It has never been established when or where Batty Langley (1696-1751) was initiated into Freemasonry, but it is known that the garden designer, pattern book producer and Gothic architect possessed an intimate knowledge of Masonic lore and symbolism. Langley, for example, published regularly in the Grub Street Journal under the pseudonym of ‘Hiram’, the legendary architect of Solomon’s Temple and a key figure in Masonic ritual (one of Langley’s children was also baptised as Hiram). Langley’s commitments to the Craft (a word for Freemasonry), its values and beliefs, were to find visual expression most fully on the frontispiece to The Builder’s Jewel of 1741 which contained much of the known symbolism associated with the first three degrees of Freemasonry (sometimes called the ‘Blue’ degrees). Other titles of Langley’s books influenced by Freemasonry included Practical Geometry (which he dedicated to Lord Paisley, Grand Master of the Freemasons) in 1726, and Ancient Masonry (dedicated to a host of known Freemasons, including Francis, Duke of Lorraine, the first recognised Royal Freemason) between 1733 and 1736.

The Masonic Symbolism in the frontispiece to The Builder’s Jewel (1741)

THE BUILDER’s JEWEL: OR, THE YOUTH’S INSTRUCTOR, AND WORKMAN’S REMEMBRANCER. EXPLAINING Short and Easy RULES, Made familiar to the meanest Capacity, FOR DRAWING AND WORKING ....etc was published by R.Ware in London on 26 May 1741 with an initial print run of 2000 copies. The frontispiece was designed by Batty Langley and engraved by his brother Thomas Langley (1702-1751). The frontispiece is signed ‘Batty Langley Invent A L 5741’.

This date refers to the Masonic calendar which dated the creation of the Earth to 4000 BC. Freemasons often dated significant events by adding 4000 years onto the date, hence the date of the frontispiece of 5741. The letters ‘A’ and ‘L’ are short for the Latin words ‘Anno Lucis’ meaning ‘in the year of light’ referring to the year of creation (detail left).

The three columns (or pillars) illustrated on the frontispiece are in order (from left to right), the Roman Doric, Tuscan and Corinthian.  On the dado of the pedestal of each column are inscribed the Roman numerals VII, V and III (detail below).

The numbers 3, 5 and 7 are most important in Freemasonry, the sum of which equals 15. In some depictions of the winding staircase that connected the ground floor to the inner chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, the staircase is shown as comprising of 15 steps (sometimes these steps are shown divided into groups of 3, 5 and 7 or illustrated individually). This concept is also illustrated on the frontispiece to The Builder's Jewel in the form of a hill situated in the background with the number 15 placed on its summit. The Doric column has the letter ‘W’ inscribed on the plinth of its pedestal denoting it as exemplifying the virtue of ‘Wisdom’; the Tuscan order with the letter ‘S’ signifying ‘Strength’, and the Corinthian column the letter ‘B’ illustrating the virtue of ‘Beauty’. In latter Masonic depictions of the columns (particularly with the influence of Neoclassicism) the arrangements of the columns changes from the Roman architectural hierarchy and reverts back to the use of the original three Greek orders with ‘Strength’ associated with the Doric, ‘Wisdom’ now associated with the Ionic, and ‘Beauty’ remaining with the Corinthian. Between the Doric and Tuscan columns is placed the letter ‘H’ and between the Tuscan and Corinthian the letter ‘G’. These letters refer to ‘Holy Ground’ as all Masonic lodges were believed to be representations of the Temple of Jerusalem and were symbolically positioned on consecrated ground.

