Freemen of Norwich
In centuries past the freemen were the governing body of the city and were granted special rights to trade freely and conduct business. This was known as having the freedom of the city.
Most of the ancient privileges of the freedom have disappeared, such as grazing cattle, enjoying trading rights not held by ordinary residents, voting in elections – and even being hanged by a silk rope should the need arise!
However, the title still survives and currently over 1,000 Freemen of Norwich continue to play an important role in the history and culture of the modern city.
Every year the freemen’s charity, the Norwich Town Close Estate Charity, makes a large number of educational grants to projects in Norwich and within a 20-mile radius of the Guild hall.
Recent awards have included everything from creating a new school library at Moorlands Primary School to supporting the educational work of high-profile charitable bodies such as Dragon Hall, Cinema City and the Theatre Royal.
Nowadays, freemen are mostly direct descendants of existing freemen. Women were admitted in 2010 and now make up a third of the freemen. In medieval times, the title could also be purchased or obtained by serving a long apprenticeship with a freeman. Entry to the freedom by apprenticeship is still available but very few apply.
The first freeman of Norwich was recorded in 1317 in a specially-created book. Names have been added to the registers ever since.