Order for Admission and Current Qualifications

Order Submission.doc

In October 1551 the Council drew up The Order for the Admission of Freemen which set out in detail the regulations governing admissions. Admission to the Gild Merchant and therefore. to the freedom of the City, was not restricted to patrimony and servitude and often, when it was felt they would do honour to the town, gentlemen of note were given honorary freedoms. Such admissions included Frederick, King of Prussia in 1814, & several members of the aristocracy.

Until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, admission to the freedom of the City was obtained principally in four ways:

  1. By servitude (apprenticeship to a Freeman carrying out his trade in Oxford).
  2. By patrimony (being the son of a Freeman).
  3. By purchase.
  4. By gift.

In addition, it was the custom of the Mayor to make his son, or another man, free upon the payment of a ‘gilt penny’, although on more than one occasion three pence was accepted in lieu. As a ‘gilt’ penny was never minted, it was probably a coin specially prepared for the occasion. Generally the admission was made during the Mayor’s term of office but sometimes it was brought into effect years later when, for instance, his son had attained the age of twenty-one.

There are many instances when consideration was given to men who had married the daughters or the widows of Freemen although, in these cases, larger fees were sometimes charged. For example, it was agreed on 9 December 1583 that Henrye Gardner, sadler, in consideracion that he shall marrye the wiffe of one Thomas Pare, sadler, havinge manye smale childrene, and will be bounde to bringe them honestlie uppe, shalbe frome henceforthe free of this Guilde. for the somme of 20s to the use of this Cytie and 4s 6d for the officers’ fees’.


Soldiers who had been in the service of the Crown could, under the terms of an Act of Parliament, claim admission to the freedom of the City. On 15 June 1705 ‘... after a vote had been taken it was decided that Salmon, the baker, be admitted free for £10, and eight shillings towards the Council Chamber seals, provided, he produces a certificate to prove he has been a soldier and thereby has right to trade ...’. And on 8 February 1712, ‘William Allen, late apprentice to John Dobbs, tailor, who served his master for five years and then went into the Queen’s service for the rest of his term, is to be admitted free, paying officers’ fees only’. Similar instances were recorded earlier in 1589 and 1689.

Until this Autumn, the essential qualifications for admission to the freedom of the City of Oxford were:

  1. Patrimony (being the son of a hereditary Freeman of the City), or
  2. Servitude (having served at least a two year apprenticeship to a Freeman of the City within the boundaries of the City. It is also necessary for the indentures to have been registered with the City Secretary and Solicitor within one year of their commencement), or
  3. Marriage (having married the daughter or the widow of an Oxford Freeman), or
  4. Nomination by the Lord Mayor as his ‘childe’. (The Lord Mayor may nominate someone for admission during his or her term of office and this nomination must have been approved by the Freemen’s General Committee).

In all cases the candidate must not be an alien and must have reached the age of 21 years. It is also possible for candidates living overseas and, in special circumstances, those living in this country, to be admitted ‘in absence’ (by proxy) with a Notary Public acting on behalf of the Lord Mayor.

HOWEVER a recent Common Hall has added to the above conditions. Our Vice chairman and former secretary, Chris Butterfield, explains the changes in an article that was recently written for the Journal of the Freemen of England & Wales:-

"Oxford’s new ‘order for the admission of women’

Charles Sparrow is remembered with fondness and respect by many of us, including myself. I am pleased to have on my bookshelves the transcripts entitled ‘Aspects of the Freedom’, being the text of the many talks given by Charles to those attending the AGM. The subject of women and the Freedom was visited by him more than any other. This is perhaps not to be wondered at, as I have lost count of the number of times, during the 30 years since my admission, that I have heard the question ‘When are the Freemen going to admit women?’

This question has often implied criticism, and this has usually been unfair. As Charles made clear in many of his talks, the occasions when Freemen can unilaterally decide to vary the terms of admission are rare indeed. Custom (another of his topics) cannot by its very nature be changed at will. And in Oxford, a number (admittedly a small one) of women have become Freeman in recent years.

