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Reverend Canon John Shelley Nurser PhD

Reverend Canon John Shelley Nurser PhD

Born May 1929 at Northampton, this virtuous cleric has been committed in his love of humanity and for its freedom. His academic achievements have been recognised internationally with considerable laurels. These accomplishments include recipient of the ‘Templeton Freedom Award’ in 1994 and in 2007, the ‘Albert Outler Prize’ from the American Society of Church Historians. He was a Commonwealth Fellow at the Harvard Division School 1956-57.

Educated Peterhouse Cambridge 1947-50 and 1953-56 (Lieutenant Royal Navy 1950-53) Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy, Cambridge UK in 1958.

Ordained into the Anglican Church in 1958, he was Dean of Trinity Hall Cambridge, 1961-68, Warden of St Marks Institute of Theology at Canberra from 1968-74 and Rector of Freckenham in Suffolk until 1976. John then became Chancellor at Lincoln Cathedral from1976 until he retired in 1992 as Canon Emeritus.

He continued in this capacity and was ‘Director of Christianity and the Future of Europe’ from 1992 until 1997 and as a Senior Research Associate of the Van Hugel Institute until 1996. He has been a Fellow of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex since 1998 and a Cecil Woods fellow of the Virginia Theological Seminary, 1999.

His books have earned world-wide recognition, including ‘Reign of Conscience’ 1987, contributor to ‘Churches on the Wrong Road’ 1986 and ‘A History of Lincoln Minster’ 1994.

Finally, John has retired, if that is possible with such an active driven mind and has settled in comfort with his loving American wife and publisher, Elizabeth at Sudbury, Suffolk.

Cousin John and I share great grandfather, Charles Thomas, blacksmith at Sudbury. John’s grand-father Aylmer Shelley (born March 1866) was a man of great enterprise. He started his career within the Shelley blacksmithing business and as a young skilled man he employed two men in a forge alongside. When a special circumstance arose to purchase a thriving bakery up the road at Long Melford, Aylmer jumped at the opportunity. It is amazing that he kept it running and was up to strength within a week. How he was able to transfer his skills remains a mystery. His grandmother was from a bakery family and it is likely that uncles were able to pass on these specialized skills.

John’s mother Florence and her sisters Molly and Dorothy were brought up with ‘Bixby’s Bakery’ which formed a central position in the life of the people of Long Melford. Elder daughter Florence, by Aylmer’s first wife, a milliner married Arthur John Nurser, a joiner and lived at Northampton. The two sisters Molly (Lavinia) Ponder and Dorothy Deeks (now deceased) became teachers both of whom I got to know well. Molly’s reputation was widespread, and it was interesting to hear so many townsfolk still respectfully address her as their teacher ‘Miss Shelley’.

John Shelley Nurser himself, has had a splendid unselfish and fulfilling career and is a credit to the wider family. He has virtuously directed his efforts in the pursuit of the Church and to the freedom of humanity. In quiet retirement at Sudbury, John has befriended many and offers advice whenever it may be called for. He was particularly instrumental in the placement of a memorial statue to remember an ancient event of great importance to the old Saxon borough of Sudbury. The town’s earliest mention is in 799 AD when Aelfhun, Bishop of Dunwich died when visiting the old minster.

John was able to advise on a suitable sculpture and to recommend a selected location adjacent to St Gregory’s Churchyard on the peoples ‘Croft’.

The tall and handsome John S Nurser, now in his mid-90s requires a little assistance to get around. He retains a scholarly mind and his infectious broad smile is readily extended to all of humanity.

Gloucester’s Civic Administration

Gloucester’s Civic Administration

NOTES extracted from VCH

Among Gloucester’s courts, the hundred court met every Monday, swore in constables, freemen, and officers of the trade companies, and tried civil actions involving citizens. From the mid 16th century, however, the court was in decline. More active was the piepowder court held at the Tolsey by the sheriffs on market days. That was the main court of pleas in the city, hearing a good deal of litigation and with a number of attorneys in attendance. The frankpledge jury (Court Leet) continued to meet twice a year, and issue, or re-affirm, detailed bylaws concerning paving and other routine administrative matters. A new body instituted by charter in 1561 was the orphans’ court, which was modelled on the London institution. Through it the mayor and aldermen administered the estates of freemen whose heirs were minors, checking wills and inventories, loaning out funds from minors’ estates to citizens at interest, and reimbursing the ‘orphans’ when they achieved majority. There were, however, recurrent disputes over the court’s working and it had almost fallen into disuse by 1640.

