Samuel Hemming – His life as Schoolmaster and Freemason
A lecture given to the lodge by Andrew Curtis on 18th October 2002
The brethren of the Old Hamptonian Lodge have a little tradition which dates back to the foundation of the Lodge in 1938. During the festive board, the formal meal following the end of the Lodge meeting, a small ritual is enacted between the Master of the Lodge and his Wardens. The ritual culminates in drinking to the health of Dr Samuel Hemming, Headmaster of Hampton School from 1803 to 1828 and an illustrious Freemason.
But who was Hemming and why should he be accorded such a toast? The toast states that ‘he is, more than any other single person, the father of our ritual’.
This relates not just to the ritual practised in the Old Hamptonian Lodge but to ceremonies observed throughout the Masonic world as regulated by the United Grand Lodge of England. It is a bold statement for any lodge to justify – if freemasonry were a religion then this would make Hemming its chief prophet; if it were a system of moral law then this would make him its Sargon or Hammurabi. As Freemasonry has elements of both religious observance and moral philosophy, the positing of Hemming as the ‘father of our ritual’ is one that demands justification. What evidence is there to back up this impressive claim?
To answer this question we must look in several different areas – Hemming’s life as a schoolmaster; his impressive career as a Freemason and the wider politics and tensions prevalent in English freemasonry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Hemming was born on 3rd February 1767, the son of John Chesyne Hemming. The family had long been resident in the locality, his great-grandfather, John Hemming, died at Isleworth in 1730 and Hemming himself was born in Teddington.
He was not the first Samuel Hemming in the family to be a man of the church – his grandfather, who was born in 1686 and who died in 1732, was Reverend Samuel Hemming M.A. and his father’s elder brother was the first in the family to be styled Dr Samuel Hemming, D.D. We can therefore say with some confidence that his was an upbringing steeped in the church and the academic study of theology.
Of his own education we know that he entered the Merchant Taylor’s School in 1773 at the age of 6. He progressed to St John’s College, Oxford at the age of sixteen and he took his BA degree there in 1787. His Masters followed in 1791.
In 1797 he married Elizabeth Baker. The union was fruitful, both financially as well as for the eight or nine children it brought forth as Elizabeth was of substantial means. Although he had been brought up in an atmosphere of religion and clerical study it was not until he was 31 years of age that he took his Bachelors’ Degree in Divinity. This was followed in 1801 by his gaining of his doctorate and thus the style of Dr Samuel Hemming D.D.
Up to this point he does not appear to have had any overt interest in Freemasonry. However, it is at about this time that he first comes into association with the free school at Hampton and, coincidentally or maybe not so coincidentally, into his equally long association with Freemasonry.
In 1801 the school at Hampton was a building attached to the parish church of St Mary. The building itself dated from 1726 but there had been a school on the site since Robert Hammond founded his ‘howse with seates in yt for children to be tawght in’ in 1556. By 1801 the school was being funded from two principle trusts: Hammond’s bequest, augmented by additional funds from the wills of Nicholas and Edmund Pigeon and Nathaniel Lacey, and that set up by the estate of Captain John Jones at the end of the Seventeenth century. As we will hear later on the Byzantine nature of these funding arrangements was to have a direct impact on Hemming’s relationship with the school.
The nominal Headmaster of the school at this time was the Reverend Richard Kilsha. In 1800 he had asked the Trustees for a leave of absence on account of his ‘Misfortunes and Embarassments’. What these unfortunate events were has not come down to us and, while speculating about them could provide us with some amusement, it would not necessarily get us far in our understanding of Hemming. Suffice to say, Hemming was appointed Kilsha’s deputy and was de facto head of the school. In 1803, Kilsha resigned and Hemming was formally elected Master of the Free School at Hampton.
As previously indicated, the school’s governance was based on two separate sets of trustees and further, given that the purpose of the school was to provide free education to the boys of the parish, by the church laity of Hampton.
