Bro. F.R. Worts, Quatuor Coronati Lodge # 2076, London England
W. Bro. K. Sheriff, Dist. GL of Gibraltar
It has been edited with additional comments by:
V.W. Bro. Barry D. Thom
There can be no doubt that today’s Masonic apron has been developed from the apron worn by operative masons in the middle ages. The few surviving examples show that the operative apron was fashioned from the skin of an animal, most likely sheep. It was large enough to cover the wearer from chest to below the knees.
Its flap or bib was held by a leather cord, which passed around the neck. Cords were attached to each side. This enabled the stonemason to tie the apron around his waist ending up with a tied bow at the front. The bottom had rounded corners. The use of this rough apron continued to be used for many centuries. It was also used by speculative Masons, when attending lodge, with this difference. The apron must be new and never used in the workplace. In 1741, we see, in the minutes of one lodge, that a Brother was fined for wearing his working apron in the lodge.
In speculative Masonry, around 1720, we see a picture of a Tyler carrying a number of aprons. These have long tie-strings which seem to be of leather. They are also large, well capable of covering a man from chest to below his knees. The method of tying on the apron was that of operative masons, with the bow and strings in front. This method was continued later, even when silk or linen strings were used.
It is thought possible that in the 1730s some Speculative Masons were experimenting with fabrics other than leather for their aprons. We do not know when the very long aprons went out of use, however, pictures show them still in use in 1754. The early fashion of wearing the bib or flap up soon fell into disfavour. The bib was either cut off, or worn turned down. On our aprons today, we refer to this as the flap.
From 1731, onwards leather gave way to softer fabrics, silk, satin, velvet, linen, and chamois leather. The flap, when retained, was either cut to a triangular form or in a semi-circular line. The lower part of the apron was sometimes squared off, but generally, the corners were trimmed to give a semi-circular line. The leather cords were replaced by ribbons or strings.
Between 1740 and 1790, elaborately-painted or embroidered aprons came into fashion, and continued to be favoured, until the Union of GL’s in 1813. Many of these aprons were homemade. The most popular designs usually included the Square and Compasses, the All-Seeing Eye, the Pillars, Working tools, and the Mosaic pavement. As time went on the apron size grew smaller and smaller.
Grand Lodge Officers first edged their aprons with light blue silk but by 1750 they changed the colour to purple. Soon after the Master Mason’s aprons were edged in the light blue.
In 1815, the new United Grand Lodge enforced a standardized apron. The specified apron dimensions were as follows:
The E.A. apron, without a flap, is to be of white lambskin, with white strings attached at the top for tying. It is to be 14-16 inches wide, 12-14 inches deep, and square at the bottom.
For the F.C. apron, add two sky blue rosettes at the bottom. No Flap.
For the M.M. apron, this time with a flap, add a third sky blue rosette to the flap, plus sky-blue edging of 1 1/2 inches in width.
For the next 150 years, there was little change. Today it is ruled that the apron of the E.A. must have a “flap”, that the two rosettes of the F.C. must be attached “to the lower corners” of the apron, and that the aprons of Master Masons are to be edged with sky blue ribbon of “not more than two inches in width”, that “silver tassels” must hang over the face and that the tie strings must also be “sky blue”.
Next, we come to the tassels. These evolved from the waist-strings being tied at the front and hanging down over the apron. The ends of the ties were edged, usually with gold fringe, so that when tied at the front the fringed ends have the appearance of a pair of tassels. It is impossible to say when the silver tassels made their first appearance as standard decoration for the M.M.’s apron. While they were probably in use sometime before 1841, the first recorded evidence shows up in the Book of Constitutions of that same year. There appears to be no record of when the silver rope tassels gave way to two strips of ribbon on which are attached seven chains. The seven chains themselves are full of symbolic meaning and represent various Masonic allegories such as the seven liberal Arts and Sciences, the number of Masons required to make a lodge perfect, the number of years it took king Solomon to build the temple, etc. The two ribbons and chains represent the pillars of B. and J.
The origin of rosettes is also unknown. It is probable, however, that their original purpose was purely ornamental. The origin of the word “rosette” comes from the French language and means ‘little rose’.
There appears to be no official name for the squares or levels which decorate the apron of a Master or Past Master. The 1815 Constitutions described them as “perpendicular lines upon horizontal lines, thereby each one forming two right angles”. Originally, they were to be of inch-wide ribbon. Today the emblems are of silver coloured metal. They were designed only for the purpose of distinction.