Last year I submitted the following essay for the competition organised by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Glasgow.
Despite a degree of trepidation that by publishing it more widely now, I am opening myself up to the possibility of ridicule, I have decided to make it available on this forum.
My reasons for doing so are that I remain more convinced than ever that the general theories contained in the essay are correct, even if I have not succeeded in accurately pinpointing the exact detail.
My hope therefor is, that someone out there can apply greater levels of historical/ geometrical/ geographical skills to produce other ( more reliable) theories or even prove me right!
I would be interested to hear what you think. Contact can be made by email :
Or you may wish to write your own essay!
I hope that you enjoy the essay.
Brother Robert A. McDougall
From the outset of this essay let me confess that it reaches no firm conclusions. Quite the contrary in fact; it raises more questions than it provides answers. In its defence however, I would make two points: firstly, if it provides food for thought, a stimulus for further research, then that in itself is a positive. Secondly, there is of course the distinct possibility that the questions which I have been unable to answer, have been, can, or will be answered by others.
The starting point was a question, or should I say questions, which occurred to me during my many visits to Glasgow Green. The Nelson Monument, that obelisk which is such a familiar landmark within the park that we are inclined to take it for granted – why is it there? What, if any, is the significance of its location, and why is its base sitting at an angle (it does not sit North / South as you might expect)?
What is its history and does it have any masonic significance? So I decided to try and find out a bit more and to answer some of those questions. This essay is the result of my quest – so far.
The facts concerning the monument are quite straightforward. It was erected in 1806 and as such was the first such monument to Admiral Lord Nelson erected anywhere in the country. In fact, it predates the next oldest monument by 2 / 3 years, and perhaps the most famous monument, Nelson’s Column in London by three decades.
It was funded by public subscription and was designed by the “Father of Glasgow Architects” David Hamilton. On its completion it stood 144 ft tall. The laying of the foundation stone was attended by a great deal of pomp and ceremony.
A Closer Look… and more questions!
Admiral Lord Nelson died on 21st October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar and was buried on 9th January 1806. In a period of less than one year from his death there was sufficient motivation and mobilisation to raise the necessary funds, obtain the necessary approvals, appoint the architect, and design and build the monument.
Was there a conscious objective to be first? Was the admiration and respect in which Nelson was held greater in Glasgow than elsewhere in Britain? Certainly, it is estimated that some 80,000 people attended the laying of the foundation stone.
A Masonic Connection?
Let’s review the facts further. As a merchant city, heavily dependent upon shipping, there is no doubt that Glasgow would have been grateful to Nelson and others for keeping the waters safe, and allowing vessels to trade. As far as I am aware however, Nelson had no other connection to Glasgow. In fact, I have been unable to establish that Nelson ever even visited the city. There is evidence however that Nelson was a freemason:
“According to researchers, Nelson by this time had already been initiated into Freemasonry, though there is a difference of opinion as to which lodge he’d actually joined. John Hammill, Head of Special Projects at the UGLE, favours Amphibious Lodge No 407 in Plymouth, while Hamon Le Strange’s research points to York Lodge No 236. It is known that Brother Nelson at least visited a Plymouth Lodge, at the behest of his friend, Freemason HRH Prince William in 1787 (later William IV).”1
The monument was funded by public subscription. The original document containing the names of the subscribes is available for inspection at the Michell Library, Glasgow.2
It contains about 200 names, many of which are too faded to read. The amount pledged by various subscribers also varies from person to person. I suspect that the list did not contain many ‘ordinary’ citizens of the city, but rather is made up for the most part from the wealthy merchants. Of those names which are legible, a number coincide with names of early members of Glasgow Kilwinning Lodge (GKL) No. 4, a lodge popular with merchants at this time.
William Muir (1770)
Alexander Ferguson (1763)
James Dennistoun (1771)
Arch. Campbell (1762)
The dates in brackets refer to the date of joining GKL No4. Whilst there is no conclusive proof that they are one and the same people, in my view it is likely. Unfortunately, the membership list of GKL No4 between 1775 and 1813 has been lost. It is possible therefore that other subscribers were also members of GKL No4.
The monument was designed by David Hamilton (1768-1843). There is evidence that Hamilton was a Freemason. Until 1850 the Master of the Lodge of Glasgow St. John No3 bis. was the Deacon of the Incorporation of Masons. Hamilton is listed as the Deacon in 1808. David Hamilton was a well-known architect and it is safe to assume that he would have moved in the same circles, professionally and socially, as the wealthy merchants who bankrolled the project.