The Master of the School was first elected by the parishioners of Hampton and thence had his employment ratified by two sets of Trustees. In Hemming’s case this was done on the 11th October 1803 and 10th November 1803 respectively. Perhaps in view of Kilsha’s ‘embarrassments and misfortunes’, Hemming was required to sign up to a code of rules, drawn up by the trustees, as to the collection and distribution of funds and the management of the school.
The office of Master was a powerful one in terms of controlling the rents of the various properties making up the bequests of the benefactors but the Master’s responsibilities towards the school were equally demanding. In a requirement that would make most modern heads wince with financial pain, the Master of Hampton was expected to provide pens, ink, paper, books and firing for the use of all the scholars during school hours. Furthermore, he was also expected to ‘personally and constantly attend the duties of the school….instructing the children in English, Latin, Writing and Arithmetic and Religious and Moral duties’. These words are taken verbatim from what amounts to Hemming’s contract of employment.
Freemasons will recognise that those last four words in that order form a key part of the preamble to the great and solemn obligation taken by all masons. This might be coincidence or it could be, in the light of events that are about to be made clear, that Hemming was trying to signal something, if not to the trustees then perhaps in his own mind, that his activities as a Freemason were not incompatible with his duties as a schoolmaster.
But we are jumping ahead here. Still to be told is what was happening to Hemming from a Masonic point of view. You will recall that Hemming started work as Kilsha’s deputy in 1801 soon after attaining his doctorate.
In December 1802 he was proposed as a candidate for initiation into Freemasonry by two senior freemasons, Bro Charles Marsh, who had been Junior Grand Warden in 1778 and Bro Hezeltine, then the Grand Treasurer. The lodge into which he was proposed was then No.2 (now No.4) Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge.
The name and number of this Lodge give ample indication of its august position within Freemasonry. Together with the Lodge of Antiquity and the Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland, it is one of only three Lodges on the register of the Grand Lodge of England that date their foundation ‘from time immemorial’.
At the time of Hemming’s entry into masonry there were already several hundred lodges: his initiation into one of such ancient and noble origins, along with his proposition by two of the most senior brethren in the country, suggests that he had either already been identified as a man of profound intellect with whom masonry would wish to be identified or that he had made influential Masonic contacts prior to his being made a Mason or both.
Some indication of the esteem with which members of the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge were held may be deduced from the fact that Bro. Rev. Thomas Vialls, who was approved, made, passed and raised at the same time as Hemming, was made Provincial Grand Master of Radnor in 1807, only 5 years after his initiation into Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge.
Not that Hemming stayed there long. The Lodge met, as it does to this day, in London and in those days before the internal combustion engine or even steam locomotion, the journey of 15 miles from Hampton to the centre of London was by no means a light undertaking.
It would have been a journey of over three hours completed by public stage coach, posting, private carriage or, in one notable case by Hemming, by chaise. Clearly a working school master would have to write off a day if he were to proceed to London, have a Lodge meeting, dine and return to Hampton. As we have noted previously, Hemming had got himself into a contract in which he was bound ‘personally and constantly’ to attend the duties of the school.
Hemming’s known attendances at his mother Lodge after being raised in March 1803 were limited to four and his last known attendance was on December 19th 1803, just over a month after the trustees had ratified his appointment as Master.
Hemming would perhaps have faced an impossible choice between his work as a schoolmaster and his interest in Masonry but help was at hand from a strangely familiar quarter.
The Chairman of the Trustees of the Free School of Hampton was Thomas Haverfield, who also happened to be a founder (and the first Senior Warden) of the Lodge of Harmony No.255 which met at the Toy Inn at Hampton. You will recall that Hemming’s tenure as de facto Master of Hampton pre-dated his entry into Masonry so it cannot be said that his preferment was influenced by his Masonic connections. The reverse might well be true, however, but at the remove of two centuries we cannot be sure. Suffice to say, the proximity of the Toy Inn to the School was such that Hemming could easily combine the duties of schoolmaster with the intense interest that he was clearly developing in Freemasonry.
The Lodge of Harmony was founded by warrant dated 2nd June 1785; every year on or around this date an Anniversary sermon was preached at Hampton Church following a public procession.
