Laurence Dermott

Antient’s Freemason

A Report on the Lecture presented at the Temple of Athene Lodge No 9541 held at Harrow Masonic Centre on Wednesday 5th June 2024 given by W. Bro DERRICK LYONS PPrJGD (Herts) LGR.

If you ask the average freemason, whatever that might embrace, who Laurence Dermott was then you might receive many blank looks. However, he was certainly a central character in the development of Antient’s Freemasonry and deserving of a place in the annals of freemasonry.  W. Bro Derrick Lyons gave a talk about this fascinating person who was probably pivotal in the way that freemasonry is practised today in our United Grand Lodge. The word United is in there for a reason and it was from the Union of the Antient’s Grand Lodge with the Moderns that we arrive at the UGLE we know today.

However, Laurence’s history is an interesting subject in its own right as is the development of this “Second Grand Lodge”, as it has been referred to by Ric Berman, the current Prestonian Lecturer, who is a former member of Temple of Athene Lodge in Middlesex (see

Below is an extract from the talk highlighting some of the salient points.

Laurence Dermott was born on the 24th of June 1720 in County Roscommon. He followed the family tradition and was Initiated into Freemasonry on the 14th of January 1740/41 in Lodge No 26. According to the Official Records, he was only twenty years of age at the time and was under the legal age limit of maturity. Which possibly due to family connections was ignored at the time. He was installed as the Worshipful Master of Lodge No 26 in Dublin in 1746, only six years after his initiation. He was Exalted into the Royal Arch on the 16th of April the same year. He left for England some time in 1747.

Dermott arrived in London in 1748, calling himself a “Journeyman Painter”. Given that he later became a very successful Wine Merchant, he may also have moved to England on family business. Once in London, Dermott joined a Lodge affiliated to the Premier or Moderns Grand Lodge. But very soon he changed his allegiance to the Antients and joined The Ship and Anchor Lodge in Quaker Street, Spitalfields (later Lodge No.9) and then on 10th February he joined the Dukes Head Lodge in Winfield Street, Spitalfields (later Lodge No.10).

Difficult Times

These were difficult times for Freemasonry in general in England. Horace Walpole, himself a Freemason wrote that Freemasons were of low repute in England, a series of mock processions had cast ridicule on the Oder. Its Grand Masters had taken little interest in the Craft, and some had totally neglected their duties. Masonry had lost the vogue, and even the election of Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1737 had failed to bring it back. Processions were truly loved by the Masons of the early Eighteenth Century, and these were banned by the Moderns Grand Lodge in 1747, to the great annoyance of the rank and file.

There were an increasing number of irregular Lodges not recognised by the Moderns Constitution. These irregular Lodges tried to remain faithful to what they considered to be the true, traditional workings and so called themselves the Antients. It was to this group of Freemasons that Dermott devoted his life.

In 1751 some of the irregular Lodges of the Antients persuasion formed themselves into an independent body. There were about seven Lodges, of which five with some eighty members joined forces as a General Assembly referring to themselves as a Grand Committee with a view of forming a Grand Lodge of England according to the Old Institutions.

Although there is an authentic record of the formation of the “Most Antient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Institutions”, there is little known about the brethren who formed it, or, of where they came from? Or even where or when they there were Initiated.

The Founders names and in some cases their calling or professions where known were recorded in a Register called Morgan’s Register. It was compiled by their first Grand Secretary, John Morgan. They were Artisans, Shoemakers, Tailors, Painters and so on, with two exceptions. An Attorney by the name of James Shee who soon returned to Ireland and Ensign Lochian McIntoch. A considerable number of the Masons were Irish, and it is known that some were immigrants who brought their masonry with them.

Duly Qualified

In February 1752, Laurence Dermott was duly qualified for the Office of Grand Secretary. On the 1st of April, Dermott succeeded in persuading the Grand Committee to replace the old By-Laws and replacing them by ones of his old Irish Lodge No 26 in Dublin. (Some reports were that he simple tore the old By-Laws out from the Register and inserted his own By-Laws).

