an old lodge in York, which was probably of similar antiquity to the founding lodges of the Premier Grand Lodge of England, started to call itself the Grand Lodge of All England, or the York Grand Lodge, basing its claims on the legends of Grand Assemblies of Masons in York from the year 926. It had very limited success and long periods of dormancy. It founded eleven lodges which no longer exist, before disappearing in 1792.