The work of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry is outlined by John Hamill
Arts Tower – home of
the Centre for Research
Freemasonry for too long was ignored as
subject for serious academic research, mainly
because Freemasonry was seen as a “secret
society” and academics believed that they
would not get access to prime source
material to work on.
The opening of the Centre for Research
into Freemasonry, within the Humanities
Research Institute of the University of
Sheffield, has changed that view. The
idea for the Centre came from within
the Humanities Research Institute itself.
Freemasonry was seen as a cross-discipline
area for research involving social history,
biblical studies, fine arts, the history of
ideas and cultural studies. Their enthusiasm
increased after a visit to Freemasons’ Hall
in London, where they were shown the
wealth of archival material and other
resources which could be made available
The initial idea was to seek funding for a
permanent Chair in Masonic studies within
the University, which would have required
a capital endowment of one million pounds.
As discussions continued, the idea of a
Centre emerged and Grand Lodge, the
Province of Yorkshire West Riding and
the Marquess of Northampton agreed to
providing funding for the first three years.
The first problem was to find a Director,
and the University was very lucky to attract
Dr Andrew Prescott, who was seconded
from the British Library. Not a Freemason,
in a little over four years he has become
addicted to Masonic research and is gaining
an international reputation as a speaker
to both Masonic and academic audiences.
With enormous energy he has also tackled
the administrative problems of setting up the
Centre and organising its programmes. After
three years of hard work, Dr Prescott was
invited to become the full time Director of
the Centre with the rank of full Professor.
The core activities of the centre are
regular public seminars led by experts in
the particular topic and conferences on a
Masonic theme in co-operation with other
departments of the University and outside
organisations. The Centre now has half
a dozen postgraduate students working
towards a Doctorate, amongst whom is
our Past Grand Secretary, Jim Daniel.
Professor Prescott is now working on
courses leading to a Master of Arts degree
and is looking to use new technology to
provide “distant learning” facilities for those
who cannot get to Sheffield.
Technology will be central to the work
at the Centre. Already a CD Rom has been
produced giving searchable access to the
various editions of William Preston’s
Illustrations of Masonry, and an on-line
version of John Lane’s
Masonic records 1717 –
1895, which lists details of all the lodges
formed under the Grand Lodges of England
during that period, is being worked on.
The Centre has its own web site which gives
details of its activities and access to papers
given. Its address is www.shef.ac.uk/~crf.
An exciting development is the
possibility of a physical centre. The
Humanities Research Institute is moving
to new premises and the plans include
space for the Centre for Research into
Freemasonry. That will, of course, require
additional funds, but will enable the Centre
to expand its work, which is seen as an
important part of Grand Lodge’s policy
of better informing the public about
Freemasonry. The Centre is registered
as a Charity, and Grand Lodge and Supreme
Grand Chapter have agreed to continue
providing core funding up to 2009. The
Centre is well worth our support and lodges
and individuals can contribute to its funds.
John Hamill is Director of Communications at
the United Grand Lodge of England