At the September 1752 Annual Installation Meeting of the Grand Committee – there being no Grand Master or Grand Wardens yet appointed. Dermott appointed himself as Grand Secretary according to antient custom’ and he then proceeded acting as Grand Master and investing the Grand Officers of the Grand Committee

From its beginning the Grand Committee had hoped for a noble Grand Master, and it changed its meeting place numerous times in an attempt to increase its attractiveness, before it settled at the Five Bells Tavern in the Strand.

The structure of the Grand Committee suited Dermott very nicely in those early days. Whilst awaiting the acceptance of some member of nobility before electing a Grand Master, the Grand Lodge worked as a Grand Committee with the Grand Master on a rotating basis selected from one of the Worshipful Masters of the Antients Lodges. This gave Dermott immense power to control all aspects of the affairs of Grand Committee. This continued until the 27th of December 1753, when Robert Turner was Installed as the First Grand Master. He continued to serve as Grand Master until December 1754 when he was replaced by the Hon Edward Vaughan, a Surgeon, who continued to serve until December 1756:

The first two Grand Masters could be described as “Hands on Grand Masters”. This cannot be said about the next Grand Master, “William Stewart, 1st Earl of Blessington”, the first of the Noble Grand Masters. He was elected as the Grand Master between years 1756-60 but was Installed “In Absentia”. He never attended Grand Lodge, but signed Warrants and attended to other matters, no doubt prodded by Dermott.

Modern Book Cover of the Antient’s Constitution

Ahiman Rezon

It was also this year, 1756 that Dermott really excelled in his standing as a dedicated Antient. This was the year of publication of the Antient’s Constitutions named “Ahiman Rezon” The meaning and transliteration of the Title still remains a mystery today. Dermott was, however, very aware of the youth of his own Grand Lodge and that there is little room for an historic introduction of subsequence. In his introduction to the Constitutions, therefore, he announced that he really felt little need to follow in the footsteps of those who wasted time in irrelevant historical introduction, an allusion, no doubt, to Anderson’s Constitutions.

The meaning of the two Hebrew words have been much debated over the years, but the general consensus is that they signify “faithful Brother Secretary” which indeed Dermott certainly was. The copyright was Dermott’s and the publication had been announced in 1754, but the first issue was delayed by a desire to dedicate it to a noble Grand Master.

One of Dermott’s main concerns was the regularity of the working and a Grand Lodge of Emergency was called in 1757 and many disputed points of the working were settled to the entire satisfaction of all the brethren present, who faithfully promised to adhere strictly to the Antient’s System and to cultivate the same in their several Lodges. Twenty-five of the forty-one Lodges meeting in London were present. It compared the ancient practices of the new Grand Lodge with the working of the Moderns.


Laurence Dermott – A Ladies Man?

In 1764 Dermott subscribed five guineas to help pay the debt of a brother freemason held in Newgate and an additional ten pounds to the Antients Grand Charity. Over the years Dermott had upgraded his occupation and status from jobbing painter to the more secure position of Wine Merchant or Vintner via a number of judicious marriages.

Dermott married Susanna Neale, a widow on the 20th of January 1759 at St Pauls Church, Shadwell. She was buried on the 7th of December 1764, the same year that the second edition of Ahiman Razon was published.

Laurence married his second wife Mary Dwindle, a widow on the 28th November 1765 less than a year from the death of his first wife. Unfortunately, Mary died in February 1766 after only some three months of marriage, Mary was the Tenant Manager of the Five Bells Tavern, a role Dermott later readily assumed. The Tavern was substantial, with premises sufficiently large to accommodate concerts and public meetings. Indeed, the Antients met at the Five Bells on a regular basis from December 1752 until 1771.

Dermott now residing in St Clements Danes and described as a Vintner, he was now a widower for the second time, He married his third wife, Elizabeth Merryman, on the 13th of November 1766, just nine months after the death of his second wife. Dermott had a son from this union who did not survive infancy.


The Seal of the Antient’s Grand Lodge

By the year 1768 it can be said that the Antient’s Grand Lodge was firmly established even though it had not yet caused the Moderns any great concern. The success was due in no small measure to the untiring work of Laurence Dermott. But for him the Antients might have faded away as did later the Grand Lodge of All England at York, the Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent and the Grand Lodge of Wigan.

