The Masonic and Historical
of Dr. David
Harrison, an In-Depth Interview
Elena Llamas, Director of Public
Relations for Phoenixmasonry
You may have read or at least seen his numerous
blog posts and his books, but did you know that Dr. David Harrison is a
trained archeologist and also a recording musician? Dr. Harrison’s versatile
work is hard to miss and impossible to forget. Why? Because he has a uniquely
scholarly, yet approachable, style of bringing Masonic and historical subjects
to his readers’ attention. Dr. Harrison has written seven books on the history
of Freemasonry and one book on Liverpool
philanthropist Christopher Rawdon, who had links to Freemasonry.
Phoenixmasonry is pleased to have had the opportunity to interview this
prolific writer and share his work and thoughts.
Dr. David Harrison
Elena: David, thank you for this interview with
us. Tell us about your background, were did you grow up and where do you live
David: I grew up in the north-west of England, and
still live there today. This part of England and the old industries that
existed in the area have been an influence on my work, especially the
development of trade unionism.
Elena: How did you develop a love for history?
David: I loved going around castles and old houses
when I was growing up, and I was always told a lot of family history as well
from my parents which probably helped.
Elena: you studied Archaeology and medieval
history at the University of Wales in Bangor, graduating in 1997; did you have
an inclination to investigate the history of Freemasonry then?
David: Yes, I worked in the insurance industry
in-between gaining my ‘A’ Levels in 1987 and going to University in 1994, and
one particular place I worked for was a Friendly Society, and the manager once
discussed Freemasonry with me, a conversation that stuck with me and made me
want to research it.
Elena: wonderful! You have worked as an
archaeologist on ancient Roman sites around Chester and Halewood in Liverpool,
among other places.
David: Yes I enjoyed working as an archaeologist,
though the work was seasonal and sometimes paid, sometimes not, so as much as
I enjoyed it, I decided on a more steady job. I was more into Roman
archaeology back then in the late 90s, but now my interest lies in industrial
Elena: please explain the term.
David: Industrial archaeology is a term used for
the archaeology of industrial sites; old factories and old mines. Another
example are the Williamson’s Tunnels in Liverpool, which were constructed in
the early 1800s and are a fine example of industrial activity. Williamson’s
Tunnels are named after Joseph Williamson, a Liverpool merchant, property
developer and philanthropist, who had a number of tunnels dug underneath an
area of Liverpool, some say to give work to the homecoming soldiers of the
Napoleonic wars. The tunnels are an excellent example of architecture and
pipe found in Williamson’s Tunnels
stone jar found in Williamson’s Tunnels
known as a Ginger Bottle)
Elena: you conduct
history walks in and around Liverpool. Tell us about those.
David: I mainly
lecture and teach history classes in Liverpool, and during the summer months I
take my groups out to various places in Liverpool, which has some of the most
beautiful architecture in the world. We visit churches, examine archaeological
structures, all kinds of historical buildings. I then do blog posts mainly for
the students to examine where we have been, but they have also become popular
on social media.
Dr. Harrison conducting a history group in Calder
Valley near Liverpool.
Elena: you don’t seem
to be running out of interesting historical things from around Liverpool to
David: Liverpool is a
fascinating historical city and because of it’s past as a major port, many
wealthy merchants built some fantastic buildings. It was also a center for the
banking and insurance industry due to its maritime connections, and has some
beautiful buildings, such as the Liver Building. It also has plenty of manor
houses and parks. It also has some great musical history.
Elena: you are a Freemason, when, where, and why
did you join Freemasonry?
David: I joined Freemasonry in 1998 in a local
lodge in Warrington. I always remembered my time in the insurance industry and
how there were discussions about Freemasonry there, and then when the
opportunity arose, I joined.
