In the 1600’s, the ideas of the Renaissance were gaining a foothold and the foundations of the Enlightenment were being laid. Individuals in Europe were breaking free from the bondage of feudalism. Men like Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Renee Descartes (1596-1650), William Shakespeare (1564-1623), Christopher Wren (1632-1723), Isaac Newton (1643-1727) were offering new ways to view science, math and human behavior. At the same time, the foundations for a new fraternity were being laid.
In 1652, the introduction of coffee into London created an environment in which people of like mind could gather and share news, interests and ideas. People began to gather in establishments, aptly named coffee houses, dedicated to serving this new beverage. These coffee houses gave rise to a new way of sharing information. By 1700, it is estimated that as many as 500 such coffee houses existed in London alone.
It has been noted that “the London coffee-houses provided a gathering place where, for a penny admission charge, any man who was reasonably dressed could smoke his long, clay pipe, sip a dish of coffee, read the newsletters of the day, or enter into conversation with other patrons. At the period when journalism was in its infancy and the postal system was unorganised and irregular, the coffee-house provided a centre of communication for news and information. Runners were sent round to the coffee-house to report major events of the day, such as victory in battle or political upheaval, and the newsletters and gazettes of the day were distributed chiefly in the coffee-house. Most of the establishments functioned, as reading rooms, for the cost of newspapers and pamphlets was included in the admission charge. In addition, bulletins announcing sales, sailings, and auctions covered the walls of the establishments, providing valuable information to the businessman who conducted much of his business from a table at his favorite coffee-house.” (J. Pelzer and L. Pelzer, "Coffee Houses of Augustan London," History Today, October 1982, pp. 40-47.)
By fostering the gathering of the locals who shared news and ideas, these coffee houses gave rise to societies and institutions that exist to this day. Many coffee houses began to attract people with specific interests. From these venues arose chess clubs, The Royal Society, the London Stock Exchange, Lloyds’ of London, etcetera.
It has been shown that history of Freemasonry and coffee houses intertwined in the late 1600’s (http://www.blackapollo.demon.co.uk/history.html) through the early 1700’s and beyond (http://www.freemasonrytoday.co.uk/coffee.shtml). One might speculate that the flourishing of these coffee houses may have had a direct impact on the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London in 1717, but that is beyond the scope of this introduction.
The purpose for discussing the coffee houses is to describe the collegiality of these establishments and to provide a glimpse into their ability to bring together people in the sharing of ideas at the crest of a new period in history — the Enlightenment.
Today, Benjamin Brown French Lodge #15 strives to pursue these same ideals. We seek an environment of gentlemanly behavior in an atmosphere of thinking and learning. We also enjoy the spirit of conviviality and companionship that a well-governed lodge should create.
We aim to pursue a balanced approach to Freemasonry. We strive to combine the best of all Masonic worlds. We foster the comportment and decorum of British Masonry, encourage the pursuit of the philosophical interests of Continental Masonry and practice the fraternal and charitable virtues of American Masonry.
Having recently celebrated our 150th anniversary as a lodge at the cusp of this new millennium, we seek the same things our predecessors sought, some of whom gathered in the coffee houses of London nearly 400 years ago; we seek to enjoy the company of like-minded men, interested in improving themselves and playing a role in the betterment of humanity.