The exact origins of Freemasonry are unknown and it is likely to remain a mystery despite the multitude of theories concerning its origin and purpose.

Illustrious references are often made to the working, or 'operative', stonemasons of the Middle Ages who built castles and cathedrals throughout Europe, while symbolically, the Craft of Freemasonry as practiced today dates back to the days o f biblical King Solomon and his building of the first temple in Jerusalem.

Reference is also made to The Knights Templar and to the Rosicrucian brotherhood.

The oldest documentary reference to Masons is in the Regius Poem circa 1390 and later, the documents known as the Old Charges - dating from the 14th century to after the 1600's. These documents define a set of regulations, or 'Charges', to govern the social behaviour of Masons within their Craft and in society in general. The Old Charges also describe a largely legendary history of geometry, architecture and the craft of Masonry and the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Whatever its origin, Freemasons are the oldest and mostly widely known fraternal organisation of men in the world today.

Freemasonry in the 18th and 19th century

While there is recorded reference to the existence of lodges as far back as the 15th Century, 24 June 1717 is widely acknowledged as the date on which Freemasonry was officially founded, when four previously-established lodges in London met together to constitute the Grand Lodge of England - the Premier Grand Lodge for Masons all over the world.

One theory is that this was the culmination of a three-stage process of evolution of Freemasonry which began with the formation of 'Lodges' in the Middle Ages which regulated the trade of stonemasons employed to build the great castles, abbeys and cathedrals of medieval England.

These stonemasons were known as 'Operative' masons and their lodges as 'Operative' lodges.

In the early 17th century these operative lodges began to accept non-stonemasons or 'accepted' masons into their lodges. As 'Accepted' Masons began to form majorities in these operative lodges, they transformed the lodges into 'speculative' lodges.

These speculative lodges eventually evolved into the Masonic Lodges of today.

Shortly after the formation of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717, dissent grew amongst certain members because of changes that were being introduced in both custom and ritual. Several lodges refused to acknowledge the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, which in turn promulgated various edicts to prevent the growth of these lodges. These lodges however continued to operate independently and eventually joined forces with a group of Irish Masons who were denied entry to the London lodges, mainly because of their artisan status and because their ritual did not conform to the 'new' English convention.

On 17 July 1751 these independent lodges formed a new Grand Lodge "the Ancients" Grand Lodge as opposed to the "Modern" Grand Lodge of 1717.

On the 26 June 1725 the Grand Lodge of Ireland was formed and on 30 November 1736 the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed.

The Ancient Grand Lodge and the Modern Grand Lodge continued to co-exist as the two 'official' grand lodges of England until 27 December 1813, when they came together to form the United Grand Lodge of England.

The resultant three British Grand Lodges namely England, Ireland and Scotland have maintained a close relationship since those days, despite retaining their individual autonomy and developing differences in custom and practice.

From the United Kingdom, Grand Lodges were established across the four quarter of the earth.

Freemasonry in South Africa

Although a number of Masons had settled in the Cape of Good Hope in the 1700's, the first lodge was formed on 2nd May 1772.

Abraham van der Weidje, a captain of a ship sailing to the East Indies, called at the Cape and under authority from the Grand Master of the Grand East of the Netherlands Lodge; he summoned a meeting of Masons that were residing in the Cape.

The Lodge De Goede Hoop was founded on this day with Abraham Chiron as its Charter Master.

On 27 December 1800 the 1st English lodge was formed in South Africa when Lodge No.1 at the Cape of Good Hope and No. 321 in the Registry of the Grand Lodge of England, came into existence.

During the next 87 years Freemasonry spread rapidly from the Cape Province to the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Natal, Northern Cape and Free State and ultimately to the Transvaal, where on 21 September 1887, the Lodge Golden Thistle of the Scottish Constitution was the first lodge to be chartered in Johannesburg.

The first English lodge to be chartered in the Transvaal in 1887 was the Transvaal Lodge No. 1747, which was based in Pretoria. In May 1890, Johannesburg Lodge No. 2313 was the first English lodge to be formed on the Witwatersrand.

District Grand Lodge of South Africa, North (Formerly the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal) under The United Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of England.

The District Grand Lodge of Transvaal, of which the Witwatersrand Lodge is a member lodge, was inaugurated on 30 April 1895 with R W Bro George Richards (who had received his patent on 1 January 1895) being installed as its first District Grand Master.

The first lodge to be consecrated on 16 February 1985 by the newly constituted District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal was the Roodepoort Lodge (No. 2539) which was granted its warrant on 1 December 1894.

Roodepoort was the 12th lodge constituting the new District in 1895.

The other eleven, in chronological order of consecration, were:

Transvaal Lodge17471878/06/13
Royal Albert Lodge23151889/10/08
Johannesburg Lodge23131890/03/26
Heidelberg Lodge23541890/09/15
El Dorado Lodge23141892/02/03
Jeppestown Lodge24811893/08/26
Gold Fields Lodge24781893/10/14
Boksburg Lodge24801893/08/26
Pietersburg United Lodge (formerly Zoutpansberg Liberty Lodge)24851893/11/29Merged with Star of the North Lodge in 1916
Ermelo Lodge25161894/05/15Erased 1904.
Germiston Lodge24981894/06/02

This was followed by the establishment of the following lodges in sequential order - resulting in the District Grand Lodge of South Africa, North ultimately becoming the largest geographical District in English Freemasonry in the world.

