The story of the scroll

Lodge minutes of 27 December 1785 state; – “Bro. William Graeme, visiting brother from Lodge no 128 Ancient Constitution of England was at his own desire admitted to become a member of this Lodge, and he accordingly signed the articles and Rules thereof”. Seven months later he donated a floor cloth to the lodge, now generally assumed to be the Kirkwall Scroll.

J.B. Craven already in 1897 quotes minutes of the lodge in Kirkwall (1). He describes how the lodge was founded in 1736 and that: “The Lodge obtained a regular charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland on the 1st December, 1740, which is signed by William St. Clair of Roslin, Grand Master.”

The fact that the charter of the Kirkwall lodge was signed by Sinclair is somewhat striking. Sinclair was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland (founded 1736) in 1736 and 1737, so that must mean that he signed the charter in that time and it only found its way to the lodge in 1740. The lodge website itself says that: “Our Lodge Charter of 1740 is also signed by the last hereditary Grand Master, William St. Clair”. This can’t be true, since in 1740 the fourth Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland had the function.
According to Cooper (2) the lodge started working just before the Grand Lodge of Scotland was founded and only later decided to ask for a charter. That doesn’t explain why the charter was signed by the first Grand Master.

A maybe amusing thought is that the Kirkwall lodge was initially started (chartered?) from Kilwinning, as the Kilwinning lodge has chartered lodges until 1807. That might explain the name of the lodge. For a long time the Grand Lodge of Scotland has tried to incorporate the “Grand Mother Lodge Kilwinning”, but this was only succesfull in 1807.

It is somewhat interesting that the lodge website mentions another “Graeme” as Right Worshipful Master in 1741-3 and 1750-1. Smith’s suggestions that the name is spelled incorrectly (see below) becomes less likely.

Craven refers to two founders, a Berrihill from “Stirline” and a Bedrum from “Dumferline”. Both towns lay somewhat North of Edinburgh. In these days it must have been quite a journey to get to Orkney. Stirling has a lodge called “Ancient” with a lower number (30) than the lodge in Kirkwall (382). It seems that this is the lodge mentioned in a 1628 Sinclair charter. Probably there we have the explanation for the “antient Ludge” from the Kirkwall minutes.

Interesting in Cooper:

Significantly the lodge records up to this time [1742] only mention Apprentices and Fellows of Craft, but not Master Masons. This strongly suggests that the two who established the Lodge and who did so before the Grand Lodge of Scotland existed, had no knowledge of the ‘speculative’ ceremony of Master Mason.

The Stirling lodge has known several degrees since the 1740’ies, but possibly no third degree, let alone “Red Cross” or “Royal Arch” in the time a member of that lodge helped to found the lodge in Kirkwall. That could mean that (unless the contacts between the two lodges remained) the Kirkwall lodge (also) took some time before such degrees were introduced (if at all).

Back to Graeme. Brian Smith (3) also quotes the minutes passage about Graeme, but adds:

Lodge 128 wasn’t in Yorkshire, as Sinclair thinks, or Bury in Lancashire, as others have suggested.  According to Lane’s standard work on masonic records (1894 edition) it was at an unknown location in the West End of London.

So half a century after the foundation of the lodge, a Londoner also found his way to Kirkwall and wanted to join the lodge. He was allowed to and seven months later the minutes mention that this same Graeme donated a floor cloth to the lodge. Many investigators now think that this refers to what we now know as the Kirkwall Scroll.

Who was William Graeme (more correctly Graham)? Paul Sutherland has written an entertaining account of Graham’s career, in a dissertation which should be published as soon as possible. He was a son of Alexander Graham, the Stromness merchant who waged a famous legal battle with Kirkwall notables in the 1740s and 1750s. ‘For a time’, two of William’s enemies wrote later, ‘[Graham] was employed as a journeyman house-painter in London. He returned to Orkney in poor circumstances, but Mason-mad.’ (3)

More about William Graeme here.

Here we have the (currently) most likely theory of how the scroll came in the possession of the lodge. A happy new member who was also a painter, found an old cloth to make a painting on and he presented it to his lodge. Graeme’s originally came from Orkney, so he returned to the islands. Since he was a painter there is a suggestion that Graeme himself may have painted the scroll, but of course he could also have commissioned the painting.

Based on comparisons of the not too well painted panels, some people suggest that there have been different painters. It is sometimes said that the sides (the map) have been added to the rest. If Graeme painted the scroll (or had it painted), why didn’t he just paint it in one piece?

Day (4) suggests that the painter ran into lack of space which explains why the panels get smaller and smaller when you to from top to bottom. Would the painter already have had what were to be sides (the maps) and tried to fit the rest in the same length, but started a bit too enthusiastically with painting the middle part and had to rescale to prevent the new part from becoming too long?

The thought that the scroll may combine an existing and a new painting may also explain how carbon dating gives such a wide margin. Another explanation -of course- is that the material that the scroll is painted on, is older than the painting itself.

The ‘Graeme’ theory raises another question. The scroll consists of many Masonic symbols. Some of these, people connect to higher degrees. If indeed such degrees were already worked, where did Graeme encounter them? In his mother lodge in London, in his new lodge in Kirkwall, or elsewhere? The Stirling lodge from where the Kirkwall lodge seems to have been founded, has some of the earliest records of a variety of degrees. Could this mean that the Kirkwall lodge adopted degrees from Stirling and that Graeme got the degrees there? If that is the case, he should have received a variety of degrees in a short time, since in seven months time, he managed to first attend the lodge, receive his degrees, travel back to London, have the scroll painted and travel to Kirkwall again.

Alternatively, Graeme presented the scroll, but that does -of course- not mean that he painted it or had it painted. He could have just encountered it somewhere, bought it and presented it to his new lodge. It would be great to find out where the scroll originates. There is a strong suggestion that it comes from English “Antient” circles, just as Graeme’s first lodge.

And last but not least. Some scholars claim that the panel at the bottom refers to the blue/symbolic degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason) and that going up further degrees are depicted. Isn’t it odd that the painter still seems to have started at the top and working his way downwards found himself in lack of space? Was the painter maybe not a Mason or was there a design that was more conveniently painted from top to bottom?

The Graeme theory may explain how the lodge came in possession of the scroll, but not where and when the scroll was made (or by whom).

(1) See “Literature” Craven
(2) See “Literature” Cooper
(3) See “Literature” Smith
(4) See “Literature” Day