Elena: You earned a PhD from the University of
Liverpool in 2008 where you focused your research on the development of
David: I worked for an archaeologist for a short
time, but the work was seasonal and sometimes voluntary. When we got paid it
wasn’t that much, so I decided to go into teaching, then after doing an MA at
the University of Liverpool, I was offered to do a PhD in 2000, so I suggested
the development of English Freemasonry as a research topic, and they loved the
idea. By that time I had been a Freemason for a couple of years so I was
getting into the research of it.
bestseller, The Genesis of Freemasonry, is the first book you
published. It was your doctoral thesis out of the University of Liverpool.
What did you set out to accomplish in The Genesis of Freemasonry and do you
feel you succeeded?
Dr. David Harrison holding a copy
of his book, The Genesis of Freemasonry
David: My main PhD tutor Dr William Ashworth had
always suggested it would make a great book, so I started making enquiries
into publishing. I remember being offered a publishing deal with the
University of Liverpool, but after a while, nothing happened, then Lewis
Masonic offered me a publishing deal, and I decided to go for that. I also had
a number of academic papers published by this time so my academic career was
running parallel to my career as a popular Masonic author.
Elena: did you adapt your thesis for the general
David: My advice by Dr Ashworth was to leave it
like the PhD; it was already breaking from the tradition in so much that it
was written in a more experimental fashion, and when Lewis Masonic received
the manuscript, they decided to publish as it was, though it received some
editing that I was not comfortable with at the time. I had a chance to change
that for the second edition which was published a few years ago.
It was an interesting topic, no one had covered it
before, and I had some interesting ideas that gelled with the ideas of my
tutor. When researching a PhD you need to get on well with your tutor and be
able to bounce ideas around. The tutor guides you in a way, and I was lucky
that Dr Will Ashworth is such a great tutor, he has a fantastic knowledge, a
way of thinking about the modern period and he had a knowledge of Freemasonry
during the eighteenth century which was helpful.
Elena: every PhD student must “defend” their
thesis at the end of their studies before a panel of scrutinizing professors.
You successfully defended your thesis on the first try, which is very unusual,
you must be proud of that. Was the panel blown away with your topic, perhaps?
David: It was a very interesting afternoon, a lot
of discussion took place, I was nervous and was in a room with some brilliant
historical minds; my external was Dr Simon Schaffer of Cambridge University,
and he thoroughly examined everything, every word and suggestion, every bit of
evidence was discussed. It seemed like I was in the room for hours defending
every last detail. Dr Schaffer has an excellent background in the
Enlightenment period, and knew how Newtonian experimental philosophy
influenced Freemasons of the period such as Desaguliers.
Elena: was it difficult to manage your attachment
or sentimentality for Freemasonry as a Freemason on one hand and your
historian role on the other?
David: I’ve always had a balanced view of
Freemasonry, it reflects the light and darkness of human nature, so my view is
balanced. It is interesting how in the history of Freemasonry, there are many
threads that reflect human nature in many ways.
Elena: in The Genesis of Freemasonry you
explore the history of the creation of the first
Masonic Grand Lodge in 1717,
tracing its roots through mediaeval guild societies, alchemy, and secret
rituals designed to raise the dead. Are these the origins of Freemasonry
David: Not exactly,
the medieval trade guilds are certainly at the core of the origin of
Freemasonry, as there is evidence of a transitional period of sorts, with
lodges having both operative and speculative members mixing together. Alchemy
was certainly being practiced by early Freemasons, and there is evidence for
an influence of a symbolic nature, the ritual displays elements of necromancy
in the third degree. I believe the term used is the ‘River Theory’ where a
number of influences streamed into one to create what we know as Freemasonry
Elena: how does the
Royal Society, founded in the 17th century to promote science,
feature in the book?
Freemasons have been Fellows of the Royal Society, and there were early Masons
involved at the beginning of the Society such as Elias Ashmole, Sir Robert
Moray and Christopher Wren.
Elena: you describe a
common thread among Freemasonry’s founders in England: a concern, bordering on
obsession, with Solomon’s Temple, alchemy, and prophecy.
David: Yes, there
were indeed early Freemasons such as Christopher Wren who was deeply
interested in the design of Solomon’s Temple, Elias Ashmole who was fascinated
by alchemy and others that were concerned with prophecy during a time of a
fermentation of magic and early science.
