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Apron for the Ancient Order of Free Gardeners

This painted silk fabric was created for an Ancient Order of Free Gardeners and dates to the middle of the 19th century or even earlier. It was made either as an apron or as a banner and was donated to the Museum by an American family with roots in Lancashire. Societies of Free Gardeners originated in England and Scotland in the 17th century in order to promote, regulate and support the craft of gardening and gardeners. Over time these became societies that focused on mutual aid, providing sickness benefits, pensions and grants to their members.

Members of Societies of Free Gardeners showed their affiliation through a number of different objects including banners, aprons and sashes decorated with a variety of coded symbols that only members knew the true meaning of. Earlier items were traditionally decorated with horticultural symbols, showing plants, produce and working tools; it was only later that Masonic symbolism crept in. The Ancient Order of Free Gardeners predates the Order of Freemasons, and it is thought that the increasing use of Masonic symbols over time by the Free Gardeners was because many of the members were also Freemasons.

The apron features a wide range of the Masonic imagery that Societies of Free Gardeners were known to use, such as the open clasp knife, the open book with set square, and images of Adam and Eve. The creation story of the Free Gardeners is based on several Biblical references: the initials visible as P, G, H and E relate to the four rivers that run through the Garden of Eden (Pishon, Euphrates, Gihon and Hiddekel) and the letters A, N and S on the columns relate to Adam, Noah and Solomon, who were considered by the Order to be the first three gardeners.

Gift of Richard A. Moon.  Ref: 2000.217

Artist

Unknown

Materials

Silk

Year

c.1860

Collection No:

2000.217