On July 21st 1803, some three months before he was elected Master of the School, Samuel Hemming preached the Anniversary sermon. The extract from the Lodge minutes of that day’s meeting reads as follows:
“This day being the Annual Feast and Time of Election of Officers, the Rev. Bro. Hemming, from an application being made by the Members of this Lodge, kindly condescended to favour us with a Sermon at the Parish Church of Hampton. The Lodge went in grand Procession to and from Church with strict order and propriety (after having obtained A Legal Dispensation from the Grand Lodge for that purpose)”
The Reverend’s sermon clearly went down a storm because following the election of the Master and the appointment of the officers of the Lodge of Harmony, Brother Hemming was proposed (but not by Haverfield) to become a joining member of the Lodge, a proposal which was accepted unanimously.
Hemming set to his work at the Lodge of Harmony with great zeal. In common with many masons in those days, he kept a Masonic Diary listing his attendances and the work carried out at the meeting. Following the anniversary meeting at which Hemming joined the Lodge, it met a further six times in 1803. Hemming attended four of these meetings, missing only those held on the 1st and 29th November at which time, it will be remembered, he had only just been made Master of the School.
On December 27th 1803, Hemming acted as Master, initiating and passing a Mr Robert Holmes. It is clear from the minutes that this was not a demonstration of a ceremony but a real initiation at which a candidate was brought into the craft.
It would be unheard of today for a mason who had only been raised nine months previously, much less had not been installed in the Master’s chair or even served the office of Warden, to initiate and then pass (at the same meeting) a candidate for Freemasonry. To cap this, Hemming then proposed the election of the new Master for the ensuing six months!
For the next five years Hemming attended the Lodge regularly, working his way up through the offices to be first a Warden and then Right Worshipful Master in his own right. He seems to have displayed an unusually strong aptitude for ceremony and ritual from the start and this is perhaps a clue as to how he came to the fore in the reorganization of the craft in 1813.
In 1808 he was elected Right Worshipful Master of the Lodge of Harmony No.255 for the first time. It was an office that he held continuously for nine years until 1816. He was Master again in 1820, 1821 and 1826; a total of twelve times in all.
We should now start to look at what was happening to Freemasonry in England during this period in history. As all Freemasons know, the Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717 and for most of the first half of the 18th Century it flourished so that by 1739 there were some 175 Lodges affiliated to it.
It was not the only Grand Lodge, however. Separate constitutions operated in Scotland and Ireland, as they continue to do so to this day, and another Grand Lodge operated in York. The Grand Lodge in London asserted itself by means of regulating the proceedings but this central interference in the matter of ritual proved too much for some brethren and in 1751 a rival Grand Lodge of the Antients was set up. As the Duke of Atholl was instrumental in its foundation, the Grand Lodge of the Antients was also known as the Atholl Grand Lodge.
This rival Grand Lodge may be thought of in the modern parlance as a ‘campaign for Real Masonry’. It was a body whose main aim was to refocus the ritual back on antediluvian practices which had been discarded or ignored by the Grand Lodge of England, or the ‘Moderns’ as they became known. Thus we have a rather curious oxymoronical set of terminology to describe the two Grand Lodges – the junior and recently founded Grand Lodge being described as ‘Antient’ and the older, senior Grand Lodge being styled as ‘Modern’.
For about 50 years or so this dual system operated but by the end of the century it was becoming clear to brethren in both constitutions that the situation was intolerable. Moves were made to reconcile the differences between the two Grand Lodges.
Royalty, then as now, were very active in the craft in both Grand Lodges and this circumstance was conducive to the unification of the two factions. In 1798, HRH Prince Augustus Frederick (who would later become the Duke of Sussex) was initiated into Freemasonry under the auspices of the ‘Moderns’. His elder brother HRH Prince Edward Augustus, later Duke of Kent and Strathearn and the father of Queen Victoria, had been initiated at the age of 22 in 1789 under the auspices of the ‘Antients’.
By 1813 these two Royals, brothers in the flesh as well as brothers in the craft, had reached the highest offices within their respective Grand Lodges. Things were in place to enable a unification of the two Grand Lodges. One of the points requiring delicate negotiation, however, was the matter of ritual which had led to the breach in the first place.