The most important city institution was the common council, whose members were co-opted from the freemen. By custom the number of councillors was 40, but the figure fluctuated, depending on whether the aldermen were included in the total. In 1605 James I appears to have reduced the number of the council to 30, but the membership was restored to 40 under Charles I’s charter of 1627. The common council elected certain city officers, such as the four stewards or chamberlains, the town clerk, and the recorder. It also made leases of town lands, regulated the commons, levied taxes, and issued ordinances for the general welfare and good rule of the community. During the 16th century the council expanded its authority at the expense of the frankpledge jury.

By 1600, however, the full council was increasingly overshadowed by the mayor and aldermanic bench. The path to aldermanic power was steep and difficult. An ambitious man had first to enter the council (usually in his late 30s), then serve twice in the costly and burdensome offices of steward and sheriff. After perhaps a dozen years’ service on the council he might then be considered for co-option to the bench. Most aldermen were in their late 40s when they were elevated, wealthy men belonging to the top score of taxpayers in the city and frequently associated with the distributive trades, the most prosperous sector of the economy. 

Gloucester Hams GLAF Visit

Gloucester Hams GLAF Visit

Proposed Site Visit by GLAF                                                        

Location: Gloucester Vale and the Water Meadow ‘Hams’

Western boundary of Gloucester City

Purpose: To review the popularity and amenity conditions of this historically important river valley landscape, with consideration to maintaining and enhancing/encouraging its rural attraction. The site in mind is located from Lower Westgate Street and by the Westgate bridge over the Severn moving along footpaths toward the Docklands and area of Llanthony Priory relics.

These meadows have an important role, both as a lung to the population and to their ecological position. Historically, they provided considerable sustenance to the Crown, castle and religious institutions previously settled at Gloucester. The ‘common’ ham of the burgesses (townsmen) of the city was essential for grazing their cattle and would have formed, for horses, an equivalent of the car parking of today.

It is most important for the upkeep of the grasslands of these meadows that they are mown and preferably grazed by cattle to prevent scrub and deterioration. Meadows with their permanent grass and herbage historically had greater surface value than pasture and even marginally more than arable land. They would provide early abundance for hay (winter fodder) and grazing for cattle over the summer months. Their settled nature is a haven for fauna and flora.

A Potted history of Gloucester

After the Roman garrison left Gloucester for Wales, the city gradually fell into decline. In 877 a raiding army of Danish Vikings settled for eight months before moving on. Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred the Great (whose town it was) rebuilt its defences in the format of a fortified burh (borough) with additional walls and strong gates north, south, east and west. The burgage plots of the burh, each in long narrow strips of approx. one acre, had buildings of up to three stories facing the streets. Animals and orchards to the rear with alleys for access. Cattle and horses were taken to the Common Ham for grazing over the summer months via lower Westgate Street.

After the requirements of the king and castle the Church and the various religious institutions were allocated specific ham meadows. For example, we have Castle Meads, Archdeacon Ham, and past references to titles including Priest-ham, Nun-ham, Port-ham, Mean-ham, Sud-ham, Wal-ham and Common Ham. They were each strictly controlled and have interesting histories. Initially Priest-ham and Nun-ham were given to St Peters Abbey by the manor of Abbots Barton c750 it then gets a little complicated with agreements between the Crown, Castle/sheriff, Abbey of St Peter, Llanthony Secunda Priory, and the Greyfriars etc.

Following the Dissolution and later the Siege (after which the walls, and independence were dismantled)  the old religious institutions were disbanded and much of the meadowland came under the controls of the Sheriff and the Corporation of the City. The reforms created by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 caused further difficulties with the burgesses only having shared ownership in the commons. In 1877, the Burgesses claimed that they, and not the Council had succeeded to the commoning rights granted in 1518.

In 1891, the Burgesses sued the Council for encroaching on their privileges. Finally, under the Gloucester Corporation Act of 1894 the Council took powers (exercised in 1899) to buy out the burgesses’ rights and to turn the meadows into public recreation spaces and pleasure grounds. It may be questionable as to whether they have been entirely well turned to that use!

With its close proximity to the densely populated city, can we possibly enhance public awareness and encourage greater use with safe enjoyment of this valuable and interesting rural thoroughfare?

Alan Shelley 8 June 2019

See Area Map:



Training Scheme 1932 – 1968

Sir George Williams, founder of the YMCA in London in 1844, was the youngest of eight brothers who were brought up by their parents on Ashway Farm, Dulverton in Somerset. George Williams was born on 21 October 1821. By the outbreak of the First World War the YMCA was well known in Britain and in many places overseas through its clubs, hostels and for its educational work. The YMCA is now represented around the world in 120 countries, working mainly with young homeless people providing accommodation, education and support.

