Making a sailor a free mason Piercy Roberts 1807, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Signs & signals used by the members of the Society of Freemasons 1724

As part of our research for our next book we briefly delved into the secret world of the freemasonry, specifically, Bartholomew Ruspini and his acquaintances.

Bartholomew Ruspini, Wellcome Library
Bartholomew Ruspini. Stipple engraving by W. S. Leney.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

So, today we thought we would share with you some information from a book we came across from 1724, The secret history of the free-masons. Being an accidental discovery, of the ceremonies made use of in the several lodges .  The book contained a dictionary explaining the private signs or signals used by the members of the Society of Freemasons and though there were too many for us to include all of them, we thought you might find this selection interesting.

As to the truth or accuracy of these we couldn’t possibly comment, but it seems highly unlikely that any of these are in use today. How on earth people remembered all these discreet codes remains a mystery, so we’ll be testing you later just to be sure you’ve learnt them all!

Back. To put the right hand behind him, fetches a member down from any edifice that is not built to an Holy use and to put the left hand behind him, signifies that the member must come to the public house nearest the place where he is at work, whether it be tavern, alehouse or the like.

Belly. To put the right hand on it, is a sign for the member to be in the Mall in St. James’s Park in an hour. And to put the left hand upon the belly, is a sign for his being in Westminster Abbey in two hours.

Westminster Abbey; British School | Bowles, Thomas, Government Art Collection.
Westminster Abbey; British School | Bowles, Thomas; Government Art Collection

Breast. To clap the right hand upon the right breast, is a signal for a member to meet him makes it in St Paul’s Cathedral at the time of morning prayer. And to clap the left hand upon the left breast, signified you will be at St Paul’s Cathedral at the time of evening prayer.

Button. To rub the right hand down the coat buttons, is a sign for a member to be upon the Royal Exchange at the beginning of change time. And to rub the left hand down the coat buttons, signifies he shall be at the Sun Tavern in Threadneedle Street, as soon as change is over. Also, to rub the right hand down the waistcoat buttons, signifies he must be at The Horns Ale House in Gutter Lane at nine of the clock the next morning. And to rub the left hand down the waistcoat buttons signifies that you must be at the same ale house at eight of the clock next night.

Cheek. To scratch your right cheek with either hand signifies the member must be in Lincoln’s Inn Walks at eight of the clock next morning. And to scratch his left cheek with either hand, signifies he must be walking under the chapel of the same Inn next day about dinner time.

Dog. If the member that makes the sign has a dog with him, and calls him to him to stroke him, it signifies that the member to whom the sign is made must be in the long Piazza in Covent Garden, at two of the clock in the afternoon.

Covent Garden, British School, Government Art Collection.
Covent Garden; British School; Government Art Collection

Eye. To rub the right eye with either hand, signifies the member must come to his house that makes the sign, at seven of the clock next morning. And to rub the left eye with either hand, signifies that he must go to the same place at dinner time.

Heel. To touch the heel of either shoe, with either hand, by lifting it up, signifies that the member must be at the King’s Arms in Southwark, precisely by noon.

View in St James's Park; British School; Government Art Collection
View in St James’s Park; British School Government Art Collection

Knee. To touch either knee, with either hand, signifies the member must be walking upon the Parade in St. James’s Park, about four of the clock in the afternoon.

Paper. To send a piece of paper done up like a letter, tho’ there is nothing writ in it, signifies the member to whom it is sent must be at the Bussler’s Head Tavern by Charing Cross at four of the clock in the afternoon.

Sword. To put either hand upon the hilt of the sword, signifies the member must be at The Half Moon Tavern in the Strand by eight of the clock at night.

Buckingham House, c1754. Courtesy of British Museum
Buckingham House, c1754. Courtesy of British Museum

Watch. To pull a watch out of the fob, signifies the member must be walking by Buckingham House, in St. James’s Park about one of the clock in the afternoon.

Youth. To send a letter with the word Youth writ in it, signifies the member must be walking behind the Banqueting House in White-Hall at four of the clock in the afternoon.

Banqueting House in Whitehall (1723-1724) Courtesy of British Museum
Banqueting House in Whitehall (1723-1724) Courtesy of British Museum

Zachary. To send a letter with only the word Zachary writ in it, signifies the member must be at the Sun Tavern in King’s Street in Westminster, at eight of the clock at night.

Chevalier Ruspini, the founder of the first school, leading the pupils into Grand Lodge in the presence of HRH George, Prince of Wales.
Chevalier Ruspini, the founder of the first school, leading the pupils into Grand Lodge in the presence of HRH George, Prince of Wales. Courtesy of Freemasonry Today, 13 March 2013

Featured Image

Making a sailor a free mason, Piercy Roberts 1807, courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

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