Admission to Borough (town or city) Freedom

Admission to Borough (town or city) Freedom

An Aide Memoire

Recently, there has been a little confusion regarding the suitability of candidates and of their initiation. My following comments will apply singularly to borough (hereditary) freedom. I fully understand the dwindling nature of the uptake of candidates and am sympathetic toward its restoration.

Firstly I will eliminate those seeking ‘Honorary’ freedom by alternative means. For example associate freemen of trade gilds/guilds. Such gilds are autonomous and possibly may engage associates of their gild. The Town Mayor’s Office may appoint a worthy to ‘Honorary Freedom’ under the 1885 Act with the support of a majority of the elected council.

I will also except those towns and cities (Northampton, Durham, and Oxford) whose admissions are subject to private/local Acts of Parliament.

It is important to recognise that ‘admission’ procedure is ‘customary’. While the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act initially abolished the Freedoms, personal entitlement was subsequently recognised in specific detail. Freemen can inherit, subject to the custom of their town or city. Alternatively new freeman may be admitted subjected to ‘servitude’ (apprenticeship).in places where that custom existed.

Most borough freemen are made through their inheritance, and we have seen how limiting this has become. Our late FEW Counsel, Charles Sparrow QC was a powerful advocate for the adoption of hereditary membership via apprenticeship. He was positive that any procedure should be strictly governed to abide by the customary practice.

Some years ago I submitted Papers on Apprenticeship, Nos., 22, 23, and 24 as Viewpoints from the Officer Without Portfolio, now on the FEW Website. VP.22 Requires that to satisfy the rules ‘of servitude’ an apprentice must be legitimately provided with training in a calling or skill that will result in useful employment. The period of training can be reduced from an original seven years to a minimum of three years. The master and apprentice must appear together at court, at the beginning and end of the training period.

Viewpoint 24 – Regarding the custom – Any new approach must include trial and test. It cannot and must not appear to be a backdoor method to gain freedom. The apprenticeship should be beneficial, in some way, to the town community. The candidate must be of good character and understand and appreciate the purpose into which they are engaged. Vocational training must include trial and test over a suitable period to maintain the recognition “apprenticeship” requires. The term should absolutely be no less than three years.

Elements for consideration:

  1. The custom of apprenticeship must have existed in the borough.
  2. No need to distinguish between trade, craft, business, profession or calling.
  3. A freeman/master who can provide and approve the training of a suitable candidate.
  4. The product of the apprenticeship must be meaningful and have a commercial purpose.
  5. On completion of the apprenticeship a rigorous assessment will determine suitability and approval given of eligibility for admission to borough freedom.

Where the master freeman may reside and trade outside the town boundary, it may be possible to obtain a joint position with the leader of the local council, town clerk, or even the mayor to arrive at an authorisation necessary to accomplish the qualification.

Finally, it is essential that the procedure has provided a useful product or service and that the apprentice has gained a level of improvement that may be expected. NB the expression ‘servitude’ was quite plainly applied to a practical (trade) apprenticeship. We should not detract too far from that specific inference.


For practical purposes, the 2009 ‘Democracy’ Act provides equal status for female applicants. It also allows modernization of apprenticeships. However, this does not overlook or ignore the requirements of customary law.

25/04 AS.

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