Freemen of England & Wales

Freemen of England & Wales


F.E.W. is an association of guilds, similar bodies and individuals of towns and cities throughout England and Wales.  The object is to advance public knowledge in the traditions of historic towns and to protect their freedom as a legal institution.

The Association represents a collective of various members that have inherited or been honoured with freedom and those belonging to organisations that refer them as freemen.

Examples traditionally recognised by Custom and Statute are as follows:

  1. Freemen of provincial boroughs (including gildsmen) – through patrimony, servitude or marriage by custom.
  2. Freemen of the City of London by patrimony or redemption (purchase) and including Liverymen of the Worshipful Companies.
  3. Freemen of Towns where election is by (honorary) tradition relating to an ancient charter or by an Act.
  4. Freemen of Beverley, Pasture Masters – by charter and statute.
  5. Freemen of the manorial Court Leet of a provincial town, elected by relation to an ancient charter or an Act.
  6. Freemen of the Cinque Ports, elected by relation to ancient custom and statute.
  7. Freemen of the Rochester Oyster and Floating Fishery, by custom and statute.
  8. Free Miners of the Forest of Dean, by tradition relating to custom and statute.
  9. Freemen (freeholders) with a documented claim to free rights.
  10. Honorary Freemen (individuals/armed forces) elected by special honourable events or duties performed (that are fitting with the constitution of the Association).

Associate Members with interests, from ancient orders and academic institutions etc.





See Also



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Freemen of F.E.W.

Freemen are men and women who have rightful liberties (freedoms) in ancient manorial towns, boroughs and cities throughout England and Wales.  Freedom exists today within historic borough gilds and manorial court leets where they have retained a lawful inheritance of their ancient rights.

Freedom is bestowed through patrimony (heritage), marriage (through custom), by apprenticeship (tradition) or by an ‘honorary’ endowment by a town mayor.  Chartered freedoms apply to free burgesses of a borough town sealed by seigniorial lords, ecclesiastical towns sealed by a lord bishop or by a sovereign monarch.

The inheritance of fully constitutional burghal status is applied to borough freedoms through charters prior to the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835 that have been authorised by the seal of a monarch.  As such, these specific market/ trading towns with free voting rights were required by law, to send two representatives to Parliament.  (This being a verifiable test of such constitutions).

Local liberties (freedoms) have been issued in many early charters under sealed by earls, dukes, princes or lords of manorial villages, towns and cities below that of sovereign authority.  Such freedoms apply to custumals of manorial authorities and their traditions continue under the directions of various court leets and common land associations.

There are of course, variant forms of freedoms given historically by town companies (gilds) with specific trades.  Freedoms of ancient trade gilds are most commonly gained by family inheritances.  Several trade gild freedoms coincide with borough freedom and apply today through the examples of engineering apprenticeships at Coventry, Rochester Oyster and Floating Fishery, Free mining in the Forest of Dean and the freedoms of the Cinque Ports.

Freedom of the capital City of London is unique.  The principles of patrimony (heritage) and apprenticeship (through a livery company) apply.  In addition freedom can be purchased with the signed approval of two liverymen.  While all other boroughs have been prevented (under the reform Act 1835) London were provided with this exception.


Area Wardens of F.E.W.

“Possibly the most important function of the Organisation”

As ambassadorial representatives, area Wardens provide information ‘for and about’ the Association and its purposes.  Each Warden is responsible for the supervision of an area of England or Wales and have equal status with one another within FEW.  Those with greater experience generally offer advice and assistance to the others when it is required.  All Wardens are directly responsible and report to the Vice President.

The FEW Warden should establish and maintain an active line of communication with the representative of each affiliated Guild within their area.  (NB – A contact/mailing list of Guild Representatives is held by the Hon. Membership Secretary).

Wardens’ official regalia comprises of a distinctive red and white robe with a blue ribbon mounted medallion.  These insignia are generally worn at the FEW Court, the FEW AGM, at Freemen’s functions and certain public events with the responsible discretion of the wearer.

