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MASONS' MARKS, AT BURSCOUGH PRIORY, ORMSKIRK CHURCH, BIRKENHEAD PRIORY, AND SOME OTHER MARKS FROM BUILDINGS IN THE COUNTIES OF LANCASTER AND CHESTER; TOGETHER WITH NOTES ON THE GENERAL HISTORY OF MASONS' MARKS.
By W. Harry Rylands, F.S.A.
Read 8th January, 1891.
IT was a subject of great regret to me that, when staying for a short time in the district, I was unable to visit the ruins of Burscough Priory and the interesting old parish church of Ormskirk. Through the kindness, however, of Mr. James Bromley and my brother, I have been furnished with carefully-made drawings and other materials, which have enabled me to lay before the Society this small contribution towards the study of masons' marks in Cheshire and Lancashire.
It is unnecessary to give here a list of all the marks which have been published from other sources, but I may mention that a very good list, up to the date at which it was issued, will be found in the Dictionary of Architecture, and others I shall have occasion to mention. There have been many theories about the meaning, and real reasons for the invention and use of marks. It must, however, not be forgotten, that in the middle ages marks were not peculiar to masons; they were commonly employed by many other trades, and were perhaps more especially used as badges by merchants and traders; though I think I am correct in saying that, so far as we know, they were used by masons as early or earlier than by any other trade. Many examples of potters' and other marks have been published, and it may be interesting to notice that the brick-marks found at the churches of St. Catherine, and St. Mary, at Stendal, in Saxony, both dating from the fifteenth century, are all well-known types of masons' marks. (A. Demmin, Encyclop. dcs Beaux-arts plastiques, p. 845.)
It is only in quite recent times that any attention whatever has been paid to the subject of masons' marks, and this is not surprising when we remember the often-repeated story told by Mr. George Godwin, of the French priest at Poictiers, who, on being shown the marks in his church, remarked:—"I have walked through this church "four times a day, twenty-eight times a week, for "nearly forty years, and never noticed one of "them; and now I cannot look anywhere but they "flit into my eyes."
So early as 1836, Victor Didron, in his report of an archaeological tour made in France, addressed to M. Guizot, then Minister of Public Instruction, gave an account of masons' marks, and pointed out their value, having copied about 4000. (Ann. Arch., 1845, II., 246.) Attention was first called to their interest and value in this country by the late Mr. George Godwin. His papers were followed by others, and a quantity of information on the subject has been collected. I may therefore, in the present instance, say a few words calling special attention to some of their chief points of interest. It seems quite clear that it is only by collecting every available mark, with careful notes of position, size, probable date, and any other peculiarity worthy of notice, that we can hope ever to arrive at any definite conclusion about their several uses. Moreover, everyone must agree with Mr. Godwin that "No circumstance which pro"mises to throw even the smallest additional light "on the early history of those wonderful men to "whom we are indebted for so many magnificent "buildings, can be deemed insignificant or un"worthy of consideration."
The use of the marks is not confined to any country or any age; they are to be found upon stones used in building by almost every nation of the ancient world. The late Rev. A. F. A. Woodford (Masonic Cyclop., 1878, p. 458) furnishes the opinions of the late Mr. E. W. Shaw—" That 'marks were first of all alphabetical, or based on 1 the letters and numerals of the language of the 'country in which the masons were working. The 'Roman marks are apparently more symbolical 'and less alphabetical, though later the ' Runes' 'seem to have been merely used as marks. As 'art moved on, mathematical figures and religious 'symbols became more in vogue. We think, 'therefore, that the masons' marks (like all other 'earthly arrangements) developed as time went 'on, from the alphabetical and numeralistic to the 'symbolical and exoteric"; and he adds, "It is 'but fair to observe here, that what is called the 'magical alphabet, bears a very marked similarity 'to the masons' marks; indeed, it is not too much "to say that all the letters of that Hermetic "collection have their counterparts in masons' "marks."
The well-known letters, both cut and painted in red, from the Pyramids of Giseh, copied by Col. Howard Vyse, and those found by Col. Sir Charles Warren, upon the foundation stones of the walls of Jerusalem, may be mentioned. Dr. Flinders Petrie, in his work, A Season in Egypt, 1887, writes as follows (p. 23) :—" The subject of quarry "marks is much connected with graffiti: and while "examining the quarries for inscriptions, I also "took note of the various quarry marks on their "sides. At the quarries of West Silsileh and down "to Silweh, it was a custom to sculpture in relief at "the head of the quarry some distinctive mark by "which all the blocks from there were to be "known. These relief types, or standard quarry "marks, are carefully carved. ****** "Besides these, sets of marks may be seen on the "quarry side, giving the standard marks with "some additions. ***** Probably these "were type marks, to be copied on to the blocks "of one particular batch. When we copy the "quarry marks from the buildings, then it is easy "to settle from what place, and, sometimes, even "from which quarry the blocks have been brought. "Thus all the blocks of the eastern *->^ yK "pylon at Denderah bear the theta r J J "and the arrow, which is the stany>**S "dard mark of one particular quarry
r«.». « north 0f the Seba Rigaieh. At Edfu, "on the quay, we find the table of offerings, ^_ "which seems to be the characteristic of | | "Silsileh. The quay at Esneh also bears HT "the table of offerings, and the shrine, like Fig2"Silsileh. At Kom Ombo, where no quarry lay "above it from which the blocks could be floated "clown, except one where the path runs over the "cliff, there we meet just the quarry marks jv] "which are found at this southern quarry. u—I "The large designs" [these include the Fig. 3. shrine, a warrior, a hawk, a tree of very Assyrian model, a pyramid, &c.] "at Silsileh seem "hardly like mere quarry marks, but the type of a "shrine may well have belonged to this quarry, "from the fine shrine of Amenhotep III., which "stood here, surmounted by a hawk; the frag"ments of this shrine and the bird may still be "sejen."
In the above instance, the quarries possessed marks. Thus the marks served very much the same trade purpose as the individual mason mark; the superintendence of each quarry was probably in the hands of one or more skilled master masons, who would be answerable for all the stones finished by the workmen employed in cutting stones. It occurred to me that these marks, following a custom of later times, might belong to the temple for which the stones were intended rather than to the quarry—i.e., that a certain quarry, with its own master and workmen, was devoted to the use of a certain temple, but Dr. Petrie informs me that the marks belonging to the different quarries are found on stones in the same building.
Some of the most ancient marks, it is curious to note, have survived through a long series of years in various countries, even down to our own time. Several very interesting tables have been published (Godwin, Sessional Papers, Roy. Inst, of Brit. Architects, 1868-69, P- x35 J repeated in Builder, 1869, xxvii., 245-6), the most recent being those illustrating the papers by Professor T. Hayter Lewis, F.S.A., etc. (Journal Brit. Arch. Association, vol. xlv., p. 145, &c.; and Trans. Lodge Quatuor Coronati, No. 2076, vol. iii., p. 65, &c.)