Formed in London in 1751, the Antients Grand Lodge of Freemasons was created as a rival to the pro-establishment Grand Lodge of England, itself created in 1717. The Antients was shaped by the Irish diaspora in London, although disaffection within London Freemasonry was then so great that the new lodge also attracted English Masons. Its rapid growth in London and provincial England was seeded by the bigotry and condescension with which many in England viewed the Irish, but was more a function of the Antients’ social inclusivity and its commitment to mutual support. This resonated not only among the émigré Irish, but also within the lower orders more generally. Under the guidance of Laurence Dermott, its enterprising grand secretary, the Antients extended and altered Freemasonry’s profile in Britain and elsewhere, and the Craft became a means by which a broad cross section of male society could associate and obtain communal support. The movement’s success set an explicit challenge to the authority of the original Grand Lodge of England, which the Antients disparagingly termed “the Moderns,” and led to a schism in English Freemasonry that lasted some sixty years.

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