The YMCA British Boys for British Farms Training Scheme, known as YMCA BBBF or BBBF for short was started in 1932 and ended in 1968. At different times during those years there were a total of 14 BBBF Centres where boys aged between 14 to 17 from varying backgrounds were placed in YMCA hostels to work on local farms for 8 to 12 weeks before moving on to other farms and being followed up by a YMCA Field Officer for a year. More than 20,000 boys went through this YMCA farm training scheme. For thirty-six years the name British Boys for British Farms was respected in agricultural circles, promoted by the National Farmers Union, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labour, schools, colleges, employment agencies as well as social welfare departments. Some of the boys went on to Farm Institutes or Agricultural Colleges as well as working abroad for example in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One BBBF boy became a missionary farmer in Formosa now Taiwan.

In the of Summer 1961 the YMCA also started British Boys for British Horticulture Training Scheme, known as BBBH at Wilderwick, East Grinstead and continued at Park Hill near Derby, from 1966 until 1968. These were the only two BBBF centres out of the fourteen to run both BBBF and BBBH training schemes. Some of the BBBH boys went on to work in several Royal Gardens and at Kew Garden. In 1966 there was an informal approach from Buckingham Palace seeking advice from the YMCA BBBH staff about the possibility of a residential training centre at Windsor.

In 1995 Barbara Vessey, a former BBBF matron whose husband was a warden, published an illustrated book entitled: “British Boys for British Farms: The Story of the YMCA’s Farm Training Scheme”, published by the YMCA. The book also covers the YMCA BBBH Training Scheme. Barbara Vessey died in June 2009. In December 2014 I had permission to have the book re-printed.

I am currently in contact with over 180 former BBBF boys and staff including a few who are living abroad. Stephen would like to hear from anyone who was in any way involved with the YMCA BBBF or BBBH Training Schemes including farmers, Instructors, lecturers, landowners and would like to receive any recollections and photos for the YMCA archives. I am also working on the locations of farms that were used in BBBF days. When the boys left the YMCA centre they were usually given a small New Testament signed by the staff and boys. In earlier days YMCA BBBF badges were also given out and these were numbered on the back.

Quote from Barbara Vessey’s book: “Such a scheme needs no monument in brick and stone. Its memorial is in the life of those who passed through the hostels, learned to love the countryside and found great satisfaction in working with nature and producing good quality crops and livestock. Many who left the city streets at the age of fourteen or fifteen, made their way by hard work and enthusiasm to farm on their own account. Together with all those who became advisers and teachers, managers and agents, or who supported the agricultural industry in related occupations, the contribution of this very basic farm-training scheme to the economic life of Britain was significant and long lasting.”

Following the success of the 1st National YMCA BBBF Reunion at North Cadbury Court in Somerset in May 2014 when Countryfile was present, two further Reunions have been held in East Sussex in 2015 and in Derbyshire in 2016. The 4th Reunion in 2017 was held again at North Cadbury Court in Somerset. In 2018 the 5th Reunion was held at Askham Bryan (Agricultural) College on 31 July 2018. This year the 6th Reunion was held on 5 June 2019 at Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power, near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.

For further information please contact: Stephen Milner, 22 Ellerslie Close, Charminster, Dorchester DT2 9QQ
Tel: 01305 – 266197. Email:

June 2019

Lammas Lands (half-yearly land)

Lammas Lands (half-yearly land)

In various parts of the countryside you may come upon the historical term Lammas-land. Usually meadow lands, they are a form of common land where right-holders are entitled to pasture their beasts following the harvest of hay. The period for grazing (or open period) runs from Lammas Day (12 August) until Lady Day on 25 March or in some cases, until 6 April. This custom dates back to the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas or ‘loaf-mas’ that ran from 1st August until 1st September. It was a festival to mark the wheat harvest, when a loaf was made from the new crop.

Half-yearly lands may be subject to physical restrictions, often by flooding during winter from overflowing rivers, streams and marshes. They are often referred to as ‘Lammas’ simply to indicate their ‘closed period’ when access is not allowed. This all dates from the manorial period when the lord of the manor provided his tenants with communal rights over ‘waste’ lands. Such were the ancient Lammas rights.

Controls were strengthened over Lammas lands by Section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, and they remain subject to the protection of the Commons Registration Act 1965. Great advantage is given over Lammas lands, not only to prevent development but to environmental issues. Half-yearly land, closed over a period, provides protection to wildlife. This particularly applies with migrating, overwintering birds and waterfowl. The safeguards over these common lands has prevented enclosures and the developments over wastelands elsewhere.

Lammas lands are usually closed during the winter months when the public may be discouraged from using some of the footpaths. There are various forms of ‘similar’ lands, not identical with Lammas land. This is where the ownership of several portions of land are rotated. For example, ‘shack’ lands where, after arable crops are harvested, commoner/right-holders may graze animals on the stubble. Access to certain lands may be determined by ‘Lots’ this will often apply to meadows when hay or herbage is to be cut. Such activities are subject to local custom and periods vary according to the topographical circumstances.