The monument is an obelisk and stood on completion 144 feet tall. The masonic significance of the obelisk is a complete subject matter in itself, and not one which I shall enlarge upon here. The number 144 has a number of significances in the fields of mathematics, Biblical texts and mysticism.
The laying of the foundation stone was a significant masonic event, covered by the Glasgow Herald in separate articles published on 21st, 22nd and 25th July 1806. There was a masonic procession headed by the Provincial Grand Master of the Underward, Sir John Stewart of Allanbank. All Masonic Lodges in Glasgow and the surrounding areas were summoned to meet at the Merchants’ Hall (in the Briggait) and to attend. The whole proceedings were presided over by Rev. William Ritchie, Minister of the Church of St. Andrew (now St Andrews in the Square, otherwise known as the “Church of the Tobacco Lords”).
The theory so far ….
As an alternative to the popular version that the monument to Nelson was a demonstration of the affection of the people of Glasgow, I would offer the following theory:
- The death of Nelson presented an opportunity to erect a prominent obelisk within Glasgow. Around that period obelisks were being erected in many other cities such as London, New York and Paris.
- The idea was conceived, planned, paid for and executed by a relatively small number of wealthy Glasgow merchants, who were also freemasons.
- The location, the angle of the foundation stone, the specification of the monument, designed by a prominent freemason, were all significant.
- In short, the erection of Nelson’s monument was a piece of a jigsaw, part of a pattern, which was of significance to those freemasons who were behind it.
Searching for patterns.
I have long been interested in the subject of sacred geometry as propounded in documentaries such as “Hidden in Plain Sight”2a. Of course, there is a fine line between plausible supposition based on fact, and outright conspiracy theory. I have never subscribed to the theory that the geometric patterns formed by structures in cities like Washington D.C. have any mystic significance. Rather I am of the view that rather like the seemingly meaningless graffiti ‘tagging’ much in evidence on walls, lamp-posts etc., a method of territorial marking by gangs, the geometric patterns created by our masonic forefathers were also a way of ‘tagging’ or territorial marking. Done literally under the noses of the profane, it almost conveyed an air of superiority, “look how clever we are” attitude.
It is not inconceivable that at a time when wealthy merchants many of whom were also Freemasons, had great influence in the city, that Glasgow also had a sacred geometrical pattern, and that Nelson’s Monument was part of it.
If so, it raises the question, was the monument the last piece of the jigsaw, or a piece of a pattern which was completed at a later stage?
To answer that question, we need to look at what structures of significance were in place in 1806, and what was subsequently constructed over the next quarter century.
Glasgow – Cira 1806
At this point I would refer you to photograph 1.
Taken by me from the People’s Palace it clearly shows the monument. Two other prominent features are the clock tower of the former Merchants’ Hall in the Briggait, and the clock tower of the Church of St Andrews in the Square.
The current structure in the Briggait was built in 1873 and was used as the city’s fish market until the 1970’s. It is currently used as artist studios. In 1806 however, it was the Merchants’ Hall built in 1659, with the current clock tower, built in 1685. At that time, it was the headquarters of the Merchants’ House, before it moved to its current premises in George Square. It is where the city’s merchants would meet and trade. Old and destitute merchants were housed in the premises. At the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of the monument, Masonic Lodges, you will recall, were summoned to muster there, to process to the Green.
Continuing on the same line of direction, you reach St Enoch Square. Now best known for the shopping centre, it has been a place of historical significance throughout the history of Glasgow. In 1806 the Square was home to the Church of St Enoch (see photograph 2,).
Built in 1780 on the site of an earlier church, situated on or near the burial place of Enoch, who was the mother of Glasgow’s patron saint, St Kentigern (Mungo).
And in a different direction ….
The other prominent feature in Photograph 1 is the clock tower of the Church of St Andrew (now known as St. Andrew in the Square). Built in 1780 it was known as “the Tobacco Lords’ Church” and certainly a number of members of GKL No. 4 were also members of that church. Within the merchants of Glasgow, the so called “Tobacco Lords” were possibly the most influential:
“In the early 19th century Glasgow business and social life was dominated by the tobacco merchants. These characters tended to keep very much within themselves socially and also tended to marry among members of their particular families. Many of those families had several sons and brothers who were members of Number 4.”3
The same line of direction also passes through Glasgow Cross, historically the heart of the Merchant City.
So, back in 1806, it is possible the monument was situated so as to align in one direction with the Church of St Andrew and Glasgow Cross, and in the other with the Merchants Hall and the Church of St Enoch. Joining all these sites up would produce a very neat triangle which covers an area operated in and influenced by the merchants of the day.