Roodepoort Lodge25391895/02/16
St George Lodge25441895/05/11Transferred into the Natal District in 1903.
Doornfontein Lodge25851895/11/26
Prosperity Lodge26071896/11/04
Star of the North Lodge26401896/12/22 Erased 1916. Merged with Zoutpansberg Liberty Lodge No. 2485 to become Pietersburg United Lodge.
Royal George Lodge26431897/04/21???
Coalfields Lodge26531897/06/19
Concordia Lodge26851898/04/16
Fordsburg Lodge27181898/04/21
Barberton Lodge27191898/06/24
Corona Lodge27311898/08/29
Clifton Lodge27481898/02/07
Kosmos Lodge27681899/05/26
Vernon Lodge27741899/04/21
Columbia Lodge29001902/08/01
Standerton Lodge28941902/09/20
United Services Lodge of Pretoria29671903/08/08
Pyramids Lodge29681903/07/27Erased 1916
King Edward Lodge30041903/12/12
Fidelity Lodge29991904/02/13
Fairview Lodge30101904/03/10
Richmond Lodge30451904/08/18Erased 1943
Hillbrow Lodge30491904/08/20
Astrea Lodge30731905/01/21Waterval Boven
Royal Edward Lodge30701905/03/14
Civil Service Lodge31181905/04/07
Outpost Lodge31321905/08/23Erased 1916
Norwood Lodge31491905/10/07
Benoni Lodge31571905/11/16
Rose and Thistle Lodge31501906/03/31
Denver Lodge31671906/07/18
Premier Diamond Lodge31721906/08/30
Gladwys Lodge32051906/10/08
The Arts Lodge32031907Erased 1937
Temperance Lodge32151907/01/22
The Ionic Lodge32351907/05/29
Makwassi Lodge32531907/10/05Erased 1919
Acacia Lodge32601907/11/13
Emrys Lodge32591907/11/18
Unanimity Lodge33721909/08/26
Belfast Lodge34251910/03/19
Apollo Lodge34371910/04/02
Vereeniging Peace Lodge34611910/12/03
Bethel United Lodge35941912/05/18
Phoenix Lodge36021912/06/29
The 'Mkonto Lodge36271913/01/16
Lion of the North36401913/04/18
Woodlands Lodge36681913/05/12
Witwatersrand Lodge3745 1915/05/01Formerly Transvaal Masters Lodge
Victory Lodge41571920/06/24
Bohemian Lodge44571922/12/04
Waldie Peirson Lodge47371925/05/19
Vrede Lodge48161926/10/08
Kensington Lodge48931927/02/23
Minerva Lodge49861928/02/16
Pyramid Lodge50031928/04/14
Letaba Lodge53251932/03/12
Messina Lodge54831934/08/25
Springs Lodge56691937/08/30
Travellers Lodge58201939/10/14
Golden Reef Lodge58341940/08/31
Orphic Lodge59491944/04/17
Pretoria Lodge60171945/04/28
Komatipoort Lodge61211945Erased 1950
Transvaal Jubilee Lodge61431945/09/15
Protea Lodge64711947/06/19
Harmony Lodge64701947/08/19
Golden West Lodge66891948/08/07
Hesperia Lodge69481950/02/24
Clarendon Lodge70411950/03/29
Melrose Lodge70341950/10/13
The Lodge Vaal70391951/01/19
White River Lodge70821951/05/12
Swaziland Lodge70351951/06/02
Union Lodge70811951/08/18
Arcadia Lodge71491952/02/26
Doric Lodge72251952/08/30
Southern Cross Lodge72261952/09/09
Delville Lodge72311952/12/03
Coronation Lodge72911953/08/31
University Lodge73271954/02/13
Semper Vigilans Lodge73621954/10/27
J H Vivian Lodge74401956/04/21
Oaklands Lodge74561956/06/14
Edenvale Lodge75931958/11/05
Fraternity Lodge77291960/10/17
Highveld Lodge77501961/02/18
Bryanston Lodge78151962/02/07
Alchemy Lodge79561964/02/10
President Lodge80531965/10/30 President Lodge is now a Universities Scheme Lodge
Bramley Lodge80521965/11/22
Phalaborwa Lodge81201966/07/30
Amity Lodge81351966/12/12
Verona Lodge81871967/09/29
Transvaal D G Stewards Lodge81941967/12/08
Rustenburg Lodge82541968/11/09
Amiantos Lodge82881969/06/21Mhlume, Swaziland
St George's Lodge83221970/05/30
Jack Folly Lodge83351970/08/29
Safari Lodge84231972/05/13
First Pride Lodge84471972/10/07
Aviation Lodge84711972/11/28
Flame Lily Lodge85401973/11/24
Hartebeestpoort Lodge85451974/02/02
St Michael's Lodge86431975/04/10
Boksburg St John Lodge86421975/05/29
Park Lane Lodge86571975/09/04
Lyceum Lodge of Research86821975/12/01
Emulation Lodge87171976/05/14
New Horizons Lodge87031976/05/21
Gaborone Lodge87811977/07/02
New Zealand Lodge88241978/07/19
Isando Lodge89551980/10/25
Exsequi Lodge89941981/05/08
Universal Friendship Lodge90421982/06/29
Golden Harvest Lodge92341987/07/22
Baden Powell Lodge93701990/08/15
Maritime Lodge94061991/03/11
Transvaal Nomads Lodge95191993/08/27
The Lodge of Friendship16961877/10/11Brought into the Transvaal District in 1994, this is the oldest Lodge in the District.