The First Feast

From 1717 when the Premier Grand Lodge was formed by four London Lodges, including the Lodge of Antiquity No 2, Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No IV and the Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No 12, Grand Lodge met and dined at the Goose and Gridiron, an establishment known to most English Masons in name at least.

In 1721 upon the election and installation of the Second Duke of Montagu as Grand Master, the Craft had swelled to such an extent that more significant arrangements were required.

Grand Lodge met at Kings Arms Tavern and the Brethren afterwards marched in procession to the Stationers’ Hall in order to seat the 150 or so Brethren that were present. It also required more formal organisation Mr Jessiah Villeneau volunteered and was appointed as the first Steward and organised the feast.

Anderson recalls: “Then the Grand Wardens were order’d, as usual, to prepare the Feast, and to take some Stewards to their Assistance, Brothers of Ability and Capacity, and to appoint some Brethren to attend the Tables; for that no Strangers must be there. But the Grand Officers not finding a proper Number of Stewards, our Brother Mr. Josiah Villeneau, Upholder in the Burrough Southwark, generously undertook the whole himself, attended by some Waiters, Thomas Morrice, Francis Bailey, &c.”.

Anderson goes on the report of the Assembly at the Kings Arms Tavern and the Feast at Stationers-Hall, 24 June 1721:

“from thence [the Kings Arms] they marched on Foot to the Hall in proper Clothing and due Form; where they were joyfully receiv’d by about 150 true and faithful, all clothed. After Grace said, they sat down in the antient Manner of Masons to a very elegant Feast, and dined with Joy and Gladness.”

The “Post Boy” published the following report on 27 June 1721:

“There was a Meeting on Saturday last at Stationers Hall of between two and three hundred of the ancient Fraternity of Free-Masons, who had a splendid Dinner, and Musick. Several Noblemen and Gentlemen were present at this Meeting, and His Grace THE DUKE OF MONTAGUE was unanirnously chosen Master for the ensuing Year, and DR. BEALE Sub-Master. The Reverend DR. DESAGULIERS made a Speech suitable to the Occasion.”

It would seem that counting assembled throngs was no more reliable in 1721 than it is today, but the spirit of the First Feast is amply conveyed.