Dermott’s Constitutions became the foundation of many other Constitutions, some still in use today. In the USA his Constitutions were adopted by Freemasons who formed the Grand Lodges of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and the Canadian Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia.

A First Class Adminstrator But Intransigent

He was a first-class administrator who introduced practices that we routinely follow today. The Minutes of the Grand Lodge during his lifetime show that he personally made the following proposals. That each Lodge had to be registered with Grand Lodge via a Warrant issued for each Lodge, and for each member to receive a Certificate.  British Army and Naval Lodges serving overseas wanted a link back home and Dermott issued them with a Warrant. By 1789 there were 50 Lodges in the USA alone.

It seems that the brethren of Grand Lodge also found Dermott intransigent and difficult to deal with at times. At the Grand Lodge Meeting on the 6th of June 1770, there is a record of a serious dispute between Dermott and the Deputy Grand Secretary, William Dickey jnr., who resigned. Stating he would not serve under such a man as Dermott.

Meanwhile, Dermott had become relatively affluent by the time of his third marriage as indicated by his donations to Masonic Charities and his financial contributions to the Ancient’s Grand Lodge. In 1777, the following year he donated a Grand Master’s throne at a cost of £34, the equivalent is about £7000 (£6871) today.

But aside from the wealth derived through his marriages and his tenancy at the Five Bells he had another source of income, his royalties from Ahiman Rezon. However, in 1775 Dermott made the copyright of Ahmin Rezon over to the Grand Charity, for which he received the thanks of Grand Lodge. There was a further edition published in 1778 with five more before the Union in 1813, all the later edited by Thomas Harper.

In 1771 he was nominated Deputy Grand Master, a position which he held from 1771-1777 and again from 1783 until 1787, when he was forced to retire, probably because of his gout. No doubt brought on by judicious sampling of his wares as a Vintner.

Whatever the nominal Office Dermott held in Grand Lodge, he directed Ceremonies, instructed the Committee/Lodge in Ritual. He could be considered the inspiration of the Grand Lodge for the better part of his life.

At the Grand Lodge Installation Meeting of the 27th of December 1787, after a short address the newly elected Deputy Grand Master James Perry proposed:

“That the thanks of the Grand Lodge be given to the Right Worshipful Laurence Dermott Esq. Past Deputy Grand Master, who after forty-seven years zealously successfully devoted to the service of the Craft and now retired from the eminent station which he had held and to whose Masonic Knowledge and absolute….

Dermott continued to attend Grand Lodge for a further eighteen months, his last attendance was in March 1789, when due to his swollen legs and Gout, he had to be carried into the Meeting by two Grand Deacon (an office not held by the Moderns). However, when Dermott ceased to attend Grand Lodge, Robert Leslie was re-appointed as Grand Secretary in 1790, which Office he held until the Union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813.


Laurence Dermott died at Mile End in June 1791.  At that time Mile End was Middlesex, but it would be another hundred years before the formal administrative county was established. Surprisingly, there was no mention of his death recorded in the Grand Lodge Minutes. The only mention of Dermott’s death is found in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Despite extensive searches over many years by many historians, the place of his burial is not known.

How do we sum up the life of Laurence Dermott. The growth and organisation of the Antients in the latter half of the 1700’s was due almost entirely his great energy and his administrative ability. He nursed the infant Grand Lodge into maturity. He tried to restore the traditions of Freemasonry by using the Irish workings of his early life

It is thanks to Dermott that we have the United Grand Lodge as it currently stands, which takes the infrastructure of the Moderns but takes the Ritual from the Antients.

Ed: The above is a heavily edited account given by W. Bro Lyons. All sub headings are those of the Editor as is the graphic material provided which is in the public domain. A fuller transcript may be obtained by joining the Correspondence Circle of Temple of Athene Lodge No 9541 – Details may be obtained from the Lodge Secretary W. Bro Ron Selby PPrSGW SLGR on

Temple of Athene Lodge is the research Lodge of the Province of Middlesex and invites freemasons to give talks on subjects of masonic interest.

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