Hemming had been Master of the Lodge of Harmony for five consecutive years by this time. He had a reputation for ritual, as we have heard, and his mother Lodge was a Who’s Who of the great and the good.
When the time came for the Dukes of Kent and Sussex to each select nine brethren from their respective constitutions to form a Lodge of Reconciliation, Hemming’s name was on the list produced by the Moderns. Given his powerful intellectual ability and his reputation for the delivery of Ritual, Hemming was able to design a form of words and ceremony which would be acceptable to brethren from both jurisdictions. He was made the first Master of the Lodge of Reconciliation in 1813.
However, Hemming did not contrive this work in isolation but had many meetings and interviews with the Duke of Sussex and other worthies in order to hammer out the details. We know from minutes from the Lodge of Harmony that, at the end of 1814, Hemming went up to Kensington Palace (in a chaise) to see the Duke on what appears to have been Lodge of Harmony business. This might have been to do with finding the Lodge alternative accommodation in the Palace buildings as there were difficulties with the Landlord of the Toy Inn at around this time.
Difficulties were also beginning to manifest themselves between Hemming and the School Trustees. Thus far, Hemming seems to have been able to combine his school duties and his Masonic commitments if not in complete harmony then at least to the extent that friction between the two was negligible. We have already dwelt upon the fact that the Chairman of the Trustees, Haverfield, was also a prominent Freemason in the locality and there would have been an understanding of Hemming’s position from this quarter, if not complete sympathy.
But two events were about to occur which would make life very difficult for the Master of Hampton. The year was 1816. Hemming had been working on the ritual in the Lodge of Reconciliation for three years and was in the process of finally putting the ceremony together for public display before the Duke of Sussex and Grand Lodge.
This work would have necessarily taken him away from his duties at the school, both in terms of an investment of time and effort to perfect the ritual and also because of the lengthy journey between Hampton and London. He made something like 30 of these in the space of a few months around the time of the Union of the two Grand Lodges.
By 1816 the work was nearly finished though. At a Special Meeting of the Lodge of Reconciliation on Friday 3rd May 1816, Hemming and the other Lodge officers demonstrated the finished ceremony before the Most Worshipful Grand Master.
Just under three weeks later, on Monday 20th May, a special Grand Lodge was convened and all the ceremonies and all parts of the ritual were demonstrated before the rank and file of English Freemasonry. The form of working demonstrated by the Lodge of Reconciliation was formally adopted on Wednesday 5th June. Hemming’s reward for his tireless work in this area was to be made Senior Grand Warden in 1816 and Grand Chaplain in 1817.
The second event that occurred was a fusion between the Hammond and the Jones trustees which took place in November 1816. The result was a body of authority anxious to reassert itself over the Master and the running of the school.
All manner of petty politicking suddenly came to the fore: Hemming was called to account for his regular personal attendance (or otherwise) at the school; there was a question over whether Latin was being correctly and fully taught (given that this was an activity which attracted a fee from parents of scholars, the matter was far from trivial); on the school management side of things, queries were raised over the Master’s right to receive Chancel fees (which proved to be the source of a conflict of interest with at least one of the trustees) and his stewardship of the Rectory lands and the Bell Inn, the income of which materially affected the running of the school.
There were issues of class and intellect here as well, together with the inevitable clash that occurs when a strong character collides with a set of weaker minds. Hemming cannot be said to have been born into the nobility but he was rubbing shoulders with them on a regular basis. Ironically, it was through his work in the parish of Hampton that he first came into contact with HRH Prince William, Duke of Clarence (afterwards King William IV) and through him into his productive association with the Duke’s younger brother, the Duke of Sussex.
The trustees of Hampton, the more so after their amalgamation, tended to be parish worthies of the mercantile class at best. The Master was possessed of a strong intellect but seems to have lacked the common touch and was not a particularly astute politician.
