Illicit Borough Freedom

Illicit Borough Freedom

For many years the Executive of our Association has been disturbed by the corrupt admissions of ‘Unentitled Freemen’. The dwindling uptake of responsible freemen has generated discussions among the Gilds leading to considerable concern regarding sustainability. Most gild committees are made up of elderly experienced freemen, faced with finding responsible replacements.

We must all recognise that Borough Freedom status requires a genuine applicant to be either a descendant or an authorised apprentice. Since the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835 and subsequent subsidiary Acts, true borough freedom (by law) is limited to those enrolled with an incorporated borough that sent MPs to Parliament.

Honorary borough freedom is limited to those properly enrolled (for life only) having sworn an oath to an elected Mayor with the majority support of a properly elected Council. Other ‘chartered’ towns or Manors that practice a form of Freedom through a Court Leet or other civic society, have no similar recognition in law.

However, it seems to me that while the traditions held within any Gild may possibly allow ‘appointed members’ to their gild, they should not pass them off as borough freemen but as ‘Honorary xyz Gild Freemen’. As such, this form of membership is no different than that of any elected ‘social club’. We may well assume that we already have such members within our Association. As a club member, such members may well be entitled to wear their regalia as ‘corporate members’.

This can cause some confusion, even by some Gild members themselves, who may assume ‘borough freedom’ status in error. The FEW has elected not to interfere with the activities of any borough gild or association over their ‘traditions’. It would seem reasonable that any such elected member of a Gild should be best identified as ‘Honorary’ Gild members and not referred to as borough freemen.

Finally, it goes without saying that such ‘Honorary  Gild Freemen’ should be no more than Associates of the ‘Freemen of England & Wales’. However, this may be recognised as a position taken by Gilds looking for support in increasing their numbers.

Alan Shelley 6 February 2020

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