For Guidance Aide Memoire

‘Entitlement’ to Freedom

The Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, effectively and initially disbanded the freemen of borough towns and cities and removed their governing powers. Subsequently, the law allowed the freemen to regain their personal ‘right’ to retain the title of ‘freeman’. This being a customary right of liberty given to those in perpetuity. It was a successional title that provided the opportunity for legitimate children of the freeman to be admitted to freedom at adulthood.

Customary law, in towns and cities where the custom exists, allows freedom by apprenticeships and in some cases through marriage. Freedom in the majority of cases has been passed through inheritance from a parent or grandparent.

A Parliamentary Act of 1885 permits borough and city councils to bestow ‘Honorary Freedom’ on a worthy administered by the mayor, with the support of a majority of an elected council. Such a ‘Freedom’ is a personal honour and expires with the holder, it does not succeed to the progeny of the ‘honoured’ freeman.

Freedom is an ancient right and a liberty that may extend through ‘custom’ legitimately to those ‘entitled’. It cannot simply be given or adopted. Examples of similar inherited rights and liberties exist in the right and title of the ‘Free Miners of the Forest of Dean’, the Rochester Oyster and Floating Fisheries, and the Beverley Pasture Masters. In the cases where ancient gild/guilds have a customary admission ceremony, the freedom may apply to their guild membership specifically. It does not translate to the town or city freedom without the admission confirmation by the mayor.

With the dwindling numbers of genuine freemen or of those entitled to gain admission in certain places, it appears that some guilds may have appointed local individuals of-note into their ranks. As a move to ensure the continued existence and sound management of their guilds, this may seem perfectly reasonable. However, it must be appreciated that for those new members to be encouraged to believe that they have obtained the hereditary freedom of that associated town or city, along with the rights and privileges that may carry, is both illegal and ethically wrong.

Such appointments could be satisfactorily covered by a title of say ’companion’ or ‘associate’ to the guild, but the title ‘freeman’ of the town or city should not ever be used in these circumstances.

It is however important to note that in several instances, subsequent to the 1835 curtailment Act., freemen have gained greater access through private Parliamentary Bills and obtained local Acts of Parliament and approval of Privy Council to allow the admission of new freemen, (captured in legislation applicable to specific boroughs). But it must be clear, this is not a matter of free self-selection of authentic freemen.

NB Admission to Borough or City Freedom requires that the candidate swear a solemn oath of allegiance in front of the mayor, before then being entered onto an historic/official Freemen’s Roll.

Alan Shelley 5-12-2022


For Guidance Aide Memoire      (Entitlement ‘2’)

Freedoms and Liberties

The Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, brought an end to corrupt practices and political power. However, in its consequence, it established the ‘personal right’ of title to ‘Freemen of the Borough’.

These were freemen of the ‘incorporated’ boroughs who, by right, were sending MP representatives to Parliament.

Historically, there were and are, ancient borough towns and large parish/villages that never were incorporated. They were seignorial and clerical manors that remained often under the influence or general control of a local lord or squire.

Ancient Manorial Courts, Leets or Baron has, in several instances, continued to rule over some local matters. The introduction of Magistrates and other updates to civil parishes has eventually limited these powers. In 1977 the Administration of Justice Act abolished any legal jurisdiction by these manorial courts over crime.

Customs have continued to give title to regular markets and annual fairs in various liberties. Charitable institutions can be found throughout the nation that connect with ancient traditions. The participants in these many and varied traditions may be considered to have title to the ‘freedom’ of that liberty and of which they can reasonably be called freemen of such.

My view is that we can for example recognise the freemen of various courts leet or the Freemen of the Village of Hale, or the freemen of the Cinque Ports, the Free Miners of the Forest of Dean and the freemen of the Rochester Oyster and Floating Fisheries as a generality of freemen of various liberties. However, it must be firmly understood that it would be wrong to refer to them simply as ‘Freemen of the borough’ as this title has a distinct meaning in law.

It is clear that there are two reasonable forms of Freeman to be recognised. The incorporated (inherited) ‘borough freeman’ and the unincorporated associated freeman of a specific liberty. Freemen are grouped in various associate forms. We can find them in ancient gilds/guilds (merchants, trades or social) there are feoffees, manorial court members and honorary freedoms. It would be wrong in my eyes to categorise their status other than to ensure that their title is genuine as all of these may appear as ‘freemen’.

The Association of FEW has pointedly made it clear in the past that its constitution is one of Guilds of Freemen. It has attempted to establish the primary position of the ‘Borough Freeman within a Gild’. That Gild/guild may, in many cases, have only been recreated in the last century following the freemen’s earlier disbandment.

It is my contention that our Association title ‘Freemen of England and Wales’ should not be discriminative. It can sensibly accept members who are ‘freemen’. The term Freeman can reasonably be applied widely when not employed incorrectly by the title ‘borough freeman’.

Alan Shelley VP of FEW

Freeman of Sudbury, Liveryman and Guildsman of London

Comments are closed.