In 1717, four lodges located in London came together and created the first Grand Lodge, the oldest Masonic Grand Lodge. It is important to re- member that this is the date given for the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, not the beginning of Freemasonry. For the Grand Lodge to have been created, lodges would have to already have been in existence. How- ever, given the nature of Masonic history, many histories simply work from 1717 forward, as here the greatest number of documents, records, and other forms of suitable evidence exist. As pointed out, prior to 1717 little is known about the origins of the Craft, and speculations abound by both Masons and non-Masons alike.
Masons met in taverns and coffeehouses, naming their lodges after the places they met. In February 1717, the Apple Tree, the Crown, the Goose and Gridiron, and the Rummer and Grapes lodges met in the Apple Tree Tavern on Charles Street in the Covent Garden district of London. Of the four lodges present, three of them were composed primarily of Operative Masons, with some Accepted Masons in the ranks. Rummer and Grapes was a different story, composed exclusively of Accepted Masons, all gentlemen, and a few nobles as well. Their discussion centered around the future of Freemasonry in England.
What most concerned the members present was how to distinguish Freemasonry from other clubs and social groups in London at the time. Given that many of these clubs existed solely for the purpose of drinking, eating, gambling, and frequenting brothels, they wanted rules that would establish who could be a member, as well as a code of conduct for members.
The men who met at the Apple Tree Tavern wanted to see Freemasonry grow. They were living in the largest and fastest-growing city in Europe. Social mobility was increasing as the workers moved in from the country-side and a merchant middle class exploded to meet their needs. Now, suddenly, skilled laborers, merchants, bankers, and nobles were all sitting together in one place: a Masonic lodge. To govern this body of men of mixed social rank—something unheard of before then—they formed a Grand Lodge, and on June 24, 1717, also known as Saint John the Baptist’s Day, they elected Anthony Sayer the first Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of England. Sayer was a gentleman and Accepted Mason, and with his election, Freemasonry split further from its Operative roots and moved into the future of Speculative and, as we will later see, occult and philosophical Freemasonry.
Excerpted trom Freemasonry, by Mark Stavish