However, if it were as simple as that, such a small area covered by the triangle would have ignored or omitted much of what we now recognise and know as the Merchant City, including areas such as Glassford Street, Ingram Street and Queen Street. These streets also contained important structures in 1806, very much under the influence of the merchants. The Trades Hall in Glassford Street, designed by the Adam brothers, was opened in 1794. Hutchesons’ Hall (Hospital), designed also by David Hamilton, on Ingram Street, was completed in 1805. The Royal Exchange Building in Queen Street, originally built as a house for the merchant William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, a member of GKL No. 4, was completed by 1780. It is possible of course that these buildings and their patrons were outside ‘the club’, but this seems unlikely. In short, our triangle is too small, there has to be more.
Back to the monument …
I found myself standing again at the foot of the monument, binoculars in hand, and searching the horizon, this time in a generally northerly direction. There is of course the Cathedral. Modern day structures do not afford a particularly clear line of sight. Much more striking however is the statue of John Knox in the Necropolis. Could this be significant?
An obvious first point to make is that the statue of Knox was not around in 1806, having been constructed in 1825. It does however sit on the top of the second highest hill in Glasgow, a prominent feature even without the statue. Could Nelson’s Monument be part of jigsaw aligned to that part of the city? Did those behind the Nelson Monument in 1806 know what was going to be developed a few miles further north?
And so to the Necropolis
That theory is in fact not too improbable. The land on which the cemetery is now situated was purchased by the Merchants’ House in 1650. It later became known as Fir Park because of the fir trees growing on it. In 1806 therefore it was a prominent feature owned by the merchants, and lay South of the neighbouring Golfhill House and Estate owned by James Denniston of Golfhill, merchant and likely member of GKL No. 4. When it was developed, the cemetery itself was likened to Père La Chaise in Paris. One of those employed by the Merchants’ House to carry out the feasibility study before the cemetery was built, was none other than David Hamilton. It was also he who designed the Bridge of Sighs, which at that time passed over the Molendinar Burn. The website of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, under the section “Masonic Subjects” contains an article about research carried out by historian Ronnie Scott, suggesting that the Necropolis itself was designed as a huge Masonic Symbol.
The John Knox Statue (1825)
The statue to John Knox was in fact erected several years before the cemetery was constructed in the 1830’s. It was built on land owned by the Merchants’ house. Like the Nelson Monument before it, it was funded by public subscription, and the laying of the foundation stone attended by a great deal of pomp and ceremony.
The theory so far….
My theory is predicated on the fact that at the relevant time i.e. late 18th century to mid-19th century, Glasgow was effectively run by wealthy merchants, many of whom had two things in common: firstly through their mercantile trade, they were associated with the Merchants’ House; and secondly, many were members of Masonic Lodges in the city. To such educated men, the concept of sacred geometry would have been familiar, and in the context of their home city, they wanted to leave their mark, hidden in plain sight.
Part of that geometric project, in my view, was the creation of the obelisk. The death and commemoration of Nelson provided an ideal opportunity without arousing suspicion. The obelisk was built and placed in an exact location, to an exact specification, and the foundation stone laid at an exact angle.
The monument possibly completed the pattern linking places of work, and worship, or was possibly part of a bigger picture, and linking the place where many of the merchants would end up buried.
“Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here”.
The inscription above Plato’s Academy in Athens would stop me from venturing further. However, with the foolishness of the ignorant, here we go!
This is an extract from the Ordnance Survey showing the plinth of Nelson’s Monument.
The grid lines of course show the North/South and East/West lines of longitude and latitude. The angle of the plinth is such that if dissected North/South and East West (by lines A-B, C-D, E-F and G-H) it produces a rectangle which does sit North/South and four 90° / 60° / 30° triangles. A simple geometric pattern.
In recent years redevelopment of the Green has resulted in an outer square area, inscribed by a circle, being created. The outer square is useful as it serves as a scaled-up version of the plinth. Photograph 4, taken from Google Earth, shows what I mean.
Using the larger outer square and the circle, I attempted to create some geometric patterns of my own, to see if the end results might provide directional points to assist with discerning alignment.
Photograph 5 is a six-pointed star formed of two equilateral triangles within the circle.
Photograph 6 is a more complicated shape made up of four equilateral triangles, this time using the outer square as the base. It results in eight possible lines of direction. Surely some of these arrows would extend into direct lines of alignment to some of the structures referred to above?
What constitutes alignment?