Wardens’ Duties/Responsibilities:

  1. Encourage admissions to the Freedom in towns and cities where it may exist.
  2. Encourage Freemen to join their Guild where one exists.
  3. Encourage the formation or revival of Guilds in towns where Freemen are not organised.
  4. Recruit Guilds and individual Freemen to membership of FEW.
  5. Update information on Freemen, their history, customs and property within their areas.
  6. Encourage Freemen to regard their Freedom as a highly valued and esteemed privilege, to be worthy citizens loyal to the Monarch, their country, and place of origin.
  7. Encourage Freemen to communicate and cooperate as frequently as possible with Freemen in other towns and cities.
  8. Encourage academic historians, local historians and archivists in exhaustive studies of the origin, history, law and customs of places where Freemen are, or have been admitted,
  9. Encourage publicity of Freemen and Freemen’s activities in local papers, tourist information leaflets, and local guides, along with the advertising of public occasions.
  10. Present a report on their activities and the various activities of Guilds within their area to AGM and Court Meetings.


Meetings and Reports:

Wardens’ Meetings are held at least twice a year and are usually held on the day of the FEW Court Meeting.  Notice of this meeting, chaired by the Vice President, is normally given by email and shown on the list of proceedings for the day of the Court.  Any matters for inclusion at the Wardens’ Meeting must be given in advance to the Vice President to ensure appropriate preparedness.


At the AGM held in September, each Warden is required to present a brief report of guild activities within their area for the preceding year.  They may also report anything of importance that has occurred appertaining to the Freedom within their area.

Reports should be reasonably confined to a minimum necessary to provide concise and relevant information on each subject.  They should not include any unnecessary advertising or self-promoting material of, for example, their own guild (the FEW Facebook is the correct place for such material).

With the limitations of space within the Journal, it is important to remember that Reports should inform and briefly relate to current matters/problems of local Guilds, and this must be kept in mind when producing Reports.


Wardens are provided with copies of the Journal, membership application forms, and information leaflets to assist with their conversations.  Further details, such as fees, ties, scarves, regalia and souvenir prices, can be obtained from the Membership Secretary.

Wardens’ Areas:

There are ten Areas covered by ten Wardens – one per area,* as follows:

  • East
  • North East
  • North
  • North West
  • North Midlands
  • South Midlands
  • South East
  • South West
  • West
  • Wales

Wardens have no specific period of tenure in office and they are formally appointed by the Annual Court or at the AGM.  *From time to time ‘Assistant’ Wardens are introduced to gain necessary experience and or to provide support in times of sickness or pending a Warden’s retirement.


Association of Freemen of England & Wales – Talk to Sudbury Freemen 03 July 2018

Hello everybody, my name is Alan Shelley and I have been asked to say a few words about our national body, the Freemen of England and Wales.

What is it – Well essentially, it is an overarching association of some 40 guilds, similar bodies, and individuals who are freemen of towns and cities throughout England and Wales.

The members have inherited, or been honoured with freedom, in one way or another. Our Association is non-political and not religious, though it does openly support our monarchy, conforms to the law and acknowledges customary traditions.

By their affiliation with FEW, member guilds and societies gain the benefits of greater protection, support and a more powerful voice.

The Association is led by an Executive of eight senior Trustees who meet regularly during the year.  There are ten elected Area Wardens covering all of England and Wales, who provide an interface between the members and the Executive.

It is a democratic association with its leadership seeking to offer guidance and support, rather than dictate to the members.

A major objective of its Constitution is to advance public education regarding Freedom and to promote further research into its legal institution.

Any important matters affecting freedom such as new legislation, are relayed via the FEW Journal and debated at Court Meetings.

Perhaps the primary purpose of the federation is one of protection of the traditions and to provide a rapid response against any threats toward our inherited rights.

While freedom may be described as liberty developed from rights, unfortunately, that privilege can be viewed as undemocratic, even ‘elitism’.  However, this must be dispelled, as Freemen have a uniquely exclusive ‘right of sole vesture’. These are held ‘in gross’ personally and derive from the ancient Burgage system.

Key changes occurred in the Reforms that took place in the 1830s. Under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, the old Corporations were dissolved in favour of elected councils and along with it, removed freemen’s control.  However, several important properties, including the freemen’s grazing rights were preserved. These were considered to belong personally to the freemen and their descendants.

Many freemen, in a number of towns were persuaded by inducements, to give up their various rights. This unfortunately led to the folding of many guilds and freemen’s societies.

Thankfully, there were a good number of freemen, like those at Sudbury, who were not prepared to relinquish their active inherited rights over the ancient grazing lands.

