Freedomship of Cities and Boroughs

Towns and cities are involved in a ceremony where a prominent local citizen or military unit has been granted the Freedom of the Borough.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of this honour, this freedomship? Where did it all start? It is important to note, there are two different definitions.

First there is the title 'Freeman'. A freeman was a man who had served his apprenticeship and was free to conduct his trade in his own town.

This title has long since disappeared and it has been replaced by the title 'Honorary Freeman / Honorary Freewoman' which is bestowed upon certain individuals who meet the criteria of the borough concerned.

The third definition is that of 'Freedom'. This applies to military units that have been given the freedom of entry to the borough.

Freemen

The origins of Freemen in England, are to be found in the guilds of the medieval merchants and craftsmen whose influence helped to found and stabilise urban communities. Townspeople have enjoyed certain privileges for centuries.

In 1071 William I confirmed the 'laws' of old London, which were claimed from the time of the Roman occupation. Thus, the present dignity of Freeman of a City or Borough is thought to be a development of a distinction originating in the early Roman Empire, when to be a 'Free' citizen of Rome conferred many privileges and rights.

This distinction was developed during the Saxon and Norman periods of English history, the main cities and boroughs and the leading guilds of craftsmen or tradesmen gathering through royal grants and charters many privileges for their 'free' citizens and members.

Preston's first provable Royal Charter granted by Henry II in 1179 grants to the burgesses (Freemen) of Preston all those liberties previously granted to his burgesses of Newcastle under Lyne.

The burgesses were freed from the following tolls and customs throughout the realm: 'passage', 'pontage', 'stallage', 'lastage', 'ulnage'. Whoever, therefore, was a Freeman of Preston was a Freeman of all England and could travel throughout the whole of the King's domain without payments of the aforementioned fees and tolls.

Preston's next charter granted by King John in 1199 confirmed those rights granted by King Henry I and granted, in addition, the right to pasturage in the Royal Forest of Fulwood and on the moor (now Moor Park) and of cutting wood in the Forest sufficient for their use in the erection of houses within the Town.

Admission was by either patrimony or servitude to a master craftsman who was himself a freeman. Only freemen could trade within the City, participate in its governance or hold the office of Mayor.

Each freeman was required to serve the Mayor in any way that was necessary, by maintaining the fabric of the city or by taking up arms on the citizens' behalf. From the beginning of the twelfth century, (and possibly before).

'Free men' enjoyed a special status in boroughs, the details of which varied according to the special charters under which the particular borough was constituted, but usually included the exclusive right of trading and of voting at elections for (and sitting upon) the Borough Council. The power to vote at parliamentary elections was usually confined to Freemen, the right to become a Freeman being dependent upon birth, purchase, gift or by apprenticeship to someone who was already a Freeman.

Honorary Freeman

The freedom most commonly arising today is that of being made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough, which, under the Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act, 1885, (now replaced by the Local Government Act of 1972), may be conferred by any borough, even though otherwise it has no Freemen.

Prior to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, a Freeman was a citizen who was entitled to claim exemption from tolls and a share of the profits of his city or borough. The Act franchised non-Freemen in positions of local government and the term is now occasionally conferred as an honorary title by a City or corporation.

To be granted the title of Honorary Freeman is a mark of distinction upon the person whom the Council wishes to honour. The Freedom itself carries no privilege and is purely an honour, reflecting the eminence of the person on whom it is conferred or as recognition of significant and valuable services rendered to the borough by that person. 

The title Freeman also applies to women, and many authorities have added 'Honorary Freewoman' to the title, as Preston City council did at a full Council meeting held on 30 January 2020.

The ceremony for the admitting of an Honorary Freeman / Honorary Freewoman should be a very formal occasion. Section 249 of the Local Government Act 1972 (sub section 5) deals with the admission to the Freedom of the Borough by Borough or City Councils of 'persons of distinction and persons who have in the opinion of the Council, rendered eminent services to the City, Borough or Royal Borough'.

The act provides that a special meeting of the Council must be convened (an extraordinary Council) with the specific task of passing the resolution to Honorary Freedom - one of the highest honours that the Council of a City or Borough can bestow.

The resolution should recite the grounds upon which the Council have come to their decision, and details of the public services rendered by the recipient should be included. The resolution should be passed by not less than two thirds of the members present.

The procedure should be carried out with the utmost formality and the Honorary Freeman / Honorary Freewoman Elect is invited to the Council Meeting and placed on the right hand of the Mayor.

After the passing of the resolution, the newly admitted Freeman/Freewoman should take the appropriate Freeman/Freewoman's Oath and sign the Freeman's Roll, his/her signature being witnessed by the Mayor and the Chief Executive.

A sealed and illuminated certificate of the grant of Honorary Freedom, containing a copy of the formal resolution, should then be presented to the newly appointed Honorary Freeman/Honorary Freewoman by the Mayor, with an opportunity being given for the recipient to reply.

After the formal proceedings come to an end it is usual to close the meeting and adjourn for a reception. This gives an opportunity for the invited guests to offer their congratulations to the newly appointed Honorary Freeman/Honorary Freewoman.

Freedom of the City

The practice of granting the 'Freedom of Entry' upon military units also has its roots deep in the history of local and central government; indeed it affords an interesting example of the power and influence of the old boroughs and Cities in the past.

During the Middle Ages, formed bodies of troops were not allowed to march through a borough, or City, without first seeking the permission of the Council. As most boroughs were surrounded by a fortified wall the city fathers were in a position to refuse access if, for some reason, they were suspicious of the Military Commander's intentions.

The Freedom of entry to the town or City would normally be granted to locally based troops only after sufficient time had elapsed for mutual confidence and friendship to be established and when the citizens were satisfied that the troops would protect their interests.

Permission to enter came to be granted 'in column form', and there arose the practice of conferring upon individual Regiments the right "to march through the city with due ceremonial, drums beating, bands playing, banner flying and bayonets fixed', in recognition of the confidence, trust and friendship existing between the citizens and soldiers.

Such permission was usually accompanied by a sealed and illuminated certificate, which is presented at a formal parade where the Mayor inspects the assembled troops and then invites all involved to a reception.

The granting of Freedom of the City is not specific to military units and has been granted to other bodies such as the Church or University so as to recognise and maintain the strong links with these organisations.

Freemen/Freewomen of Preston

Resolution of Council - 6 September 1979

  • Sir Thomas Finney, C.B.E., J.P.

Resolution of the Council - 21 May 1992

  • Councillor Harold Parker
  • Councillor Ian Whyte Hall, J.P
  • Councillor Joseph Hood, C.B.E., J.P.

Resolution of the Council - 25 October 1997

  • Nicholas Wulstan Park, C.B.E.

Resolution of Council - 20 January 2006

  • Andrew Flintoff, M.B.E.

Resolution of the Council - 21 August 2014

  • Kenneth James Hudson, M.B.E., J.P.

Resolution of Council - 05 February 2015

  • Lady Grenfell-Baines

The Freedom of the City has been granted to the following organisations and their successors in office:

14th / 20th Hussars Regiment
Resolution of Council - 6th November 1992

Parish and Guild Church of St. John
Resolution of Council - 29th November 1993

University of Central Lancashire
Resolution of Council - 30th March 2000

Adoption of regiment

The Adoption of the Town was granted to The Loyal Regiment on 7 August 1952 and the Transfer of Adoption was granted to the Queens Lancashire Regiment on 9 September 1972.