Harry Bell (1935-2001) was an archaeologist who wrote and published a book about lines of sacred geometry in Glasgow.4 It is not the place of this essay to discuss Bell’s work in detail, but it does however set out the basics for what constitutes alignment of sites. It is of course possible to align any two features, natural or constructed. Therefore, for alignment to be possible, there have to be at least three features in a straight and undeviating line.
Photograph 7 is copy of Bell’s map of aligned sites in Glasgow.
What is interesting is the centre of all the detailed alignments, is the Necropolis.
For the Nelson Monument to be part of an alignment, it would require to be one of at least three significant features or structures, in at least one direction.
Does the ‘compass’ work for alignment?
Well, yes and no. Extending a line of direction from point 1 (common to both shapes, photograph 6 and 5) it does not directly align with the Merchants’ Hall site in the Briggait, nor St. Enoch Square. Close, yes, but not exact, and if my general proposition is correct then the location and angle of the monument was an exact science.
More encouragingly point 2 on Photograph 6, if extended in a straight line does align with the clock tower of the Church of St Andrew (see photograph 8) and does pass through Glasgow Cross.
Point 3 of the same shape does align with the Necropolis, but at point east of the John Knox statue.
I can find no other structures of significance in line with the remaining points, let alone an alignment of two or more.
Time for a re-think?
I suppose at this point I should try to clarify something in case of confusion. So far, any theory has been based upon the monument being an integral part of either a sacred geometric pattern (e.g. triangle or something more sophisticated) or part of an alignment of structures / features i.e. in an straight line.
Either way, so far, the facts do not appear to fit either theory. Perhaps the theory is wrong, or perhaps it is my application and interpretation of it, so far. It is possible that:
- The geometric shapes which I have used as direction pointers are wrong, or inaccurately drawn. I am no geometrician. I am using a combination of photographs from Google Earth and a 1:19 000 scale street map of Glasgow. The scope for error is huge.
- They were meant to align but David Hamilton and his colleagues got it wrong. Possible, but unlikely.
- The “pattern” intended simply was the triangle formed by the monument, the Merchants’ Hall and the Church of St. Andrew.
- The monument is aligned to features far from Glasgow, of significance to the builders, unknown to me.
- There is no geometric pattern, no intended alignment and the monument really is simply a historic testament to the affection of the people of Glasgow to Admiral Lord Nelson. Nothing more, nothing less.
Another thing (or two) about the Green.
Photograph 9 is a Google Earth view of Glasgow Green as it is laid out today.
The original lay out was designed by the then Superintendent of Public Works, James Cleland, in 1826. So far, I have found no evidence that Cleland was a Freemason, however prior to his public appointment he was a business partner of David Hamilton.
In recent years Glasgow City Council has spent a great deal of time and money on the Green, restoring it along the original lines as laid out by James Cleland.
Looking again at Photograph 9 these are some unusual shapes which have been created when viewed from above. These things are of course open to interpretation, but to my eye there are a number of what appear to be fertility symbols.
Photograph 10 is of the monument itself.
Am I alone in seeing a planet (formed around the stone commemorating James Watt’s inspiration) orbiting the monument?
The McLennan Arch was originally the centrepiece of the Assembly Rooms designed by the Adam brothers, and was placed in its present position in 1991. Photograph 11 is again a striking image of fertility symbolism.
Finally, next to the Arch, again created in modern times, is a labyrinth (see Photograph 12).
Photograph 13 is the same labyrinth from above. The Eye of Providence? Perhaps there are still masonic forces and influences at work in Glasgow Green?
I did start this essay by saying that it reached no firm conclusions, I hope however you have found the exploration of the theories of some interest. Personally, I remain convinced of the theory and simply because I have been unable to prove the theory does not mean that the theory is wrong. Perhaps others with more skills in historical research and / or geometry might choose to look at it through fresh eyes and be able to reach some conclusions. For me there are too many co-incidences, too many intersections of people for it all to be just one big coincidence.
For the time being, I am convinced that it is a puzzle, hidden in plain sight. What do you think?
Bibliography and sources:
- “Admiral Nelson: Hero, was he a freemason?” Stuart Harker published in ‘Freemasonry Matters’. 18th June 2016.
- Roll of subscribers. Ref. TD 200/112, Mitchell Library Archives, Glasgow.
2a. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is a generic term which I have referenced in Google Searches. Such a search brings up many short (and long) videos on You-tube.
- “Glasgow Kilwinning Lodge No 4. 1735-1985. A history.” R. Scott, R.W.M.
- “Glasgow’s Sacred Geometry: An Account of the Discovery of the Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites”. Harry Bell.
Here is a link to a powerpoint presentation given by Past Provincial Grand Secretary Brother Robert McDougall