Relatively agreeable arrangements by freemen, with the new councils over managing the lands, were interrupted by two world wars.  This had an affect on the whole of our countryside, disturbing the old ways of life and created the seeds that led to our Association.

The effect of the wars caused much of the countryside to be virtually abandoned. A lack of attention to large areas of unmanaged pasture and common lands in England and Wales was coupled with an urge for the development of new housing and roads.

As a result, the Government in 1958, set up a Commission to look-into and record the nations common lands.  The purpose of this exercise was to bring about an Act of Parliament to protect the common lands for the future public of England and Wales.  It would prevent any indiscriminate development across our rural beauty spots and provide space for outdoor recreation.  The leading advisers may be known to you, being the professors Hoskins and Stamp.

Unfortunately, they were unable to establish the differences between commons and Freemen’s lands when an Act was determined in 1965, ‘the Commons Registration Act’. The expression ‘commons’ was conflated and led to much confusion.  It can have several specific references, all of which are perfectly reasonable when used in context. The multitudes were the ‘commonalty’.  Fields farmed by several are ‘commons’ and here we come to the dilemma, when referring to freemen’s lands, that are farmed ‘in common’.

Freemen’s lands are private property, and unlike the conventional commons are not left unfenced nor do they have precisely the same conditions applying to commons.  Their surface areas can be the ‘exclusive’ property of a town’s freemen.

The 1965 Registration Act was unable to differentiate between these ‘private’ gated lands with ‘permitted’ foot-paths and instead applied the word ‘common’ to all such open land for the purposes of the Act. Freemen’s lands should never have been registered as Commons.  They should have been given their own identity.  However, and in hindsight, some benefits are to be had by the protections given in the Act.

Freemen of England – Federation and Fraternity

In 1966, Harry Ward a York Master Freeman, set off around the country enlisting the Freemen and Guilds in many towns and cities.  This was relatively easy, as the Freemen were incandescent with rage against the wrong doings of the government restrictions.  They formed an alliance to protect the freemen from further disruptions that may affect their traditions, complete with our own QC (Charles Sparrow). This then created an Association of ‘Freemen of England’ and its patron was his Grace, the Duke of Westminster, who held sympathetic views toward the Freemen.

Further upsets came in 1972, with the Local Government Act, when borough status was removed in favour of District Authorities.  Boroughs were reduced to parishes and this adversely affected customary traditions in many parts.

In 1977 a Common Land Forum was set up by the government to assess the progress of maintenance and procedures within commons management and a meeting was arranged with the Freemen for further discussion. Our learned clerk Allan Berry and I believe John Grimwood, attended, and Allan made his case of wrongful designation at Sudbury. In general, and in most areas, Freemen’s lands were being managed by Trustees much as here at Sudbury.

The Sudbury lands were managed since 1897 by Trustees under a Scheme, on behalf of the Freemen.  That was the case until 1987 when a debacle (with NHS) changed matters.

This brings us up to date with FEW

There is an annual Court Meeting each spring and an AGM Weekend in the Autumn with a Forum, Court, Banquet and a robed parade from Town Hall to Church service on the Sunday.  Usually, the AGM is held in a major location. This Year it will be at Warwick and the banquet will be in the Castle.

The Association encourages a fraternal interface between guilds that forms a friendly and mutual fellowship. ‘Long may it Flourish’

Please feel free to ask any questions


Alan Shelley VP, June 2018


Notes. Integrity of Sudbury received its Corporate distinction by the Charter of Queen Mary 1554, with full privileges, for her rescue (from Framlingham) by Sir Edward Waldegrave and the Sudbury Burgesses, who escorted the Queen safely to London (all dressed in their matching red livery).

York City Council planned to develop a golf course on the Strays (surface property of the Freemen) back in 1983.  They brought a Private Bill to Parliament in 1985. It got through the Lords and was blocked in the Commons.  FEW put £20K into the fight and involved MPs to support our defence of Freemen’s Rights.

Our Rights I can tell you, from experience, that Defra and MAF before, and the Land Registry regard our ‘rights in Gross’ as an ‘unnecessary burden, to be extinguished’.  A Cottager on a common, with an appurtenant right is ok. Sudbury Townlands (Development)) Act 1838 – (transfer of grazing rights over ‘shack lands’).  A parliamentary ‘Town Act’ can be a very valuable tool and is usually inviolable.

See also F.E.W, aims and objectives

See also Duty of a Freemen

See also Vice President

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