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Usually, a question mark at the end of a title signifies that the answer to the question is an unequivocal ‘No!’. In this case the jury is still out.

Browsing in the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in London’s Freemasons Hall last Friday, I found that Lancelot Brown is listed in the ‘Index Fratrum Ædis’ of one of the oldest Masonic Lodges in London. 1)Rev. Arnold Whitaker Oxford, No. 4, An introduction to the history of the royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge acting by immemorial constitution (London 1928), p305; in the ‘Index Fratrum Ædis’. Compiled in 1928, the index lists ‘Brown, Lancelot’ in the long overview of members of what was at the time called Somerset House Lodge and would later become known as the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge. Lancelot Brown was apparently registered in 1775. 2)I had no time to further investigate this, as I had just one day to sift through the collection, and was essentially looking for other information. The lodge’s ‘annual returns’ do not seem to predate 1790.
Lancelot Brown is often referred to as ‘Capability’ Brown, a name which always -and rather distractingly- makes me think of Calamity Jane.

Somerset House, 1791

Somerset House in 1791. Aquatint and etching by J.C. Stadler. (© British Library)

Provided not a different Lancelot Brown is listed here (see further down), this seems to be the first confirmation that one of the world’s most famous landscape architects and garden designers had direct ties with the Freemasonry. 3)I do need to say thanks to Susan A. Snell, Archivist and Records Manager at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, for her patient introduction to the collections and helpful selection of sources to browse. It is safe to say that this chance find would not have been possible without her skills in selecting sources.

However
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. This listing does not give a conclusive answer that Brown was a Freemason. Brown could have been listed merely as a member of the lodge, who had not passed the initiation process. Besides, Lancelot Brown (1716-1783) also had a son called Lancelot Brown (1748-1802), who became an MP for Huntingdon in 1784. 4)Jane Brown, in Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The omnipotent magician 1716-1783 (London 2012), calls his son Lance. That may just be a twist to better distinguish between the father and the son.
On page 226 she mentions how LB sr was appointed high sheriff, but how LB jr took on the daily tasks -apparently without people noticing. So it wouldn’t be the first time the son is confused with the father.
This son would have been in his late twenties in 1775 and thus by all means old enough to join a lodge in his own right.

A lot of work still has to be done before this information is confirmed and/or properly put into context. That, I believe, is a nice task for researchers in Britain -if only for the practical reason of a closer proximity to the primary sources. Hopefully a conclusive answer is found in time for next year’s activities surrounding Brown’s tercentenary celebrations, taking place throughout England.
If Lancelot Brown (the father and landscape architect) indeed was a member of this particular lodge, the fact that at least one of these tercentenary activities shall take place in Somerset House, is very fitting.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Rev. Arnold Whitaker Oxford, No. 4, An introduction to the history of the royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge acting by immemorial constitution (London 1928), p305; in the ‘Index Fratrum Ædis’.
2. I had no time to further investigate this, as I had just one day to sift through the collection, and was essentially looking for other information. The lodge’s ‘annual returns’ do not seem to predate 1790.
Lancelot Brown is often referred to as ‘Capability’ Brown, a name which always -and rather distractingly- makes me think of Calamity Jane.
3. I do need to say thanks to Susan A. Snell, Archivist and Records Manager at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, for her patient introduction to the collections and helpful selection of sources to browse. It is safe to say that this chance find would not have been possible without her skills in selecting sources.
4. Jane Brown, in Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The omnipotent magician 1716-1783 (London 2012), calls his son Lance. That may just be a twist to better distinguish between the father and the son.
On page 226 she mentions how LB sr was appointed high sheriff, but how LB jr took on the daily tasks -apparently without people noticing. So it wouldn’t be the first time the son is confused with the father.
Summary

In de Library and Archive of Freemasonry in Londen vond ik de naam Lancelot Brown in de ‘index’ van de geschiedenis van een loge in Londen: Somerset House Lodge. Brown zou daar in 1775 zijn ingeschreven.
De vraag is echter of het om de landschapsarchitect gaat, of om diens gelijknamige zoon, die op dat moment bijna dertig jaar oud was. De inschrijving in het register hoeft tevens niet te betekenen dat hij vrijmetselaar was: hij kan ook zijn ingeschreven als ‘lid’, en nooit de initiatie hebben doorlopen.

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