Some of the world's most elite freemasons look set to lose their historic home - because they can't afford the rent.

The Royal Order of Scotland, which can trace some of its roots back to the 12th century, yesterday admitted it was in last-minute talks on fees for holding its meetings at Glasgow's Trades Hall.

The order, still officially led by the long-gone King of Scots, may follow several other masonic lodges in abandoning the hall, which was built by stonemasons and has hosted meetings since 1824.

The prospect of moving out of the Trades Hall marks a massive shift in the real - or perceived - influence of freemasons over life in the city, where lord provosts once openly boasted of their masonic affiliations.

One senior freemason last night joked that the most recent problems facing the craft showed it was not as powerful as conspiracy theorists believed.

He said: "We don't even have influence over the place where we hold our meetings."

Officially, the Royal Order was yesterday still hoping a compromise could be reached with the trust that runs the Trades Hall, which is in Glassford Street in Merchant City and was built by Robert Adam in 1791 as the headquarters of the Trades House, the body that unites all 14 trades.

"We are still in negotiations," said the Royal Order's newly-appointed treasurer, who asked not to be named in print.

Another member of the Royal Order, which can still muster more than 100 followers at its meetings in the Trades Hall, admitted numbers were dwindling.

He said: "It's very sad. We just can't pay the amount they are wanting."

Until recently, at least five other masonic lodges were meeting in the Trades Hall.

Several, including one named after engineer James Watt, have already moved out, citing financial problems.

At least one high-ranking mason told The Herald he regarded rising rents as a sign of "Masonophobia".

The Royal Order of Scotland was founded after the Jacobite rebellions and remains loyal to the bloodline of the country's monarchs.

The heriditary Grand Master is the King of Scots, and an empty seat is left for him at every meeting.

Trustees of the Trades Hall are expected to consider an appeal from the Royal Order tomorrow, but were yesterday unavailable for comment.