Freemasonry and The Lewis

From W.Bro. Barry J IPM Lodge of Balnarring No 850 UGLV.

A LEWIS is a simple but ingenious device employed by operative Masons to raise heavy blocks of dressed stone into place. It consists of three metal parts: two wedge-shaped side pieces, and a straight centre piece, that fit together (tenon). A dovetailed recess (mortise) is cut into the top of the stone block. The two outer pieces are inserted first and then spread by the insertion of the centrepiece.

The three parts are then bolted together, a metal ring or shackle is attached, and the block is hoisted by hook, rope and pulley. By this means, the block is gripped securely.

Freemasonry Lewis Mason Tool

Once set in its place in the structure, the lewis is removed leaving the upper surface smooth with no clamp or chains on the outside to interfere with the laying of the next course.

Our ancient operative brethren used this tool as early as the Roman era. Stones with the mortised cavity for the insertion of a lewis have been found in Hadrian’s Wall (built c. 121-127 CE). Archaeologists have found further evidence of its use by the Saxons in England in buildings constructed in the 7th century. The origin of the term ‘lewis’ for this device is uncertain.

Whence is the word Lewis derived?

Q. What’s a Mason’s Sons Name

A. Lewis

(The Wilkinson MS–c 1730/1740)

Some authorities trace its etymology to the French levis from lever – to lift, hoist, raise; and louve, grip or claw for lifting stones.

Masonic historians conclude that the term came into use in the 18th century. The Lecture in the Second Degree published by William Preston in the 1780s contains a lengthy discourse on the Lewis:

"WM – Brother J.W., How were the sons of craftsmen named?"

" JW –To the son on whom these honours were bequeathed, the appellation of Lewis was given, that from henceforth he might be entitled to all the privileges which that honour conferred, W. Sir.

A doggerel verse in ‘The Deputy Grand Master’s Song’ printed in the second edition of Anderson’s Constitutions published in 1738) , written as a sort of ‘loyal toast’ to be sung by the brethren around the festive board:

“Again let it pass to the ROYAL lov’d NAME,

Whose glorious Admission has crown’d all our Fame:

May a LEWIS be born, whom the World shall admire,

Serene as his MOTHER,

August as his SIRE.”

Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and Augusta, his wife, were about to produce an heir to the throne of England. On 4 June 1738 a grandson of King George II was born amid general rejoicing. His father, Prince Frederick had been made a Freemason in the previous year, (5 November 1737). The boy would reign as King George III (1760 -1820), and although he would not fulfill the wish expressed in the song and follow his father into the Craft and therefore become a ‘Lewis’, three of his younger brothers, the Dukes of York, Gloucester, and Cumberland would be Initiated. Indeed, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland, Initiated in 1767, would serve as the Grand Master of England, 1782 -1790.

A paragraph in a version of the Junior Warden’s Lecture used in the Grand Lodge of England dating from 1801 gives this instructive explanation: “The word Lewis denotes strength, and is here depicted by certain pieces of metal dovetailed into a stone, which forms a cramp, and enables the operative Mason to raise great weights to certain heights with little encumbrance, and to fix them in their proper bases. Lewis, likewise denotes the son of a Mason; his duty is to bear the heat and burden of the day, from which his parents, by reason of their age, ought to be exempt; to help them in time of need, and thereby render the close of their days happy and comfortable; his privilege for so doing is to be made a Mason before any other person however dignified.”

In a statement issued in 1989 by M.W. Bro. The Duke of Kent, the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, the current use of the term is defined: “A Lewis is the uninitiated son of a Mason and it does not matter whether the son was born before or after his father became a Mason. When a Lewis is one of two candidates being initiated on the same day he would be the senior for the purpose of the ceremony. Being a Lewis is not grounds for dispensation to enable him to be initiated under the age of 21.” (Proceedings 1989, Fraternal Correspondence, p. 237) Honour thy father ...

In the days of operative Masonry, it was a great source of pride when a son followed in his father’s footsteps and was Entered as an Apprentice, his name ‘entered’ on the roll, and thereby admitted to the lodge. To study his father’s skills and learn to use his father’s tools were manifest expressions of the greatest honour and esteem a son could pay. It was common to carry on the tradition through several generations in the same family. It is a heart - warming day when a young man first shows interest in Freemasonry and asks his father how he might become a Mason, and it is a proud day when that son, in the fullness of time, is admitted a member of his father’s lodge by Initiation. To moralize on.

On the day that King Solomon laid the foundation stone of the Temple, beginning the construction of the great building project conceived by his father David, but given to his son to complete, the last words of King David may have come to his mind. When the time of David’s death drew near, he gave his last charge to his son Solomon: I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong and show yourself a man. (1 Kings 2:1) When a son of a Mason proudly wears the Lewis Jewel, it ought to impress upon us all this same moral. It personifies the final words of the General Charge.

"From generation to generation".


We all know that a "Lewis" normally refers to a Candidate for the First Degree who is the son of a Master Mason. It was several years after I was Initiated before I actually found out that a "Lewis" has another operative Masonic meaning.

"The smooth ashlar is generally suspended from a pulley, and held by the lewis, (See fig. to the right.) an implement consisting of wedge-shaped pieces of steel which are fitted into a dovetailed mortice in the stone to be hoisted.

This instrument was so named, by the architect who invented it, in honour of the French King Louis XIV. One who is the son or daughter of a Mason is called a lewis (because he is supposed to support his parents in their old age), and it is generally held that he may be initiated into Masonry when only eighteen years old. Though some assert that this can be done only by special dispensation, the custom is to regard it as a right.

From the Second Edition (1926) of

The Hidden Life in Freemasonry by C. W. Leadbeater 33°

As appearing at

A Lewis Medallion

The Lewis Medallion (shown below) signifies consecutive generations of Freemasons. As another consecutive generation of son is Initiated another 'ribbon' is added to the Medallion.

Masonic Lewis Medallion