In conclusion, Lammas lands are usually ancient hay meadows, but can be arable, held in several (often distributed in lots) during the crop-raising period, but subject to ‘rights of common’ at other times. It usually applies to pasturage.

House of Lords

House of Lords

The House of Lords (House of Peers) is the upper house of Parliament situated in the Palace of Westminster. Membership of the Peers (as equals) is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal.

Lords Spiritual are led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York who are primate of all England. The occupants of the five ‘great sees’ include London, Durham and Winchester as Lords of Parliament. Of the remaining 35 English diocesan bishops, the 21 most senior (by length of service) sit in the House of Lords.

Bishops are not peers but are Lords of Parliament. The Lords Temporal are secular members who are either life peers or hereditary peers. They are all members of the Peerage. Under the ‘House of Lords Act, 1999’, only ‘life peerages’ automatically entitle their holders to seats in the House. Of the ‘hereditary peers’ only 92 (including the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain) are elected by their peers to retain their seats in the House.

The Lords have three main roles in Parliament: Making laws, Consideration of public policy and Holding the government to account. They spend more than half their time considering bills (draft laws), examining each bill in stages. Government policies are examined in detail, debated and questioned before being agreed.

The ‘House of Lords’ is an historical development of the Norman feudal system begun following the Conquest in 1066. Before the Conquest, the Anglo-Saxon Assembly, in the name of the ‘Witenagemot’ was the national council or parliament. Its members were known as the ‘Witan’ (wise men).

The ‘wise-men’ considered, debated and advised the king as required. They were ‘noblemen’ high in social class, of ecclesiastic and secular status. They were the aristocratic (thegn) development of the ealdormen’s folkmoots. Members of the Witan were the king’s councillors. They were named witnesses to the charters making grants of land. Some 2,000 charters and around 40 law codes have survived from the Witan’s acta. There were certainly more than 300 recorded meetings of the Witan.

The Witenagemot under the Normans was replaced by the ‘Curia’ or ‘Concilium’ and the Witan replaced by the ‘Barones’. Wisdom was replaced by ‘Tenure’. It became simply the Witan, Sapientes or wise men, there is no trace of any property qualification. Members of the Witan were the national officers, lay and clerical, who formed the older and more authorative portion, along with the king’s friends and dependents.

Under Henry II and his sons, the national council operated as was introduced at the Conquest and has grown into consistency under the Norman kings, that of a complete council of feudal ‘tenants-in-chief. In this way, the king had full control over a ‘King’s Court of feudal vassals’ to strengthen the Curia Regis and to protect the popular courts.

The Norman ‘curia or concilium’ was derived from the Witan, the changes incorporated, initially gave the kings a hold over any resistance by the English. It prevented any cooperative invasions by their allies and formed a tie between him and his scattered followers.

It should be clearly understood that barons and peers stem from feudal ‘vassalage’. The word baron developed, not in relation to the ‘man’ or ‘lord’, but to his ‘land’. A vassal ‘receives under feudal institutions. A tenant-in-chief (of the king) is a contraction of baro-regis (of the king).

A palatine tenant, as in the case of the Palatine Earldom of Chester, may possibly address their tenants as barons. Every earl was also a baron. Today we inherit these terms in relation to the Barons of London and of the Cinque Ports. The Peers are their fellow barons, the word peer comes from pare or equal. A trial by peers, the judicium parium, was confined to no one class in the vast feudal hierarchy. It applied to all freemen of parity.

The development of the concilium from the curia denoted its consultative aspect and this became the parent of the ‘House of Lords’ and eventually of all ‘Parliament’. Curia Regis, representing the judicia aspect became the parent, not only of our judicature, but also, through the Exchequer, of our financial administration.

The House of Lords descends, ‘by unbroken succession’, not from the primary assembly of freemen, not even from the aristocratic ‘Witan’ but from the feudal curia, in which the dominus was surrounded by his barones (Barons).


Commune concillium – the body of tenants-in-chief. Attendance was not regarded as a burden but as a right. To hold per baroniam meant each as a tenant-in-chief. The heirs of which would them as ‘Baronies by Writ’. They would be heirs in blood of the party first summoned.

The House of Lords is feudal in origin, Consequently, its feudal principle of primogeniture, the identification of the fief with its actual tenant alone still dominates our peerage.

In the House of Commons, we have the resultant of the representative system in the Anglo-Saxon local (moot) courts.

The ‘Constitutions of Clarendon’ were a set of legislative procedures passed by Henry II in 1164. They were 16 articles in an attempt to restrict ecclesiastical privileges and curb the power of the Church courts. It was this the finally led to the death of Archbishop Thomas Becket, the martyr  assassinated in 1170.

