Ernest Cartwright

Dr Ernest Henry Cartwright was born on 20 June 1865, the eldest son of Sir Henry Edmund Cartwright, a barrister, JP for Co Londonderry, High Sheriff, and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.

He went to Charterhouse and thence up to Exeter College, Oxford, gaining a scholarship and taking his degree before adding an MB, BCh and being admitted as an LRCP, MRCS, and an MD. Not proving to be quite enough learning he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple but never practised. Returning to medicine he added a further diploma in Public Health from the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, and membership of the Ophthalmic Society, the British Astronomic Association, Fellowship of the Royal Institute of Public Health, and became Deputy Commissioner of the Medical Services, (the former Ministry of Pensions before it merged with the Ministry of National Insurance) for Wilshire. He took his advancement in daily knowledge seriously.

He also found time for Freemasonry.

Cartwright was initiated in 1888, aged twenty-three, by the Apollo University Lodge, No 357 whilst up at Oxford, becoming a Provincial Grand Steward (Oxon) three years later, and Provincial Grand Pursuivant the following year. He joined the Lodge of Unity No 69 in London, becoming Master twice. As well as being the Founding Master of Pellipar, he took the chair again in 1907. He also joined Douglas Lodge no 1725 in Maidstone, Charterhouse Deo Dante Dedi Lodge No 2885, and was again a Founder, this time of Lowy of Tonbridge Lodge No 4834, becoming its Master in 1928. He became an Honorary Member of the Wiltshire Lodge of Fidelity No 663 and having served as consecrating JW at the constitution of the Corium Lodge No 4041 in 1919, and the Old Tonbridgian Lodge No 4151 in 1920, he was elected an Honorary Member of both. He was Exalted in Apollo University Chapter No 357 in 1889, appointed PPAGSoj (Oxon) in 1893 and PPGSN (Oxon). He also joined St. Mary’s Chapter.

Grand Lodge appointed him Senior Grand Deacon in 1908, and Principal Grand Sojourner the same year.

He also greatly enjoyed the Side Degrees. He was advanced in the Wiltshire Keystone Mark Lodge No 178, became a founder member of the Public Schools Lodge of MMM No 791, joined King Charles the Martyr Lodge of MMM No 267 and was appointed Grand Junior Deacon in Mark Grand Lodge in 1932. In KT he was Installed in the New Temple Preceptory No 117 in 1893 and became Preceptor in 1901.

He devoted his later masonic career to writing and to the ritual, writing the English Ritual or Cartwright Ritual which Pellipar acts as the guardian of. He was an active member of many masonic research groups, not least the QCCC.

His obituary (AQC Vol 66 p 40) stated that he was invited to become a full Member of the Quator Coronati Lodge in 1939, the supreme accolade of Masonic scholarship, but for reasons unknown he was unable to accept. He must surely have been the only Brother who ever refused that invitation, but he was nominated again in 1947, and was elected in May of that year, at the age of 82, by which point he would have been a QCCC member for 56 years.

He had other interests, including a Pewter collection of sufficient importance to have been bequeathed to the V&A on his death.

He was of course a Skinner, becoming Master of the Company in 1914.

Of the man and mason Bro Hepworth writes: “He was strict in Lodge insisting that every small detail should be correct, and on many occasions I have seen Brethren cringe under his severe look if even a small mistake were made, but he would correct privately in the most kindly manner afterwards…. Out of Lodge he was gentle and generous in the encouragement he gave to young and interested Brethren…. I worked very closely with him throughout the production of The Commentary and, great man that he was, he sought my opinion on several points on many occasions… ”

Anecdotes are scarce, but Bro. Cawdron, compiler of the Benefactum Ritual, was his close friend since the 1930s, and he delighted to tell the story of an evening when he attended the Pellipar Lodge as guest of Bro Cartwright who had been in the Chair and had conducted two Degrees followed by Installation – all without a single hesitation. At dinner afterwards Bro Cawdron was called upon to reply to the Toast of the Guests. Cawdron recalled “Remembering that Cartwright in his English Ritual (2° Working Tools) had used the words “highest degree of perfection” I decided to tease him with a compliment, so I described his work that evening with emphasis as “the nearest approach to perfection that human nature can attain”. Cartwright laughed out loud, but soon began to blame himself.”`Fancy my not seeing that”. Then he turned to Bro Charles Preston, a close friend – and colleague in the preparations for the English Ritual. “Fancy neither of us seeing that in all these years”. But Preston kept contradicting and saying that it was not a mistake and that there was nothing wrong with the words. So I asked him “What is the lowest degree of perfection then?” and like a flash the answer came back, “Benefactum”. The Skinner’s Company’s Hall had never heard so much laughter in a single evening – but Cartwright readily agreed his error!”

 In a memoir compiled by one of Dr. Cartwright’s colleagues, W G Thompson, Secretary for many years of the Pellipar Lodge, there is evidence that the worthy Doctor possessed at least one of the essential characteristics of a true sense of humour. He wrote: … further acquaintance reveals … that the austere disciplinarian of the Lodge merges into an extremely human personality .. and no one enjoys a joke at his own expense more than Bro. Cartwright.”

One of the many generous bequests in Dr Cartwright’s Will suggests that he was very proud of the honour of being entitled to bear Heraldic Arms. He left a legacy of £4,000 to Exeter College, Oxford for an annual Exhibition to the lawful son of an arrinigerous parent (entitled to Heraldic Arms).

Masonic publications by Dr E H Cartwright


  • The English Ritual of Craft Freemasonry published primarily for the use of the Pellipar Lodge, No. 2693 (Lewis, London, 1936) – 2nd Edition (1946)
  • A Commentary on the Freemasonic Ritual, with Notes on the Ceremonial Work of the Officers (Hepworth, Tunbridge Wells, 1947)

Pamphlets & Articles

  • A Note on Browne’s Master Key A.Q.C. xlv (1932) pp. 90-96.
  • A Chronicle of the Pellipar Lodge No. 2693, 1898-1933 (1934)
  • “The Ritual of the Union & the Ritual of Today” Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research (1928/9) pp. 19-51
  • “Some Notes on the Appurtenances of the Lodge Room” Ibid (1932) pp. 71-99
  • “Some Further Notes on the Ritual” Ibid (1938) pp. 67-94
  • “Some Notes on the Ritual, and Criticisms of Certain Details of the Working as Practised in many Lodges Today” Transactions of the Somerset Masters’ Lodge (1940/41) pp. 149-179
  • “Knocks, Reports and Alarms” Misc. Lat. Vol. xix (1935) pp. 113-119
  • “The Ceremony of Opening and Closing a Board of Installed Masters” The Freemason, (Feb. 1932) pp. 518-9 & 536

Unpublished Papers in the Library of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge:

  • A Summary of the History of the Mark Degree, and its present Relationship in other Countries (Undated)
  • Notes on the Ceremonial Opening and Closing of the Board of Installed Masters (Undated)
  • Summary of the History of the Craft prior to the Union (read to the Lodge of Unity, No. 69 – May 1935)
  • A Translation (decoding) of Browne’s Master Key (April 1931)

Sources: A Biographical Note by Harry Carr, Secretary and Editor of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge Education, obituary (AQC Vol 66 p 40) , A Commentary On The Freemasonic Ritual   Together With Notes On The Ceremonial Work  Of The Officers by  Dr E H Cartwright