Officially known as the "Worshipful Society of Free Masons, Rough Masons, Wallers, Slaters, Paviors, Plaisterers and Bricklayers", the Operatives is an invitational body dedicated to the preservation of the history and workings of operative masonry. The legend of Operative Masonry goes back to the Assemblage held by King Athelstan back in 926 AD and by the 20th century only a few Operative Lodges still existed in England, and many feared the lessons and rituals would fall from human memory. On May 21st, 1913, the Channel Row Assemblage (now known as Bedford House) was reconstituted and this date is considered the founding date of the Operatives.
“Speculative masons are happy to trace their origins to the practices of the ancient stone masons, but many then tend to forget all about them.”
This organization exists to perpetuate a memorial of the practices of operative Free Masons existing prior to modern speculative Freemasonry. To be considered eligible for invitation into this body, one must be a Master Mason, Mark Master Mason, and a Companion of Royal Arch Masonry.
It is governed by 3 Grand Masters in England, but there are also Deputy Grand Master Masons (also referred to as the Senior Passed Master of a Region) who govern Regions such as the USA. The base organization is called an Assemblage and is governed by a Deputy Master Mason. There are nearly 3,000 members and over 100 Assemblages around the world in countries such as England, Wales, France, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.
The regalia for this order are minimal and consist of a blue cord/collarette from which hangs the badge that designates the grade of the member; the badge changes as the member progresses through the grades. In addition to this, members wear distinctive ties.
Rather than degrees as seen in the Ancient Craft Masonry, members progress through grades. Like Lodge, there is a separate ceremony and furniture array for each degree in the Assemblage. In addition to one's grade, an ashlar is used to indicate the progress of a member, or rather "workman while in the quarries". There are 7-grades in the Operatives and progression through them is based on one's performance in the various offices held as well as the percentage of one's attendance in each office. The seven grades are:
I° - Indentured Apprentice
II° - Fellow of the Craft
III° - Fitter and Marker
IV° - Setter Erector
V° - Intendent, Overseer, Super Intendent and Warden.
VI° - Passed Master (not Past Master)
VII° - The three Grand Master Masons (in addition to those appointed to that grade “Honoris Causa”)
The first 4-grades are conferred in an Assemblage of Lodges, but there are separate Assemblages for the higher grades. To advance to the "Chair", to be the presiding officer, one must have progressed to the VI° or above, and one must have an attendance rate of 70% and preside over a Craft and Mark Mason Lodge.
Up until last year, I had never heard of such a group, but, regardless, I find this group rather interesting not only for their mission but also their rank structure; they don't have any Grand ranks or Past ranks, but rather the grades designate one's standing within the organization. One can also see a correlation between the work done in the Operatives and the rituals seen in Cryptic Masonry.
1. Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Operatives: http://www.operatives.org.uk/upload/operatives.pdf
2. Pushee, D. (n.d.). Region of the USA. Retrieved from The Operatives: http://www.operatives-usa.org
3. Falconer, D. (n.d.). The Operatives. Retrieved from Pietre-Stones: http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/donoperatives.html