The back cover of the
1st Edition of The Genesis of Freemasonry, revealing a plan of Solomon's
Temple. The cover design was stylized by the artist - on the suggestion of
sales manager Martin Faulks - to present an array of mysterious Masonic images
from eighteenth century manuscripts, broken up and put back together - to
create a kind of Masonic puzzle, which in a way represents the puzzle of the
genesis of the Craft - a puzzle which the book attempts to solve. Dr. David
Elena: in the book,
you talk about several important historical and world-renowned personalities
such as Isaac Newton, who is generally not believed to have been a Mason. Why
do you talk about Newton?
David: Newton and
Newtonian experimental philosophy was a great influence on certain early
Freemasons such as Desaguliers, and Newton was obsessed with the search of the
true dimensions of Solomon’s Temple.
Elena: Tell us about John Theophilus Desaguliers,
the British natural philosopher, clergyman, engineer and freemason, assistant
to Isaac Newton, who was instrumental in the establishment of the first Grand
Lodge and served as its third Grand Master.
John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683
David: Desaguliers is a fascinating historical
character and was an essential figure in transforming modern Freemasonry,
creating the third degree structure.
Elena: how does John Dee, the 16th
mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, and adviser to
Queen Elizabeth I figure in The Genesis of Freemasonry? Dee had been dead for
over a century before the first Grand Lodge was formed.
John Dee (1527 – 1608 or 1609)
David: Dee influenced
certain early Freemasons such as Elias Ashmole, Dee was a magician,
mathematician and was obsessed with certain rituals that summoned Angels, it
was this that fascinated Ashmole, as well as the alchemy.
Elias Ashmole 1617 –1692
Elias Ashmole was
made a Freemason in my hometown of Warrington so I became interested in him
partly because of that reason, but he was involved in all kinds of researches.
He acquired some of John Dee’s library, he kept a fascinating diary and was a
keen collector of artifacts.
Elena: you mention
Freemason Benjamin Franklin in The Genesis of Freemasonry several times.
Benjamin Franklin 1705 –1790
David: Yes, Franklin
was an important Freemason, he visited England a number of times and was a man
of letters, he wrote to many other Freemasons, and was involved with fellow
scientists from the Royal Society and the Lunar Society. Apart from his
political activities in the fledgling USA, he was a brilliant mind that
explored the hidden mysteries of nature and science.
Elena: Sir Christopher Wren is one of the
most highly acclaimed English architects of all time. He built or rebuilt 52
churches in London after the Great Fire in 1666, including St. Paul's
Cathedral, his greatest accomplishment. Tell
us about the secret location of a true stone of King Solomon’s temple hidden
in St. Paul’s Cathedral by Freemasons.
Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723)
David: Well it’s not
so secret really, it was deposited there in the nineteenth century but shows
how the sacred space of St Paul’s was still seen as a Temple in London.
St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Elena: how many years
did you work on The Genesis of Freemasonry?
David: As my PhD it
was seven years part time from 2000 to 2007.
Elena: when did you
realize you were certain to become a Masonic author for the rest of your life?
I am hoping that is the case, is it your plan?
David: It depends on
where life takes me, I do like writing about local history (my MA was in local
history under Dr. Paul Booth) and my first degree at Bangor was Welsh history
which was fascinating, so I may venture more into writing about local history
at some point.
Elena: your second
book, The Transformation of Freemasonry, is a continuation of The Genesis of
Freemasonry. How and when did you decide to write The Transformation of
Transformation of Freemasonry came about when Lewis Masonic mentioned they
would like another book as ‘Genesis of Freemasonry’ was selling well. Then
they decided to wait on it as the recession hit in 2010. I was approached by
another publisher called Arima, and they said they would like to publish two
editions, one in hardback and another in paperback, so it became my second
book and we developed a great working relationship. Arima has since attracted
more Masonic works over the years by the likes of John Belton and Julian Rees.