One can envisage him, by 1816, travelling up to Kensington Palace in his chaise, regaling his Royal confidant with the latest development in ritual and the outcome of his efforts with the other members of the Lodge of Reconciliation. And then following this audience, the dreary ride back to Hampton and the small town Napoleons who awaited him with their annoying questions about the running of the school and their impertinent belief that they had a right to expect him to attend the schoolhouse at all times.
A game of cat and mouse ensued with the trustees having the moral upper hand through his non-attendance but with Hemming carrying the day through force of legal and intellectual argument. The result was that Hemming stayed in office as Master but there was a clear injury to his relations with the trustees that was never really healed. By 1819 these tensions had simmered down but they continued in a mild form up to Hemming’s death in 1828.
Hemming’s work on the ritual seems have to attracted some petty jealousies within Freemasonry itself. Long after his death, a calumny circulated that Hemming had lost his mind some years before he died and that his work on the ritual and lectures had to be completed by other hands. Reference to the records of Hampton School shows that this is a fallacious argument: Hemming suffered a paralytic seizure, which might have been a stroke, in 1826 two years before his death. This enervated him completely but up until this point all the indications are that he was sound of mind and body and active in Freemasonry at a local, if not a national level. Perhaps mindful of the difficulties that he had encountered with the trustees at the time of Union, he withdrew from London masonry after his work on standardising the ritual was complete, though he joined the Stability Lodge of Instruction (which was the ancestor of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement) in 1820, perhaps to keep an eye on the custodians of ‘his’ ritual!
After 1820 he threw himself back into the life of the school and the parish, dealing with Poor Relief, auditing the parish accounts and serving on a committee concerned with enlarging the church. He continued in this vein until just after his seizure.
In September 1824, Hemming sought a leave of absence from the Trustees either because of health concerns or because of the death of one of his daughters that year. The trustees hesitated, either through belated revenge for Hemming outmanoeuvring them before or because of the even longer memory of Kilsha’s difficulties. The result was that Hemming stayed.
He suffered his paralytic seizure in November 1826. This serious illness kept him from duty until May 1827 but there is an indication that he recovered to a certain extent and was able to resume his duties at the school until the evening of June 15th 1828 when he died at the age of 61. Sadly, another daughter, Henrietta Mary aged 21 years, pre-deceased him by four days and it is highly likely that the shock of this loss played a decisive part in his demise.
Hemming is buried in St Mary’s Church, Hampton. There is a window dedicated to his memory in the parish church of St Stephens, East Twickenham. His name survives through Hemming Lodge No.1512 which was founded in 1874 and which owns the portrait of Dr Hemming which is exhibited at Cole Court in Twickenham.
But the lasting memorial to Samuel Hemming is the form of words and actions that we use in each of our ceremonies. Hemming was one of a number of brethren who were instrumental in designing, developing and improving Masonic ritual at a time when Masonry was evolving into the institution that we know today. The description of him in the Hemming Toast as being ‘the father of our ritual’ has a strong foundation and we honour his memory each time we recite the words of our obligations.
It would be nice if I could say that this lecture is all my own work but it most certainly is not. I claim credit for the style and the presentation but most certainly not for the content which comes from a variety of sources, both Masonic and non-Masonic.
I am indebted to the researches of the late W.Bro James Johnstone FRCS, whose pamphlet on Hemming published by Quatuor Coranati Lodge in 1928 forms the bulk of my research material. Johnstone himself acknowledged the help he received from the late W.Bro Bernard Garside, History Master at Hampton Grammar School and the provider of our great ‘she’ bible which is always open at our meetings. W.Bro Garside single-handedly produced the history of Hampton School from its earliest origins and it only thanks to his researches that the position of Hemming, both as a schoolmaster and as a Mason, is known today.
Finally, my thanks go to a nameless predecessor in the Old Hamptonian Lodge who drafted a lecture about Hemming many years ago. When I was about halfway through writing my account I came across several yellowing pages of fine handwriting in the Lodge records detailing much of the ground that I had already covered but also giving me valuable information about Hemming’s family life and background that was new to me. To this unknown brother, whom I hope to identify before too long, I give my heartfelt thanks.