Heart of Oak

Heart of Oak

The English Oak

The oak tree is seen to symbolise Englishness in much the same way as the British Bulldog is muscular, strong and friendly. Quercus robur, the common pedunculate oak is our native tree. Anciently, the druids worshiped in oak groves and many traditions, from marriage ceremonies to the burning of the ‘yule log’ at Christmas, have their connections with this symbolic tree. Not only do ‘mighty oaks spring from tiny acorns’ these trees provide a myriad of life providing sources for man and beast.

Oak trees are host to numerous insects and support for birds and mammals. Commoners have ancient rights to graze and feed their pigs on the fallen acorns (and beech mast).  The timber has been a major contributor of for building houses, halls, bridges, gates, fences and all manner of furniture, tools and farming implements.

The indelible iron ink made from the apple galls of the oak tree have been used to print documents dating back to Roman times. Many deeds from the Middle Ages are as clearly written as they would have appeared, had they only just been produced. Oak Apple Day (Royal Oak Day) was a former holiday on 29th May to commemorate the ‘Restoration of Charles II in 1660’.

Naval ships, built from English oak fought our battles, and as many as eight or more warships were named ‘Royal Oak’ or ‘Heart of Oak’.

“When Freedom know not where to rove,
From conquer’d Greece and groaning Rome,
At random driv’n like Noah’s dove,
Without a shelter or a home:
Th’ expanded world she view’d, where best,
She might repose her weary foot;
Saw this, our isle, set up her nest,
And bade the spreading oak take root;
Bade it adorn the land, and be
Fair England’s tree of Liberty.”


Heart of Oak of the English Navy
When Alfred our King, drove the Dane from this land,
He planted an oak with his own royal hand;
And he pray’d for Heaven’s blessing to hallow the tree,
As a Sceptre for England, the queen of the sea. 

Heart of oak are our ships,
Hearts of oak are our men.
We always are ready, steady boys, steady.

Come, cheer up my lads, ‘tis to glory we steer,
With heads carried high, we will banish all fear;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?


Although Henry VIII is broadly recognised as the father of the Royal Navy, I would argue that it had been Henry II who had set things in motion for an eventual supremacy over the seas. Henry II initiated the federation of the Cinque Ports that connected England with Normandy.

Society in the English nation under Henry II was made up in three groups. A military class, the Merchants and Traders dwelling in the cities and seaports, and the Peasantry. From the third class were the nameless ranks of archers and foot soldiers to bear the brunt of battle. These were also the hardy sailors serving the merchants in times of peace. They were ever ready to convert their ships into ‘men-of-war’.

For the reorganisation of the national forces, an Assize of Arms was issued in England in 1181. Holders of a knight’s fee (rents of property) were to keep a coat of mail, helmet, shield and lance; the owners of property worth ten marks should have a hauberk (shirt of mail) an iron headpiece and a lance. All burgesses and the whole body of freemen should have a quilted jacket, an iron headpiece and a lance. These arms were never to be parted with, but to descend from father to son. No burgess was to keep more than his statutory quota. Jews were forbidden to retain mail or arms.

At that time, the itinerant justices were able publish the assize and to hold enquiries by the juries of freemen as to who held properties and where. The final article of the Assize of Arms directed that no one should buy or sell any ship nor export any timber away from England.

Fighting ships, before the establishment of the royal navy, were organised almost entirely by the federation of the Cinque Ports. The origin of this federation is rather obscure. The five ports were bound together by the possession of common privileges and responsibilities during the reign of Edward the Confessor. Hastings, the undoubted head, was first to acquire privileges at the royal court and in connection with the herring fishery at Yarmouth. This was afterwards extended to the other members.

The Cinque Ports were clearly established by the reign of Henry II, as in 1161 a payment is recorded of £34, 17s, to the ships of the ‘five ports’ which conveyed treasure across the Channel. At times the English fleet was referred to as the “Hastingenses” alluding to the allied ports.

Henry at Westminster, in a charter, confirmed to the “barons” of Hastings, their privileges at court, exemptions from customs and other dues, and the foreshore rights of “strand and den” at Yarmouth, in return for the provision of twenty ships for fifteen days when required. Similar exemptions were made “to the ancient towns of Rye and Winchelsea”, affiliating them to Hastings. They were to supply two ships in addition. This exempted them from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts and might be implicated only in the same manner as the barons of Hastings and the Cinque Ports.

In this arrangement, the king could rely, at need, upon a force of some sixty ships. The ships were ordinary fishing and trading vessels of the channel ports, small but seaworthy, easily converted into fighting ships by the erection of wooden fore and stern castles and manned by hardy and experienced sailors. About a hundred soldiers could be carried by each vessel. The Cinque Port vessels were bound to carry a crew of twenty-one.