Positioned towards at the centre of each column are further symbols associated with architecture and Freemasonry (detail right). On the Doric column are depictions of the furniture of the lodge, the Set-Square, Compasses and Book of Sacred Law (in Batty Langley’s Christian beliefs the Bible). Above these symbols is a panel containing representations of platonic solids including a dot, a line, a circle (or sphere) and a cube (this symbolises the Mason’s progression from a point to the cube, a symbol of perfection as all angles are equal. The Mason seeks to become the perfect ashlar block). On the Tuscan column is pinned a representation of the Masonic lodge with its characteristic black and white floor, a reference to ‘duality’. The Temple is orientated to the north where the main entrance is flanked by two pillars labelled ‘B’ and ‘I’. These are representations of the biblical pillars Iachin and Boaz which stood on the porch to the Temple of Jerusalem. Three other, secondary entrances are located to the east, south and west. At the centre of the lodge is depicted either a seven-pointed ‘Blazing Star’ or a representation of a comet, either containing an early Masonic use of the letter ‘G’ (possibly indicating Cabalistic influence). This letter refers to Geometry, the fifth of the seven liberal arts. Located immediately above the temple plan is a clock face with both hands pointing vertically to numerals XII, indicating ‘high 12 at Noon’.This alludes to the newly formed Hiramic legend where Hiram Abiff, the architect (or builder) of Solomon’s Temple, was assaulted at the three different entrances to the Temple and murdered by three Fellow-Craft masons at midday after a failed attempt to retrieve the ‘Mason’s Word’ from the architect. On the frieze of this column is a humanised face with wind being blown to the east and west . This is an allusion to the winds of knowledge dispersing ‘Masonic truths’. In Freemasonry the east represents the rising sun, enlightenment and birth, and the west with the setting sun and death. (It was at the west entrance of the Temple that Master Hiram Abiff was finally murdered). Most Masonic lodges (like churches) traditionally are orientated to face the east, the direction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon.

Adorning the trunk of the Corinthian column are the moveable jewels of the lodge, the level, square and level with plumb. Located above is another panel containing various line drawings, representations of perpendiculars; together with a square and oblong square. On the abacus of the Doric column is positioned a sun; the Tuscan column, a moon, and the Corinthian column, a bust in a Grecian toga (detail right). Taken together the sun, moon and Master Mason (indicted by the initials ‘MM’, located beneath the bust) were known in the Wilkinson Manuscript of 1727 as the three ‘great lights’ of Freemasonry. It is possible that the identity of the bust is the Greek Polymath Pythagoras, often associated with Euclid, who could legitimately be associated with the Corinthian column through his theories on mathematical beauty (Langley also baptised one of his other fourteen children ‘Euclid’) In addition, the Golden Section and Euclid’s 47th Proposition were important mathematical and practical formulas for Freemasons, as illustrated by the presence of the symbol for Euclid’s 47th Proposition on the frontispiece engraved by John Pine to James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free Masons of 1723.

Above-  John Pine’s (engraver) frontispiece to Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free-Masons of 1723 showing the symbol for Euclid’s 47th Proposition positioned between the central characters of the Duke of Montague and Philip, Duke of Wharton. Apollo, patron of the Liberal Arts, travels across the skies above. The design for the frontispiece may have been by Sir James Thornhill.   

It was often believed by a number of Renaissance architects that numbers possessed mystical characteristics and ‘number magic’ could be detected in the proportions and harmonics of many Renaissance buildings (for example, the Freemason and antiquarian William Stukeley and the natural philosopher Isaac Newton both believed that the proportions of Solomon’s Temple had divine properties)

The final and possibly most important piece of symbolism on the frontispiece of The Builder’s Jewel is also one of the most neglected or overlooked. On the summit of the hill in the background is discretely placed the number 15 with a sprig of spiky foliage. This is a subtle but direct reference to the newly created Hiramic legend which was first disclosed to the public in Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected in 1730. In this catechism it is described how the Master Architect, Hiram Abiff, was killed in the Temple in Jerusalem at midday by three Fellow-Craft masons who sought to obtain from him through force the ‘Mason’ or ‘Masters’ word. After the absence of Hiram was noted, King Solomon ordered fifteen masons in three groups of five (3 x 5) to look for the missing architect. After fifteen days his body was discovered on a ‘brow of a hill’ (the ‘Mossy House’) and Solomon’s mason’s marked the grave with a sprig of ‘cassia’ until a decision was made on how to ‘raise’ the badly decomposed body and where it should be buried. At his funeral fifteen masons were in attendance all dressed in white aprons and gloves before Hiram’s body was interned in the Sanctum Sanctorum within the Temple. In Langley’s frontispiece the number 15 is visual on the brow of a hill and accompanied by what can be interpreted as an cassia scrub. This is a direct and very early reference to this Hiramic legend which was to form the basis for the ritual of the most important Masonic degree- that of ‘Master Mason’.  

