A rare 18th century paste set silver and gilt-metal Jewel or Badge for the Free and Easy Johns.
The Free and Easy Johns.
A George III Society Badge or Jewel, the silver frame set with paste stones surrounding an oval painted image. The image depicts a stone plinth set in a landscape, the plinth supported by two leopards with a banner ‘Free and Easy’ and a cartouche ‘W. Hay 1777 Pinxt.’ Upon the plinth stands a barrel, upright, set with a lidded Tankard and a blue banner with ‘Laetitia et Amicitia‘, a jewel suspended from the banner and an oval containing a crossed sword and sceptre above clasped hands. Either side of the barrel stand two infant figures, one an infant Laetitia holding a staff topped with a dog’s head, the other a young Bacchus. Above the raised hand of Bacchus flies a cherub, holding a wreath in one hand and a pole with a cap of Liberty in the other. [Laetitia was the Roman goddess of gaiety or happiness].
One the reverse the gilt back is engraved: ‘Presented to the Society of Free and Easy John’s LODGE No. 2 at Dover by Bros. Grubb & Loten of the Grand Lodge 18th Decr. 1777.’
It has not been possible as yet to identify with certainty Brothers Grubb and Loten – although Grubb may have been Robert Grubb, a silversmith, and Loten perhaps the jeweller of that name in Cary Lane, London. ‘A Descriptive and Historical Account of of the Town and County of Newcastle‘ by Eneas MacKenzie, published in 1827 provides some information about the early history of the society, which was chiefly a society of merry-making organised in quasi-masonic fashion: ‘The Newcastle Lodge of Free and Easy John was the third Lodge of its kind in England, being No. 3, and preceded only by those of London and of Dover. It was first formed in 1778, and could soon boast of more than 1000 members. It is an association merely for convivial purposes; but there is a ceremony of initiation, a pass-word, grip, &c.…’ The rules and regulations of the Newcastle Lodge survive [Articles, rules and regulations to be observed by the second select society of Free & Easy Johns : held in Newcastle upon Tyne, for the mutual relief of each other when in distress : and for other good purposes therein contained … : enrolled according to the acts of Parliament July 14, 1819. Society of Free and Easy Johns (Newcastle upon Tyne, England). 1819, Newcastle University Library. Special Collections. Edwin Clarke 443] and the rules of the Dover and London Lodges must have been similar. Although conviviality was the main purpose of the society, on occasion there were expressions of loyalty to constitution and government as, in December 1792, when the Grand Lodge in London took out an advertisement in the Morning Chronicle newspaper [see images].
An earlier version of the society met in Canterbury in 1770. The Kentish Gazette for 18th December 1770 has an advertisement for ‘The Free and Easy Johns. All Brothers of this Society are desired to meet on Thursday the 27th Inst. (being the Feast of St. John, the Evangelist) at Brother Bishop’s, the Sign of the Prince of Orange, in Prince of Orange Lane, Canterbury. By Order of Sir John. E.K. Secretary. Dinner on Table precisely at One o’Clock.‘ In 1793, the Kentish Gazette carried an advertisement for the Dover Lodge of the Free and Easy Johns, meeting at the ‘King-Horse’ [perhaps an error for the King’s Head?], Thomas Solly, being the Presiding ‘Sir John’ at that date. Thomas Solly was a draper, commissioner of Pavements in Dover from 1786-1805 and treasurer of the local Theatre. Evidently this jewel would have been worn by the ‘Sir John’ at each meeting of the Lodge. Other Lodges of the Society were established in Gateshead and Durham. A number of pieces of ceramic are recorded with the motto of the society but this jewel is the earliest piece of regalia noted.
Generally very good with minor wear to the gilding on the reverse and some damage to a few of the paste stones.
Height – 10 cm.; width – 6.70 cm.; weight 56.70 gms.