At such times as the Irish expedition of 1171, the average crews of the thirty-six ships from Norfolk and Suffolk, the seven from Dorset and Somerset, six from Devon, two from London and one from Herefordshire, had an average crew of only twelve. Twenty-eight ships from Gloucestershire averaged only six men. Eight on nineteen from Sussex and the two from Hampshire each had a crew of twenty-two. In the troubles of 1173, most of the ships which were “sent to Sandwich to meet with the ships of the Cinque Ports” carried crews of twenty or more and the two vessels from Colchester carried sixty seamen between them.

At that time, Southampton was the chief mercantile port of England, for its proximity to the royal; city of Winchester. Winchester was the home of the Treasury and Westminster was the king’s official residence, with London being the leading centre of trade. The great fair of St. Giles drew merchants from all over England and from foreign lands to Winchester, to sell their fine worked stuffs or to buy the course woollen cloth of local manufacturers. Winchester with its gilds of weavers and fullers was a great seat of the cloth industry. Cheaper and coarser cloth was made in Cornwall and this was often purchased by the king’s almoner.

Gilds of weavers existed in 1156 at Winchester, London, Lincoln, Oxford, Huntingdon and Nottingham, all being of sufficient importance to pay yearly to the king, from 40s to £6, but their productions were for the most part, poor and course, with the notable exception of the scarlet cloths of Lincoln, found to be fetching 6s.8d per ell. This was probably due to the Flemish influence. At the time of the expulsion of the Flemings after the rebellion of  1173. There were numerous entries in the Pipe Rolls recording seizures of wool and woad belonging to Flemings. The dyers of Worcester are recorded as owing £12 to the king’s Flemish enemies, and there is evidence to show the presence of these skilled clothworkers throughout the country.

For foreign trade, there was no imposition of customs for revenue purposes. Each town, whether seaport or inland market, had its own schedule of customs and trade dues, but crown charters only affected them regarding persons ‘exempt from payments throughout the realm’. Such exemptions were amongst the most valued franchises of the barons of the Cinque Ports, the freemen of privileged boroughs and the tenants of certain religious houses. A trading privilege of particular interest for its bearing upon the development of London under Norman influence was the right of citizens of Rouen to a port or anchorage in the Thames, close to the city walls. This was confirmed to them by Henry II in 1174.

A still more striking instance of the connection of two ports was Henry II’s grant of Dublin to the burgesses of Bristol, assuring to them a virtual monopoly of the Irish trade (previously shared with Chester). The monopoly of trade being in the same way assured to Rouen. Henry II’s earlier years of reign were liberal and encouraging. He granted the customs of York to the burgesses of Scarborough in1155, the liberties of London and Winchester to the men of Gloucester, and the customs of Lincoln to the burgesses of Coventry at a later date. Gilds merchant and trade-gilds were confirmed in their privileges at Oxford, Nottingham, Lincoln and elsewhere, and the formation of others licensed.

With the increasing growth of trade, other unauthorised gilds sprang up and in1180, no fewer than nineteen such ‘adulterine’ gilds were reported in London alone, five of them connected with London Bridge, the famous stone bridge built in 1176. Of these London gilds, the only four definitely identified with special trades were the goldsmiths, spicers, butchers and clothworkers. The others being, no doubt, social and religious societies of a less specialised composition.

In that period, minerals, such as the lead-mines of Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Shropshire provided good revenues. Particularly the silver bearing mines of Carlisle and at the other end of the kingdom, the rich tin mines of Cornwall and Devon. Iron was worked in the northern counties, and in Northamptonshire. The Forest of Dean enjoyed a practical monopoly of the southern iron trade. Tin was exported, and lead sent to the monks of Clairvaux, but iron was not exported. Chief exports in early times were the raw wool and hides and a certain number of foodstuffs.

Ale was sent to Normandy for its appreciation among foreigners. At the time, England had sufficient vineyards, from Kent to Hereford, to avoid the importation of wines. Taste preferences at that time was given to cider over Kentish ale and was noticeably popular at the cathedral priory of Christchurch, Canterbury.

Throughout the long 35year reign of Henry II he can be seen to have formulated much of the English social traditions. He was a methodical man, hot tempered at times, but with a keen sense of justice. He was also a skilled general who never engaged in warfare if it could be avoided. His restless energy and enjoyment of sport was tempered by a passion for literature. He was a free-thinking adulterer who also had a genuine appreciation of purity and true religion; a king who could manage the affairs of half-a-dozen principalities but was unable to rule his own house. As an acute judge of men, who lavished affection and benefits upon ungrateful and unworthy sons; he was a mass of contradictions. But, in my opinion, we owe much of what we may regard in the traits and traditions of Englishness to those foundations set by King Henry II.

