The Worshipful Company of Masons is not to be confused with the comparatively modern and entirely distinct fraternity of Freemasons. There is a tradition which seeks to blend the mediaeval history of the Company with that of the Freemasons, whose lodges began to appear in England in the mid seventeenth century and who went on to found what is now called the United Grand Lodge of England in 1717. However, the evidence for this is sparse and speculative. Modern scholarship is tending towards a disentangling of the history of the two organisations.
Confusion is sometimes caused by the use of the term “freemason” in ancient documents. In the history of stonemasonry it has several connotations. In any mediaeval masons’ guild there was a hierarchy of craftsmen, starting with the rough-layers and hardhewers whose task it was to lay the rubble foundations and rough cut the stone for building. A freemason, on the other hand, was at the top of his craft. The term was somewhat loosely applied, but he would have been skilled in carving freestone, the fine-grained limestone or sandstone used for traceries and mouldings, and he would have been capable of managing building projects. A mason of this calibre would have been “free” of his guild, i.e. a Liveryman.
Recent research has shown that, unlike the members of most other guilds, the mediaeval masons of London did not dwell in any particular quarter of the City. They were scattered around the City and outside it and, naturally, would move freely to places where building projects were being carried out.