A Brief History of the order
The four degrees of what is now termed the Cryptic Order were imported from America, so we should start by taking a brief look at American Masonry in the mid-eighteenth century.
At that time, American Masonry was operated by a number of Provincial Grand Lodges and Private Craft Lodges deriving their authority mainly from the Ancients Grand Lodge of England and, naturally and in accordance with the practice of the Ancients, a whole range of post-Craft Degrees were being worked in these Craft Lodges, including the Royal Arch, the Mark and the Knight Templar. At this time there was also a Grand Lodge held in Charleston, Virginia, which worked the twenty five degrees of the Rite of Perfection, including the Cryptic Degrees.
Following the American War of Independence, the Rite of Perfection fragmented and the four Cryptic Degrees were worked as part of the York or American Rite, comprising a total of ten degrees and, finally, with the setting up of State Grand Councils of Royal and Select Masters, three of the four were controlled by them and the fourth, the Degree of Most Excellent Master, was controlled by the American Grand Chapters.
Other Degrees from of Rite of Perfection found their way into England and some eventually became constituents of the Ancient and Accepted Rite whilst others found their way into the Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees.
In 1869 The Rev. George Raymond Portal became Grand Master of the English Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons and very soon decided that it was time the Cryptic Degrees were introduced into England. He, and other prominent Masons of the day, petitioned the Grand Council of New York and the Grand R.A. Chapter of New York to enable this to happen and, accordingly, in 1871, an American businessman, Right Illustrious Companion Jackson Chase, a Grand Officer in both the Grand Chapter and the Grand Council of New York, was granted authority by the latter to form private councils and to work the four degrees in England and, on the 4th July that year, in England, he conferred all four degrees on the Rev. George Portal and ten other eminent Masons.
Also on that day, Jackson Chase proceeded to constitute the first private council, namely, ‘The Grand Master's Council No. 1’. On the 4th August of that year, the new council met and six more companions were introduced into the Order, including Companion F Binkes, the then Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.
Jackson Chase then proceeded to constitute three additional councils, namely:-
Finally and quite beyond his authority, on that day in August 1871, Jackson Chase formally constituted a ‘Grand Council for England and Wales’ and it was agreed that the new Grand Council would meet under the banner of each of its four constituent councils in rotation and that the chosen council would receive all dues payable but would also bear the cost of the proceedings.
So, all was looking good for English Cryptic Masonry. However, it was not long before the Grand Master of the Grand Council of New York learned of what had been going on in London and he was not amused!
In fact, he wrote to our English companions pointing out that R. Ill. Companion Jackson Chase had been empowered only to make Cryptic Masons and constitute private councils, not to create a sovereign Grand Council. Now, although Jackson Chase had clearly exceeded his brief, it would appear that the Grand Master of New York was prepared to overlook this indiscretion provided the four English councils were looked upon as having been constituted within the Grand Council of New York.
The Grand Master further pointed out that, if in the fullness of time the four Councils wished to form themselves into a Grand Council, they would require the permission of the Grand Council of New York; In the interim, the Grand Master issued a dispensation to enable Companion Binkes to reconstitute and dedicate the four councils within the Grand Council of New York. They were accordingly granted warrants and given the numbers 57 to 60 on the roll of that Grand Council.
They were now at least regular if not English!
This situation pertained for the next two years.
Fortunately, with the passage of time, the Grand Master’s temper cooled and on the 29th July 1873, Companions Chase, Portal, Binkes and other members of the four councils met at the offices of the Supreme Council 33rd Degree in Golden Square, London, at which meeting a representative of the Grand Master of the Grand Council of New York was also present.
With the approval of the New York Grand Master, the four councils proceeded to form themselves into a sovereign Grand Council and Canon Portal, now Past Grand Master of the Mark Degree, was elected, installed and proclaimed Most Puissant Grand Master of the new Grand Council, with Companion Binkes as Grand Recorder.
The four councils were renumbered back to 1, 2, 3 and 4!
In 1886, the word ‘Puissant’, changed to ‘Illustrious’.
By the end of the nineteenth century, some twenty three years after its formation, the Grand Council had issued twenty four warrants with a total membership of about 450, but not all the councils flourished and some died in their early years.
It is interesting to note that, of the original four councils forming the Grand Council, only the Grand Master’s Council has worked continuously since its formation; Constantine No. 2 languished and was revived in 1886; Macdonald No. 3 became dormant and was revived in 1894 and given the new name Matier; Mark Council No. 4 became dormant on two occasions and was revived, first in 1886 and given the name Portal and, secondly, in 1890, when it was given the name Euston, which it still holds today.
Today, we are governed by the twelfth Grand Master to be installed since 1873. The current Grand being Most Illustrious Kessick Jones, who was installed as such in April of last year.
During that time, the Grand Council of England and Wales has constituted four daughter Grand
New South Wales; Victoria; South Australia and France
Within the constitution, there are 27 District Grand Councils, 23 of which are in England and Wales and three are overseas, namely:-
The District of South & East Caribbean
The District Grand Council of South Africa and
The District Grand Council of South East Asia
There are also three District Grand Inspectorates, namely:-
North & East India
Southern & Western India
In all, around 333 warrants have been issued and there are over 240 councils in existence today, of which all but 14 are within Districts or Inspectorates. The 14 unattached councils include Euston No.4, which is the Council of which the Grand Master is traditionally a member and is considered his own personal Council.
The total membership of the Order currently stands at over 4000.
In conclusion brethren, I must talk about The District of London, which until recently, consisted of 10 Councils, 9 of which meet in this very building, with one meeting at the SELMC in Penge.
And we have approximately 350 members in the District.