George Payne (c.1685-1757), was born in Chester, the son of Samuel Payne and Frances Kendrick. The family’s assets had been relatively substantial including ‘barns, stables, yards, meadows and pasture’, but later suffered, something suggested by the legal actions taken against his father in 1703-4 for debt and damages. George Payne did not attend either Oxford or Cambridge, but his younger brother, Thomas (1689-1744), matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, as a servitor scholar, where he would have met Desaguliers. Thomas graduated BA and subsequently was employed as Chaplain at New College. He was later Canon of Windsor, appointed a chaplain to the king, and made a prebendary of Wells Cathedral.
Payne moved from Chester to London in around 1711 to take up employment as a clerk in the Leather Office in St Martin’s Lane, a position he would have obtained through family connections. Payne’s name and office address feature in classified advertisements as one of several locations where tickets to Desaguliers’ lectures and copies of his ‘catalogue of experiments’ could be obtained. The date of the early advertisements, 1713, suggests that Desaguliers and Payne had been introduced before Desaguliers moved to London, probably through Thomas.
Payne was employed in various divisions of the Taxes Office and enjoyed steady promotion over a period of forty years, principally via seniority. In 1713 he was one of two assistants to the Accomptant General, earning £50 per annum. In 1716 he was promoted to the senior of the two principal clerks at the Taxes Office with an annual salary of £60. And two years later Payne had been promoted again, becoming First Clerk and Assistant, and working directly with Francis Sorrel, whose immediate subordinate he would remain for the next twenty-five years. Payne’s salary is noted in Magnae Britanniae at £80 per annum, but Payne also held sinecures, including ‘carrying Treasury warrants for taking the Receiver General’s securities to the King’s Remembrancer’s Office’. Treasury Papers refer to him in the 1730s and 1740s and note that he succeeded Sorrel as Secretary to the Tax Commissioners in 1743 at an annual salary of £90, plus perquisites.
Payne’s sinecures include that of a commissioner for the construction of Westminster Bridge, a project with which other Freemasons were involved; a manager for the Westminster Bridge lottery; and a Lottery Commissioner. By the late 1740s, he had sufficient social standing to be mentioned in the gossip columns in connection with the marriage of his nieces: Frances, to the Hon. George Compton in 1748; and Catherine, to the Very Rev. Lord Francis Seymour, fifth son of the 8th Duke of Somerset, in 1749. Payne was now considered a gentleman and was described as such in the Westminster polling lists. He had been accorded the title of ‘esquire’ within Grand Lodge since 1725.
It was no coincidence that many of those chosen to sit as London magistrates were Freemasons, nor that many senior figures from the Westminster and Middlesex benches were at the helm of Freemasonry’s transformation. A pro-Hanoverian political philosophy united both organisations. And a probable starting point for the connection between the Craft and the bench was George Payne. Payne was both the second and fourth Grand Master of Grand Lodge (in 1718 and 1720), and was subsequently Senior Grand Warden (1724) and Deputy Grand Master (1735). Payne appears in the 1723 Constitutions as the Master of the Horn Tavern lodge, No. IV, and in 1749 was Master of the similarly influential King’s Arms Lodge in the Strand – now the Old King’s Arms, No. 28. But these are only the surface of a Masonic career that was as active and important as that of Desaguliers.
Payne’s commitment to Freemasonry is evident throughout his Masonic career, and not only in his willingness to compile the General Regulations and devote his time on behalf of Grand Lodge. Both are documented in Grand Lodge minutes from the 1720s through to the 1750s. They suggest that Payne was regarded highly: appointed to the Charity Committee in 1727; acting Grand Master in 1735 in Viscount Weymouth’s absence; and appointed to the committees advising on the Calcutta Lodge in 1741 and the revision of the Constitutions in 1754.
Despite his seniority, Payne maintained a relatively low public profile and his life is largely unrecorded. There are brief mentions in AQC in 1912, 1917, and 1918, but no biographies. And other sources, such as Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, contain little. This absence of information has led to Payne being regarded as subordinate to Desaguliers and an adjunct to James Anderson, whose reputation has been elevated artificially as a consequence. But an analysis of his government, local authority, and parliamentary papers, and of Payne’s personal and professional networks, suggests that such an interpretation would be incorrect.
George Payne died on 23 February 1757. He had no descendants and the bequests and legacies in his Will were principally to his brother’s children. His death generated short obituaries in the press, which referred to his years of Crown service. Payne’s Will was proved in London on 9 March 1757. His wife, Anne, was the sole executor and the principal beneficiary.