Elena: The book looks at Freemasonry in England
and Wales. Tell us about the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799 and how it ties
into your second book.
David: It was an oppressive Act of parliament that
affected Freemasonry in many ways, and the Transformation explores some of
Elena: The Transformation of Freemasonry explains
that Freemasonry became tainted with the stigma of the French Revolution?
David: Freemasonry suffered after the Secret
Societies Act of 1799, and in certain lodges in more industrial areas there
became more of a working-class make-up, especially in towns such as
Warrington, Wigan and Oldham in the north-west of England. Other lodges
suffered low membership and only recovered in the mid-nineteenth century.
Elena: tell us about the Masonic links with the
David: This was mainly in Liverpool, where some
merchants such as Thomas Golightly and Isaac Gascoigne were Freemasons. A very
interesting period, as there were also some Freemasons, such as George
Canning, who were against the slave trade.
Elena: how were relations between English
Freemasons and U.S. Freemasons during the time discussed in the book? Were
there links between English Freemasons and Freemasons involved in the American
Civil War and Abolition movement?
David: Again in Liverpool there was a tenuous
connection between Freemasons and men of a Masonic background that assisted in
gaining support for the Confederate cause in the port, it is one of those
areas were my interest in local history crosses over to Freemasonry.
Elena: The Transformation of Freemasonry also
looks at how Freemasonry transformed itself during the 19th century, and how
the Craft began to appeal to Victorian occultists.
David: Yes, that is when there was an ‘Occult
Revival’ in the later nineteenth century, with Freemasons such as Arthur
Edward Waite and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle exploring areas of a more esoteric
nature, such as Waite co-designing a deck of Tarot Cards for example.
Crowley’s involvement is another example.
Elena: your third book, The Liverpool Masonic
Rebellion and the Wigan Grand Lodge, came out in 2012. What is the Liverpool
Masonic Rebellion? And what is the Wigan Grand Lodge?
David: The Antients were formed in
1751 as a reaction against the Moderns and what they saw as their
modernization of Freemasonry. The Antients and Moderns came together in
The Liverpool Masonic Rebellion occurred
as a reaction against the Union of 1813, and included a number of Liverpool
and Wigan lodges. Eventually the new rebel Grand Lodge settled in Wigan and
though it saw itself as a relaunch of the Antients Grand Lodge, it became
known as the Grand Lodge held in Wigan, or to cut it short the Wigan Grand
Lodge. It lasted until 1913.
Elena: what consequences or traces of the
Liverpool Masonic Rebellion and the history of the Wigan Grand Lodge can be
found in English Freemasonry today?
David: The large Province of Lancashire was cut in
half; creating the Provinces of East and West Lancashire, and a certain
flexibility was given to lodges when it came to practicing their ritual.
Elena: you next wrote A Quick Guide to
Freemasonry, published in 2013. What did you set out to accomplish with this
David: I was commissioned by Lewis Masonic to do
the ‘Quick Guide’, I believe at the time there were plans to do a series of
‘Quick Guide’s’ and it was a nice little project, a break from the academic
work, but the book still draws on my previous academic work. It was aimed at
lodge mentors and new members.
Elena: for our U.S. readers, what are the current
English Masonic rituals discussed in the guide, namely, the Emulation,
Bottomley, Nigerian, Bristol, York, and Hull rituals? How do they differ and
how are they similar to one another?
David: They are all based on emulation ritual, but
differ slightly in wording or in the perambulations, over the years becoming
an individual style for performing ritual, some being local in style such as
Bottomley which is unique to the Merseyside area.
Elena: in 2014, you published your fifth book, The
York Grand Lodge. What was the Grand Lodge of All England held at York, for
how long did it exist, and why the lofty name “all” England?
David: This was another northern independent Grand
Lodge that operated from York. It declared itself a Grand Lodge in 1726 and
though it faded away in the 1740s, it was revived in 1761 and lasted until the
Elena: what is the Prince Edwin legend and how is
it related to the York Grand Lodge?
