ISSUE 11, October 2004
Elias Ashmole: Masonic Icon
Travel: The magical beauty of Scotland
Honoured: By the Glovers' livery company
The Theatre: Strong links between Craft and stage
Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Mauritius: Fascinating Masonic history
Rochester Cathedral: Kent Masons' magnificent fresco
Clerkenwell: 25 years of Masonry
  Bravery award: One Mason's heroism is honoured
Christmas shopping: What to buy in London's West End
High flight: Helping terminally ill children
Jewels of the Craft: An essential part of Masonry
Library & Museum: John Pine exhibition and Library & Museum Trust report
Masonic education: Events for Masons; Quatuor Coronati Lodge; Mentors for new Masons
Charities: Masons provide emergency aid for flood victims; Charity news; Demelza gives voice
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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Featured Masons

The Duke of Wellington
Neal Arden
Elias Ashmole
Richard Eve
John Pine
Cyril Spackman


It may be said that never in the annals of Freemasonry has so much been attributed by so many to one man: Elias Ashmole. Yet Ashmole’s own direct patronage of the Craft was minimal at best. Why then the attention? And, more intriguingly, why should a man of Ashmole’s standing become a Freemason in the first place?
     Ashmole was born in modest surroundings on 23rd May 1617 at Lichfield, Staffordshire. The well-respected family was not wealthy and the young Elias was an ambitious man.
     He pursued, from a young age, a diversity of interests that were to become the hallmark of his life. He also pursued money and wealth and his second marriage in 1649 to Lady Mainwaring, 20 years his senior, was the transparent fulfilment of his ambition.
     He was now able to begin to amass the large collections of manuscripts, coins, astrological and archaeological specimens and medical artefacts of which we are today the beneficiaries. In 1675 his whole collection was donated to Oxford University and the world-famous Ashmolean Museum, the first museum in Great Britain, opened its doors.
     By 1633 the talented 16-year-old had finished music school in his home town to find himself following a legal career in London. This served him well. Ashmole was constantly embroiled in litigation, which he invariably won.
     The culmination of his legal career was the prestigious admission to the Middle Temple in 1657. By age 25 Ashmole appears to be retired. Having given up his legal activities he returned to Peter Mainwaring’s house in Smallwood, Cheshire in 1642 just as the Civil War was about to engulf the country.
     He spent the next few years in leisure, composing poetry, reading and acting as legal consultant. Ashmole was a staunch Royalist and in May 1644 he was appointed a Collector of Excise and sent to Oxford where he decided to remain.
     His name is closely associated with Brasenose College, although he does not appear to have graduated from Oxford University, being given an honorary degree later in life. During the course of 1645 and 1646, crucial years in the Civil War, Ashmole’s political and military careers developed on parallel lines.
     In May he was appointed as one of the King’s Gentlemen of the Ordnance of the Garrison. In December 1645 Charles I appointed him commissioner, receiver and registrar of excise of the City and County of Worcester.
     In March 1646 he was made Captain of the Foot by Lord Astley, commander of the Royalist infantry. Two months later, as Assistant Master of Ordnance, Ashmole witnessed the surrender of Worcester to Cromwell’s forces and the final defeat of King Charles in September 1646.
     It was during this lull that he took a six-month ‘break’ returning to Smallwood and on 16 October 1646 he was made a Freemason in Warrington. His initiation took place at 4.30 in the afternoon. The precise time can be given thanks to what are known as the Elias Ashmole diaries, but were in fact biographical annotations.
     Ashmole only began the chronological ‘collection of occurrences and accidents for my life’ on 26 December 1679. It was intended as source material for a future biography, which never materialised.
     He did keep a cipher diary between 1645 and 1649 in which his initiation is recorded; otherwise the entries prior to 1679 were inserted from memory. His last diary entry is dated 1692. In the whole of his extensive manuscript annotations there are only two references to his Masonic activities, dated 1646 and 1682. The first 10-line entry is lucid and typical of his entries:

1646 Oct. 4H.30pm I was made a Free-Mason at Warrington in Lancashire with Coll. Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in Cheshire. The names of those that were of the Lodge, Mr Rich: Penkett Warden. Mr James Collier, Mr Rich Sanchey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Rich: Ellam, Hugh Brewer.