The one of the elders takeing the Booke and that hee or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall be given.

That’s from a text from 1693 (!), so well before the establishment of the ‘Premier Grand Lodge’ in 1717. Does this “York manuscript No. 4” refer to operative women, or women in speculative lodges? Wikipedia describes the document thus:

The group of masons calling themselves the Grand Lodge of All England meeting since Time Immemorial in the City of York continued to issue written constitutions to lodges, as their authority to meet, until the last quarter of the Eighteenth century. Surviving are York manuscripts numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 (3 missing), the Hope manuscript, and the Scarborough manuscript, which turned up in Canada. Of these, York 4 has been the subject of controversy since it was first described in print. It is dated 1693, and was the first of the Old Charges discovered to have a separate Apprentice Charge, or a set of oaths specially for apprentices. The controversy was caused by the short paragraph describing how the oath was to be taken. “The one of the elders takeing the Booke / and that hee or shee that is to be made mason / shall lay their hands thereon / and the charge shall bee given”. Woodford and Hughan had no particular problem with this reading, believing it to be a copy of a much older document, and realising that women were admitted to the guilds of their deceased menfolk if they were in a position to carry on their trade. Other writers, starting with Hughan’s contemporary David Murray Lyon, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, insisted that the “shee” must be a scribal error for they, or a mistranslation of the Latin illi (they). Hughan failed to point out that the four lines in question are written in a competent hand in letters twice the size of the surrounding text, but riposted to Lyon that the Apprentice charge in York No 4, Harleian MS 1942, and the Hope manuscript outline the apprentice’s duties to his master or Dame. Modern opinion seems resigned to letting York Manuscript number 4 remain a paradox.

Thanks to Karen Kidd for bringing this to my attention.

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