Vice President, Freemen of England and Wales (A brief profile)

Vice President, Freemen of England and Wales (A brief profile)

Alan Shelley BA (Hons) DLA FRSA               Dip IM (IWM) Eng.Tech. (CEI) MCIM FSTD

Retired Industrial Manager (Linotype Co.) Qualified, apprenticed Engineer, Bell Punch Co. (Sumlock Comptometers)

Born March 1940, Harrow, Middlesex.  Married, with two daughters and four grandchildren.

Chartered Free Burgess and enrolled by patrimony, Freeman of Sudbury, Suffolk. (Corporate franchise 1554).       Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and Guildsman of the City of London.


1978 – (Admitted by letter from Harry Ward) Individual Member of ‘Freemen of England’

(Official Representative of the Borough Freemen of Sudbury).

1988-90  Warden of F.E. (Mercia/Marches)

1990-95  Elected Deputy President of F.E.

2010-17  Elected Officer Without Portfolio, FEW

2017 –  Elected Vice President of FEW

Relevant Commitments

Executive and Trustee of the Sudbury Freemen

Member, Gloucestershire Local Access Forum (from 2003) responsible for Common Lands and right holdings over Gloucestershire. Hon. Conservator of Highleadon Green, Forest of Dean (for life).

Life Member Cheltenham Civic Society

Life Member National Trust and Member of the Open Spaces Society

Hon. Life Member of the University of Gloucestershire

Past Commitments

Member of Cheltenham and Gloucestershire Chambers of Commerce (6 years)

Member of Cheltenham Crime Prevention Panel (10 years)

Member Management Committee, Cheltenham Victim Support, and Trustee (3yrs)

Governor, Cheltenham Bournside (comprehensive) School & Sixth Form Centre (9 years)



Life Member, Royal Society of St. George, City of London Branch

Life Member, City Livery Club.  Member Wynken De Worde Society, Fleet Street.

Member, Suffolk History Council and of the Suffolk Records Society.

The Association of the Freemen of England & Wales Its history, aims and objectives

The Association of the Freemen of England & Wales Its history, aims and objectives

The ‘Freemen of England and Wales’ is an association of Guilds (Gilds) or similar bodies, and of individual freemen from towns and cities throughout England and Wales. The objects of the Association are:-

  • To advance by research and publication, knowledge of the history and legal custom of the boroughs of England and Wales and of the legal institution of the Freedom.
  • To support and protect the legal institution of the freedom within each of those several places in England and Wales being former boroughs where that institution is to be found.

Freemen’s roots go so far back into antiquity that they are not easily discernible, but their activities were founded in community  and usually confined to the town or city where they lived. The rights and traditions of freemen are bound by Customary Law, which is as binding in our country today as any other form of Law.

In earlier days, prior to the Reform Act of 1835, only those who had obtained the freedom of the ‘Borough’, could vote, only they could become equivalent of our councillors of today and inspire to become mayor and only they were free to practice a trade or craft in their town. On the other hand, there were definite obligations and responsibilities coupled with those privileges, involving the day-to-day running of all the facilities and even the defence of their towns and cities, failure to meet those obligations met with severe penalties. Further, within their own craft or trade, the freeman was required by his peers to uphold the standards of craftsmanship and commerce.

In 1835, this time-honoured system of local government was dispensed with by the Reform Act; and although the freedom since that date continued to be passed by inheritance from father to son, or from freeman-master to apprentice, the freeman’s role was no longer the essential thing that it once had been. In many towns and cities, indeed the custom of passing on the freedom (as opposed to the granting of the honorary freedom) declined, and in some cases was abandoned. Once the chain was broken many considered the rights to the freedom were lost, for the freedom had to be handed on like the Olympic Torch from he who held it to him who was qualified to receive it.

Fortunately, the light was not extinguished; pride in the ancient tradition of the freedom kept it burning. In some places it hung on with little more than a flicker; in others – as Mr Charles Sparrow QC, our Honorary Counsel, wrote in 1975 – ” the freedom was kept gloriously alive, so that Chester, York, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford (and, happily, a few other cities and towns ) shine out today like beacons”.

It was in 1966 that the Association of Freemen of England was formed – a unique event; for the first time, the freemen of the towns and cities throughout the country, previously existed quite separately, were brought together. Since that date, gilds have been revitalised, and in some cases saved from probable extinction; the process continues today, with places such as Bridgnorth in Shropshire re-forming its gild which has been defunct for years, and the freemen of the City of Cardiff actively setting about re-establishing their gild.

To assist such places, the Association has Legal Funds supported entirely by voluntary donations from members, whist the opinion and advice of our Honorary Counsel is frequently and generously given to those who are floundering amongst the tomes of Customary Law! Meanwhile, those places in which the freedom has always waxed strong have become aware of the plight of those not equally blessed and have offered their own experience and advise to those who need it. The interest in other people’s town, cities and gilds has spread throughout the membership of the Association.

