Freemasonry’s Earliest “Tracing Board”?

A look at the “Form of the Lodge” in the Carmick MS

This drawing dates from c.1727 and was included in a handwritten copy of the “Old Charges” known as the Carmick MS, rediscovered in the early 1900s with the title “Constitutions of St. John’s Lodge” and signed by Bro. Thomas Carmick. Unfortunately we know little of Bro. Carmick, however it is likely that he copied it from older source, possibly belonging to his lodge and probably for the purpose of study or education.

The caption that accompanies the drawing at the top of the page is “This figure represents the Lodge”. 

Drawing the Lodge

In the early 18th Century and prior, it was common place for “The Lodge” to be drawn upon the floor usually in chalk or charcoal by the Tyler of the Lodge. Brethren and Office Bearers would assemble around the floor diagram, and within it symbols of the Craft would be either drawn or placed with thin silver or tin reproductions. 

What is unusual about the form of the Lodge in the Carmick MS however is it’s triangular in shape. There is some evidence to support this form’s use in Europe, the Sloane MS for example talks of a “three cornered pavement” however it’s far from being as clear as the diagram above. Other examples from exposures such as “Three Distinct Knocks” or “Jachin and Boaz” in the 1760s show an oblong square and in many ways much simpler than the design we find from Bro. Carmick.

The overall design is based on that of an old level, with the plum line hanging down the centre from the top point of the triangle. At the end of the plum line is a disc which could represent the blazing star, surrounded by the points of the compass orientated as found in a Lodge and on a tracing board today.

Below this and at the bottom of the level is two rows of mosaic pavement. I’m yet to find any explanation for the change in pattern and therefore put it down to nothing more than a mistake on the part of Bro. Carmick as he drew it. He probably wasn’t expecting anyone to be critiquing his work 300 years on.

Picking up on the fact that there are two rows, this probably represents two steps. In later versions we find three steps, again one for each degree of Craft Freemasonry, if this is indeed a copy of a much older manuscript perhaps it predates the addition of the third degree. It’s worth pointing out at this point that the term Master was in use long before the introduction of a Master Mason Degree as a way of identifying Stonemasons that had employees or Apprentices that worked for them. We see this as far back as the 16th Century as William Schaw the Master of Works to King James VI writes his First and Second Schaw Statues.

On the three sides of the level towards the bottom we see positioning for the Brethren. Fellowcraft on the left, Masters on the right and Entered apprentices at the foot.

The Warden, again an ancient term well known in early Scotland for what we now refer to as the Right Worshipful Master, is found at the top of the triangle.

Within the shape, we find the tools; square and compasses, plum rule, mallet and trowel with two symbols representing candles above them, and not forgetting that the shape itself represents the Level.

Finally around the two vertical edges we find alternating numbers, right to left from 1 to 15. Fifteen being a symbolic number for the name of God in Hebrew numbers YOD HE. Best guess however, is that this is to do with position of Brethren around the diagram on the floor.

This sketch, reproduced by Bro Carmick, represents the form of the Lodge symbolically as it would have been drawn on the floor during a meeting at this time. It’s logical to think that he did this either for study or education... So whilst not intended, and many years before we start the term or see anything we would recognise in today’s Lodge, by committing this drawing to paper has Bro. Carmick essentially created the earliest example of a Tracing Board?

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak as part of the Sapere Aude Online Lectures on February 15th at 1600 GMT on “The Art of Masonic Tracings Boards in Craft Freemasonry”. These are free online events via Zoom open to all: