ISSUE 19, October 2006
Editorial
Historic: Rabbi and Mason
Travel: Morocco's exotic charm
Quarterly Communication: Address by the Pro Grand Master and Report of the Board of General Purposes
Working with Youngsters: The Grand Master goes fishing
Community Relations: Saying it with flowers
International: Spanish Freemasonry under the microscope
   Events: Grand Lodge Award; Royal Masonic Variety Show
Specialist Lodges: Masonry on the canal
Freemasonry and Society: A Churchman's view of Masonry
Education: Toast of the town and Events
Young Masons: The Universities Scheme
Library & Museum: The Freemasons's Tontine
Masonic Charities: The Grand Charity and NMSF and RMTGB and RMBI
Letters
Book reviews
Gardening

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Photograph courtesy of the Library & Museum of Freemasonry

The design exterior by architect Frederick Cockerell. The Foundation Stone was laid in April 1864
   One of the more unusual collections within the Grand Lodge archives relates to the Freemasons’ Tontine which was one of the ways in which funds were raised to build the first Freemasons’ Hall in the 1770s. Although tontines are now illegal in most countries including Britain (possibly because they encouraged the murder of beneficiaries!), in the 1700s they were widely used.
    So what is a tontine? The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word tontine as meaning:
    A financial scheme by which the subscribers to a loan or common fund receive each an annuity during his life, which increases as their number is diminished by death, till the last survivor enjoys the whole income.
    The word itself derives from the name of the man credited with inventing the idea, Lorenzo de Tonti. In 1653 Tonti, an Italian who established a political career for himself in France, presented to the French king, Louis XIV, a scheme to raise money by inviting contributions from citizens who would receive a share of the fund’s income whilst they were still alive.
    Once all contributors were dead the capital would revert to the state. He described the idea as “a gold mine for the king … a treasure hidden away in the realm”. The scheme was not taken forward by the French parliament until 1689, a few years after Tonti’s death in 1684, the resulting tontine raising 3.5 million livres.
    England’s first tontine was organised by the Government in 1693. It had limited success as only 10% of the target amount was raised. However, tontines continued to be used throughout the 1700s, less so by the Government but increasingly by organisations, often to raise capital to fund building projects. The evidence of this is demonstrated through the number of Tontine Streets and Tontine Hotels that are still in existence today.
    The suggestion of raising money to fund the building of the first Freemasons’ Hall through a tontine was considered at a meeting at the Thatched House Tavern on 16 February 1775.
    At a meeting of Grand Lodge on 22 February the scheme “which would immediately raise a sum of £5,000 to carry into execution the design of the Society in building a Hall by granting annuities for lives” was formally approved.
    John Allen, Provincial Grand Master for Lancashire, prepared “Proposals” for the regulation of the tontine, which were later printed “for the use of the subscribers”.
    In the Freemasons’ Tontine there were 100 shares of £50 each. (The modern equivalent in terms of spending power would be £3,000).
    There were no problems finding subscribers, indeed the minutes of the meeting of 16 February (before the scheme had been officially approved by Grand Lodge) record that after the resolution was passed “25 lives [were] subscribed for”.


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