A great dept of gratitude is owed to Mr Harry Ward, the founder President of the Freemen of England, who was the first to see the needs for such an organisation. As he wrote in his book ‘Freemen in England’, “ the main object of those founding the Association was to encourage each place where freemen are admitted, to reform a gild. Freemen should ensure that everyone entitled to freemanship is admitted and should assist those applying who have difficulty in progressing their claim”.

Mr Ward a son of York and a past Master of the York Gild of Freemen, set out on a journey of faith when he conceived and formed the Freemen of England. He visited some 58 towns and cities where the freedom was either inactive or moribund, encouraging and exhorting them to guard their heritage.

In 1972, with the 1972 Local Government Act passing through its various stages at Westminster, the light of the freedom was once again in danger of being extinguished: no provision was made in that Act for the rights and the continuance of freemen.

It was only due to timely action by a small band of freemen led by Mr Harry Ward and Mr Charles Sparrow that this omission was rectified, and the rights of the freedom preserved. But for their action, the light of the Freedom throughout this country, with its great traditions of duty and family would have been extinguished – probably forever. The history of this momentous event is spelt out in Harry Ward’s book ‘Freemen in England’. Suffice it to say that much of 1972 was spent in meetings and correspondence between government officials on the one hand and representatives of the Freemen of England on the other. In July 1972, the Minister of the Environment said, ” I learned a tremendous amount about freemen”; and the offending Clause was removed from the Draft.

On 22nd September, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of the Environment moved the revised clause in the House of Lords “. . .  at the urgent wish of the nationwide body known as the Freemen of England”; it was passed. On 26th October, the Queen approved the Act. If there was no other reason for freemen and their gilds to join with and strengthen the Association, this alone would more than suffice.

In today’s society, with its strong emphasis on things material and matters political, freemen are truly fortunate. Throughout the passage of freedom from hand to hand over the centuries, they are granted a vivid awareness of the past, of what is good and worthy of cherishing and that change is not necessarily progress. With this awareness also lives the increasing realisation of civic responsibility; no longer directly concerned with government, but deeply involved with the betterment of their town or city, the upholding of the mayor in his duties and the nurturing of those civic traditions which are so unique to this country of ours – the envy of so many! The human chain of the Freedom in which each freeman and gild is a link, gives us all awareness of the Eternal and of eternal values; and that in itself is a wonderful gift for which we are truly thankful to God.

Alan Shelley, Deputy President, Freemen of England, December 1993, printed by Duplitype (Offset) Ltd., York Rd Leicester. Published January 1994, in the name of Freemen of England & Wales.

The Duty of a Freeman

The Duty of a Freeman

It is the duty of all Freemen to uphold their oath of admission.

It is beholden on all Freemen to understand the basic principles and background of their freedom.

It is the responsibility of every Freeman to understand their function and role.

It is particularly necessary that all Gild/Guild Officers, Wardens or Representatives fully understand their position, purpose and responsibilities.

What does this mean?

What is a borough freeman, who were the free burgesses, what was the Guild Merchant?

What is a Court Leet, who were the bailiffs, stewards and officers of a civic Corporation?

Background knowledge (History)

Custom and Charters, Court Leet and Court Baron, Justice in Eyre, Court of Common Pleas.

Tithings Hides and Hundreds. Hundred Sittings and the County Court.

Boot hall, Moot hall, Guild hall, Town hall and Shire hall.

Danish invasion and the Danelaw, Norman Feudal Law, Magna Carta, Church Reform and Dissolution and the English Civil War. Civic Reform under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.


Freedom was a status, giving privileges and immunities in the past, to a person admitted by birth, apprenticeship, gift or purchase. Prior to the 1835 Act, it was a highly valued status within a borough town or city. Admissions by gift or purchase were banned by the 1835 Act, affecting all boroughs with the exception of the City of London.

Freemen Today

Freemen have a patriotic and civic pride in the connection with their home borough town or city. Their status today is simply ceremonial. Honorary Freedom, as opposed to that of hereditary freedom, is a symbolic award of recognition for local achievement given by majority decision of a borough Council.

The Freemen are rightly proud of their exclusive heritage of  borough/Guild Freedom. They enjoy giving service to their town. With Guild investments in local charities and support in ceremonial events and other civic occasions. Freemen share in the management of Town Lands and with properties such as the Guild Hall etc. There is camaraderie among all freemen and fraternal links with other towns and their guilds.

Young and old there is an important dynamic future in the retention of this ancient customary institution.                                 

Alan Shelley, Vice President, Freemen of England & Wales