Recognition of Freemen

Recognition of Freemen

Much confusion lies between the recognition of admission to ‘Borough Freedom’ and that of admission to ‘membership’ of Borough Guilds/Gilds. All of whom may be referred to as ‘Freemen’.

I beg your indulgence as I return once again to that much haunted subject of ‘Admissions to Borough Freedom’. The deviations over ‘rights of admission’ have troubled me for many years.

The subject of rights of Admission to Borough Freedom is a legal entity that developed from early traditions. The present-day circumstances are not governed by politics, bias, or prejudice toward personal skin colour or race. Certain conclusions can be expected as a result of lineal heritage and local customs anticipated in different locations. The subject has been regulated by national statute law.

  • Entitlement to Freedom of the Borough

Freemen and freewomen are recognised by a right of entitlement to be found in many boroughs, towns and cities throughout England and Wales. It is a title held with pride that connects an individual with the heritage of their place of admission.

The expression ‘Freeman’ may have many connotations and some clarity should be given to this entitlement. Firstly, it is a legal entity and a matter of local heritage and tradition, the customs of which can vary from place to place. However, this is governed by overall statute law, much of which results from the Reform Acts including the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 and subsequent legislation attaching to those arrangements.

‘Borough Freeman’ is an entitlement gained by birth, apprenticeship or in some cases by marriage. The children of such freemen are entitled to admission. An admission to borough freedom (at maturity) in all cases, is conducted by the Mayor (agreed by council) of the borough.

Freedoms conducted by various Guilds/Gilds or by Court Leets in various towns are awarded on an ‘honorary’ form of ‘freedom’. These are awarded through a form of election of worthy candidates. It is not considered less an important or ‘recognised’ position. However, it is an entitlement that does not normally carry with it any formal rights. Such entitlement is for life only and cannot be inherited by their children.

Admission to the Freedom of a Borough is not subject to the flexibility of membership of an ‘elected’ club. Problems can stem from a confusion over admission to alternative freedoms. Private Acts of Parliament have occasionally been applied to circumvent certain aspects of the Reform Act MCA 1835. This does not counter the overall principles of that Act and its subsequent adjusting legislation.

In other words, ‘what happens in Durham or Northampton (via Private Acts) may not set any precedent for Admissions elsewhere’! An exception to the ‘Rules of Admission’ applies to the Freedom of the City of London where the Freedom and right of admission can be purchased. This in turn, can lead to a much greater flexibility over who may become a Freeman under such circumstances.

Alan Shelley, 10 October 2020, Cheltenham

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