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.
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It would be unfair not to include how the apron of an Antient York Mason is worn. First I must explain the term Antient York Mason. The second Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1751 and attracted the working-class people, and the military. This Grand Lodge claimed their origin back to King Athelstan, and his son Prince Edwin, of York England. Alas, King Athelstan had no children. When he died, his brother ascended the throne. As his kingdom was south of York it would never have included the city of York. Thus, this is a fairy tale, or more gently put a legend.
In 1813, we see the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. At that time, we must examine the Masonic allegiance in the USA. Although the second Grand Lodge of England started 34 years later than the first, they were much more aggressive in their recruitment. By 1813 lodges in the USA were split between the two English Grand Lodges, and were more or less equal in numbers. Masonic ties to England, because of the American Revolution or War of Independence, depending on which side you were on, were basically severed. The War of 1812-14 plunged relationships even deeper. So, then the correct term is pre-and-post, 1813 Masonry. However, the ritual of the Antients and Moderns was basically identical.
The common apron of the late pre-1813 Mason was of cloth with drawstrings. The cloth or linen apron most likely came about due to the economy of the times. They were, and are, kept in a box at the lodge hall. Today, in parts of the USA, while the officers do wear aprons similar in style and quality to ours, the members in the columns do not. They continue to wear the cloth apron, however, it has no distinctive markings to differentiate the rank. An E.A. wears his, with the flap up, a F.C. is noted by taking the left bottom corner of the apron, up diagonally, and tucking it behind the drawstring on the top right side. A M.M. wears his with the flap down. Each state has their own rules so I can only report what I saw when visiting Florida. They wear their aprons inside of their suit jacket, as do Scottish Masons.
It is my belief, although I have no proof, that in 1813 when the Emulation ritual and new Constitution was written, the United GL of England reverted back to how the operative masons wore their aprons. That being on the outside of their clothing as protection from the rough stones that they handled.
When a Canadian lodge has been in existence for 100 years all silver parts of the apron and collar are changed to gold. A GL also uses gold parts and trim.
In Canada, the District GL of Scotland only exists in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their lodges are allowed to choose their own tartan or colour. The flaps on their aprons are rounded and they wear their aprons inside of the suit jacket as does the GL of Ireland and GL’s in the United States of America.