David: The Edwin Legend became a central part of
the belief system of the York Grand Lodge and also of the Antients Grand
Lodge, but it is just a legend. It relates to Prince Edwin, an Anglo-Saxon
Prince in 926 forming the first Grand Lodge in York.
Elena: tell us about the Punch Bowl tavern.
David: It’s a beautiful old pub in York that once
was the location of meetings for lodges under the York Grand Lodge.
The Punch Bowl Tavern.
Elena: is the current York Grand Lodge a
continuation of the old Grand Lodge of All England held at York?
David: No, the current ‘Grand Lodge of all
England’ is considered a Clandestine Grand Lodge. It was founded in 2006 but
is still going I believe.
Elena: it is 2015 and your first co-authored book
comes out, Freemasonry and Fraternal Societies. Tell us about your co-author,
David: Fred Lomax is a great bloke from Wigan, a
Freemason and author who approached me with the idea for the book. It seemed
like a nice project and it was a way of looking back at my experience with
Friendly Societies as it examined Masonic-like societies such as the
Oddfellows, Buffs, Elks and Moose. I really enjoyed putting that book together
and was very happy with the result.
Elena: what other fraternal societies do you
discuss in the book?
David: Many such as the Foresters, Druids, Ancient
Shepherds, and we also discuss the Gentlemen’s Clubs, so the book looks at
clubs and societies from the working classes and the upper classes.
Elena: is it the case that Freemasonry provided a
model or template of sorts for these societies?
David: Certainly in the case of the Friendly
Societies, many had a ritual and symbolism that is very similar to
Elena: in July of this year, your book The City of
York: A Masonic Guide came out. Tell us about the Masonic places hidden in
David: There are many; pubs, taverns, the Merchant
Adventurer’s Hall, Two Masonic Halls, churches, a museum and many more. The
Guide is part of a series (there is a Masonic Guide to London) and has a map
and around thirty or so photos. You can walk around York with and still visit
many of these places as most are open to the public.
Elena: do you have a personal favorite among the
places discussed in the book?
David: The pubs ;-)
Elena: haha! Your latest book just came out. How
did you come to write about a non-Masonic subject with Christopher Rawdon: The
David: I've been
teaching a history group in Liverpool who were called the 'Rawdon Residents'
and they were named after a local philanthropist called Christopher Rawdon. I
started researching his life and I became fascinated with what inspired him to
support local education and to help the lives of working class people. The
book was very enjoyable to research and to write, and is my first biography
and first non-Masonic work, though there are Masonic references, and as a work
it fits in with my York Grand Lodge and Liverpool Masonic Rebellion books, as
the Rawdon family came from York and moved to Liverpool during the period that
these Masonic events took place. As such the book relates to these events and
adds to the background in a way.
Elena: Rawdon had links to Freemasonry?
David: Christopher Rawdon was a Liverpool based
merchant, banker and philanthropist, and he was involved in local education
and he gave his name to a Liverpool library. His family had links to
Freemasonry and other Societies, so the networking aspect of Freemasonry is
discussed. His family originated from York, and there are links to York Grand
Lodge which was interesting.
Elena: One of the Rawdon family also had links to
the Theosophical Society.
David: Yes, Christopher Rawdon Briggs, who became
a famous musician in the early twentieth century, was a member of the
Theosophical Society in Manchester. I spoke to members of the Society for my
research and it may be an area of study I may cover in the future.
Elena: Do you visit Lodges and other Masonic
institutions to give lectures? If so, where can you be reached to schedule a
David: I do, and I can be reached through my
www.dr-david-harrison.com or through my blog, twitter, or facebook pages.
Elena: you write two blog posts a week. Your
topics are diverse, always interesting, and a true staple in Masonic circles
today. You don’t shy away
from blogging about controversial topics, like University fraternities and
various conspiracy oriented theories, but most of your blogs are about
interesting English history, famous Freemasons, and personal author
experiences like visits to U.S. Masonic Institutions.