Above- An eighteenth-century jug with transfer based on Batty Langley's frontispiece to The Builder's Jewel with additional symbols including a crusader tent, garden temple, self-eating snake (the ouroboros, symbol of eternity), pentacle (symbolises the five-points-of-Fellowship), cross and coffin (a reference to Hiram Abiff).

Above- Engraving by Ignaz Alberti, Vienna, of an imaginary scene from Mozart’s Masonic opera Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’). The hour glass, scythe and five-pointed star are all symbols alluding to the Hiramic legend. This interpretation is confirmed by the corpse that can be seen centre bottom of the picture, a reference to Hiram Abiff, the murdered builder of Solomon’s Temple. The bogus heiroglphs are a reference to the believed Egyptian origins of Freemasonry.

Above Left- The frontispiece to ‘The Builder's Jewel’ ‘(1741)

Above Right- A colour copy of 'The Builder's Jewel' from around 1800 with the addition of extra symbols including building impliments (including setting maul), Jacob's Ladder (replacing the original hill), three steps (representing the three Craft degrees), the chequered floor (duality) and seven stars around the moon indicating the seven Liberal Arts of which the fifith, Geometry. was considered most important by the Freemasons (Unknown artist, c.1800, New York). So popular was ‘The Builder’s Jewel’ that it was republished in fourteen subsequent editions.

Appendix of Masonic Symbols contained within the frontispiece.

1.      Roman Doric column

2.      Tuscan column

3.      Corinthian column

4.      Letter ‘H’ denoting ‘Holy’

5.      Letter ‘G’ denoting ‘Ground’

6.      Roman numeral VII (7)

7.      Roman numeral V (5)

8.      Roman numeral III (3) = together these number equal 15

9.      Letter ‘W’ denoting ‘Wisdom’

10.    Letter ‘S’ denoting ‘Strength’

11.     Letter B’ denoting ‘Beauty’

12.    Crest of a hill (symbolic ladder)

13.    Number 15 on thee crest of the hill (Hiramic Legend).

14.    Sprig of cassia

15.    Compasses

16.    Set square

17.    Book of Sacred Law

18.    Dot

19.    Line

20.   Circle

21.    Cube

22.    Sun

23.    Lodge plan

24.    East, west and south entrances to Temple

25.    Mosaic pavement

26.    Blazing star with comet tail?

27.    The letter G

28.   Letter ‘I’ denoting Iachin

29.   Letter ‘B’ denoting Boaz

30.  Clock face with hands pointing to Midday

31.   Humanised face blowing winds of knowledge East and West

32.   Moon

33.   Rule

34.   Level

35.   Plumb

36.   Symbol for square

37.   Symbol for rectangle

38.   Acute angle

39.   Obtuse angle

40.   180° angle

41.   90° angle

42.    ‘MM’ denoting ‘Master Mason’

43.   Bust of philosopher (Pythagoras?)  


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Macpherson, Jay, ‘Jachin and Boaz and the Freemasons’ in B. Scholz, M. Bath & D. Weston (eds.),  The European Emblem: Selected Papers from the Glasgow Conference 11-14 August 1987 (Boston: Brill Publishing, 1990), p. 134-6.

Pound, Ricky, ‘The Master Mason Slain: The Hiramic Legend in the Red Velvet Room at Chiswick House’ (Richard Hewlings (ed.), English Heritage Historical Review (Bristol, 2009, pp. 154-163.

Prichard, Samuel, Masonry Dissected: Being A Universal and Genuine DESCRIPTION of All its Branches from the Original to this Present Time. As it is deliver’d in the Constituted Regular Lodges Both in the CITY and Country, According to the Several Degrees of ADMISSION. (London, 1730).

Ress, Julian, Tracing Boards of Three Degrees in Craft Freemasonry Explained (London: Lewis Masonic, 2009), p. 82.

Rykwert, Joseph, The First Moderns: The Architects of the Eighteenth Century (London: The MIT Press, 1983), p. 185-90.

Snoek, Joannes, The Evolution of the Hiramic Legend in England and France (Heredom 11, 2003), pp. 11-53.  

Stevenson, David, The Origins of Freemasonry. Scotland’s Century 1590-1710 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

Text by Ricky Pound copyright 2009. Revised 6th August 2017.


The Masonic Symbolism of Batty Langley’s Frontispiece to The Builder’s Jewel