2016 Lecture – Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?

Prof. Andrew Prescott
Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Glasgow

Prof. Andrew PrescottAndrew Prescott is Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow. He is also Theme Leader Fellow for the ‘Digital Transformations’ strategic theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the major funder of advanced research in the humanities in the UK. Andrew trained as a medieval historian, completing a doctoral thesis in 1984 on the records of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. He was a curator in the Department of Manuscripts of the British Library from 1979 to 2000, where, among other responsibilities, he was the lead curator for the pioneering digitisation project Electronic Beowulf edited by Kevin Kiernan, and took a major role in the move of the Manuscript Collections from the British Museum to St Pancras. From 2000 to 2007, Andrew served as the founding Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at the University of Sheffield. He has also been Librarian of the University of Wales Lampeter and Head of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. Andrew is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Royal Historical Society.

Andrew’s Sankey lecture has been prepared jointly with the 2015 Sankey Lecturer, Dr Susan Mitchell Sommers of St Vincent’s College. Andrew and Susan have previously collaborated on a number of studies, including an analysis of Thomas Dunckerley’s interest in female masonry.

2016 Lecture – Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?

Covent Garden in the early 18th century was one of the most exciting, creative and dangerous places in Europe, where fashionable venues stood cheek by jowl with brothels and dangerous taverns, a magnet for writers, artists, freethinkers, courtesans and criminals. The historian Vic Gatrell has recently claimed that Covent Garden was the first bohemian quarter whose achievements make the Left Bank, Montmartre or Greenwich Village look pallid. It was here, according to the traditional account, that the initial steps were taken which led to the formation of the first Grand Lodge of Freemasons in London, the event which is usually seen as marking the birth of freemasonry in its modern form. James Anderson, author and editor of the Constitutions of the Free-Masons, claimed that in 1716 four masonic lodges from London met together at the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, close to the centre of Covent Garden, and  agreed to revive the annual feast. As a result, according to Anderson, these lodges held a feast at the Goose and Gridiron, near St Paul’s Cathedral in London, on June 24, 1717 and elected a grand master.

Given its significance in the history of Freemasonry, we know remarkably little about the Apple Tree in Charles Street or its role in the bohemian world of Covent Garden. Anderson’s account of the masonic meetings of 1716-17 was written 20 years later and included in the second edition of his Constitutions. The account is not substantiated elsewhere, but we do have many records and reports relating to Covent Garden and Charles Street. This lecture will discuss what information we can assemble about the Apple Tree and consider how far it supports Anderson’s story about the formation of the Grand Lodge.

To see the poster for the lecture click here.


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