Do you enjoy blogging and how do you keep finding
great topics to discuss, week after week?
David: I do, it reaches new audiences all the time
and with working as a history lecturer and teacher, I find a lot to write
about as we visit historic sites or new research reveals new ideas.
Elena: you have also written articles for numerous
Masonic publications and have appeared in television and radio to speak about
Freemasonry and your writing.
David: Yes, that goes with promotion of my books.
I’m always uncomfortable on TV, the talk shows are shot in crowded studios,
the lighting is hot and you have to travel to get to the studios. However they
are a great way for promoting books and heighten your profile.
Dr. Harrison interviewed on
Elena: Let’s talk about your music, which is
linked at the end of this interview along with your blogs and books. You are a
singer, a guitarist, and a songwriter. When and how did you develop an
interest in music?
David Harrison singing with his band, Spacematic
David: I started in school, forming bands that
lasted about a week, then as I moved to college I met more people interested
in music. I was in a few bands but the final band was called Spacematic in the
1990s. That lasted for a few years but transformed into a duo, writing,
recording and performing songs. After that band split, it was a few years
later that I met a Liverpool record manager called Geof Davies in Liverpool,
and he advised me to record some demos, which I did. He liked what he heard
and the next minute I was in a studio in Manchester recording an album. This
was finally released in 2005.
recording a demo in the Cutting Rooms, Manchester (photo by Adam Speakman who
was recording the demo).
Elena: tell us
about your album, Hum, which I think is fantastic! Your voice is amazing and
you have a great way of emoting through the lyrics.
David: Hum was
the album I did with Geof Davies and his Probe Plus label. I was always
inspired by Liverpool music and those influences crept into the songs. I also
like psychedelic music so that was a great influence as well. I always wanted
an official release for the songs so Hum was that release. It sold ok in an
‘underground’ kind-of-way and is still available on itunes.
The cover of the
album was designed by the excellent American artist and musician Rick Ray. Dr.
Elena: Hum had a
re-release, how does it differ from the first Hum?
David: The album was
remixed last year by a guy in the US who always wanted to adjust a few things
and remix it. The result was a fascinating new presentation of the songs and a
certain clarity of the sound.
Elena: I do
hear Liverpudlean influences in your music, most notably some of the
psychedelic work of The Beatles, do you agree?
David: Yes I’m
a massive fan of the Beatles. When I lived in Liverpool for a time I actually
lived near Strawberry Fields and McCartney’s and Lennon’s houses so I could
pass those every day, which gave a new aspect to their music, especially the
Sergeant Pepper period.
Elena: you are
writing a book on the early days of the Beatles in Liverpool?
David: I was,
it’s one of those unfinished books that some writers have. I met Pete Best –
the old Beatles drummer before Ringo, and then met a few other people related
to the Beatles early days, and a book started to develop about their early
period and especially about Pete and another early member who passed away
called Stuart Sutcliffe. The book got permanently put on the back-burner as
the Masonic writing took over.
David Harrison and
Allan Williams, first manager of The Beatles, at an event to celebrate 50
years of the Beatles playing the Knotty Ash Village Hall on St. Patricks Day,
2012. “Allan had a few drinks by then - it was a free bar - and he went on
stage later to talk about the old days, which was entertaining,” David
thank you again for this interview. It has been a pleasure and a fascinating
learning experience to explore your work. I recommend that readers check out
the interviews linked below, as well as your blog posts, music, and books.
Phoenixmaosnry hopes to check in with you at a later time, as we are sure you
will keep on producing excellent work!
Harrison’s main blog, where you can find links to all his books, music,
interviews, and more:
Harrison’s interview with On the Level, a Lewis Masonic production:
Harrison’s interview on The Genesis of Freemasonry on Gardiner’s World:
Harrison’s original song, Luminous Circles:
Harrison on Lewis Masonic:
Harrison’s Hum on itunes:
DVD featuring a Dr. Harrison interview on Sky TV:
Dr. Harrison on his book The York Grand Lodge:
Link to all
David Harrison songs: