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.

Reverend William Dodd

Dodd Macaroni parson
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

One of our books has taken us on many circuitous journeys and along the way we have come across some fascinating characters; this one being via a link to Freemasonry in the 1780’s. One of our main characters was closely involved in Freemasonry in London and belonged to the same Lodges as this gentleman – The Reverend William Dodd (1729 – 1777).  Brother Dodd was initiated into St. Alban’s Lodge No. 29 in 1775.  Dodd became the Junior Warden of his lodge and then in 1775 he became the first Grand Chaplain.

Dodd led an extravagant life spending far more than he was earning and as such gained the nickname ‘The Macaroni Parson’ due to his extravagant taste in clothes. Born in Bourne, Lincolnshire he attended Cambridge, after which he moved to London and married the daughter of a domestic servant, which left him in a precarious financial position.  He was a well respected man and known for his charitable work,  Among other things he instituted an unmarried mothers home ( The Magdalen ) for ‘reclaiming young women who had swerved from the path of virtue’; The Humane Society ( for the recovery of persons apparently drowned )  and the Society for the Relief of Poor Debtors.

There was however, another, more sinister side to his character and in 1774 he decided it was time to improve his financial situation and attempted to gain the lucrative position of rector of St Georges, Hanover Square. In order to attempt to secure this post he tried to bribe the wife of the Lord Chancellor, Lady Apsley, by offering her £3,000. The letter offering this bribe was traced back to him and he was dismissed from his existing post. He then decided that life wasn’t so good in England so disappeared to Geneva and France until the dust settled. He finally decided it was safe to return two years later.

In February of 1777 Dodd forged a bond for £4,200 in the name of his former pupil, The Earl of Chesterfield to help clear his debts. The bond was accepted in good faith by the bankers who lent him money on the strength of it. It was only later that the banker realized it was a forgery. Dodd confessed immediately and pleaded for time to rectify this.  This was to no avail – off to prison he went. He was later tried and sentenced to death despite Samuel Johnson writing papers defending him and a petition signed by 23,000 people.

He was publicly hanged at Tyburn on 27th June 1777. The story however didn’t end there.

As was usual practice for the time, those who could afford it would pay for the executioner to steady the body from swaying while suspended from the gibbet – and to cut the body down pretty quickly.  Then the body would be placed in a coach and rushed to an undertaker nearby.  There a surgeon, and a hot bath, would be waiting in an attempt to revive the body.  It didn’t always work, but it was better than nothing.

The executioner kept his part of the bargain and Dodd hoped to be resurrected by Dr John Hunter.  Hunter knew that death by hanging prisoners died a slow death from asphyxiation rather than a broken neck and he believed that if the body arrived with him soon after the hanging that he could revive the prisoner. Ironically, Dodd’s was so popular, and the crowd so incensed at his death, that they mobbed the coach, with his body still in it and held it up for two hours, making any attempt at resuscitation impossible.

Dodd was apparently taken for burial at Cowley, Middlesex. Having checked the parish records there is no entry recording his burial.  Rumours continued for several years that Hunter had in fact succeeded in bringing him back to life. Claims were made by people that they had actually met Dodd well after his supposed death – in France and in Scotland. Did he come back from the dead – who knows, we can but speculate.

Even more ironic, is the fact that Dodd had written a sermon a few years previously titled “The frequency of Capital Punishment inconsistent with Justice, sound policy and religion”, in which he attacked the haphazard application of the death penalty.

The writer Wendy Moore has written a book that tells the whole story ‘The Knife Man’.

Image

Following his death all his property was sold at auction.