These admissions followed an approach I made to Charles in the mid-1990s, after careful consideration of the 1551Order for admission applicable to Oxford. This provided for the admission of sons, apprentices and a ‘Lord Mayor’s Childe’, this last being the one chosen nominee that each Lord Mayor might name. I had myself been admitted by servitude, so I asked Charles for his advice on whether I might take a female apprentice. His advice was prompt and firm: an apprentice is just that, male or female. So I took my first female apprentice, and her admission ceremony, very appropriately, took place when the AGM was held in Oxford in 1998 and with Charles standing behind her on the platform as she took the oath. Between then and my retirement last year I took another 3 women to be apprentices, but while this gave the clear message that the Freedom is not an all-male preserve, it did not put daughters on the same level as sons.

Some years earlier, and before I was even apprenticed, let alone admitted, the Freemen of Oxford had resolved in Common Hall – their legislative gathering – that sons-in-law should be admissible. Although this pleased many families, it did not, when I learned of and researched the matter, satisfy me at all. I did not see how such a change could be made by the Freemen alone.

In his address to the York meeting in 1991, Charles saw what he called a breach in the rampart, when he described the possibility of amending a borough charter, should this be the means of admission in a particular town or city. And sure enough the 1551 Order regulating admissions in Oxford comes within that category. But any amendment requires more than the will of the Freemen alone – hence my unhappiness at how sons-in-law were purportedly granted the right to admission. There must be agreement on the part of the Freemen of the City, the City Council, and also the Privy Council.

As much of the agitation for women’s equality came from City Councillors, it could safely be assumed that the Council would approve any proposal to admit women on equal terms to men. However, when, during the 1990s, the then City Secretary and Solicitor (who has since become a Freeman as a Lord Mayor’s Childe) approached the Privy Council, he was told that its programme could not accommodate a new Order such as was required.

We all know of the Beverley Bill, and of its – so far unsuccessful – struggle to pass into law. Yet that failure was not without its effect. It seems clear that it awoke both a realisation within the corridors of power that Freemen up and down the country wanted change, and also a determination that they should be assisted where possible. So informal soundings were taken by the Freemen of the Oxford City Council, and by the City Council of the Privy Council, to see if time could be found for consideration of a new Order. The response was very favourable, so it was open to the Freemen to suggest the revised terms for admission of women.

Sons had always been eligible, so daughters should clearly be added. There was no wish to disenfranchise those sons-in-law whose admission I had questioned, so they were to be retained, and daughters-in-law added. The Lord Mayor’s Childe must surely be retained, as also any apprentice. A few adjustments to the 1551 Order seemed desirable. It prescribed no minimum age, so 18 was proposed. It also required the father to attend on the admission of his son, and this requirement was removed, as it disqualified any son whose father had died.

And when the revisions went out for consultation, and subsequent debate at Common Hall, further suggestions were made. How about stepsons? And some long-standing Freemen families had lost the Freedom when one generation had failed to take up the Freedom (notably through death in one of the World Wars), so how about grandchildren? These changes were debated, voted upon, and in due course embodied in a draft Order that was approved by both the City Council and Privy Council, providing for the admission of:

  • Sons
  • Daughters
  • Sons-in-Law
  • Daughters-in-Law
  • Step-sons
  • Step-daughters
  • Grandsons
  • Granddaughters
  • Apprentices
  • Lord Mayors’ ‘children’

Any of the above must have attained the age of 18 years, and apprentices must have served a Freeman for at least 2 years.

The first intake of women qualified under the new Order took place at the end of October, a few weeks after the meeting of the Privy Council, and it was pleasing and gratifying that Philip Bowman attended on behalf of FEW and spoke warmly of what the Freemen of Oxford had achieved. But this is certainly not to say that all other boroughs can do the same. In Oxford we were fortunate that admission has been by Order, not by custom. We were equally fortunate that the City Council was most supportive. While I undertook a lot of the initial drafting, Helen Lynch of the Council gave me enormous assistance with this, and above all it was she who conducted all the negotiations with the Privy Council.

This will be thought of by many as ‘an order for the admission of women’, but it is more than that. As I have tried to describe above, admissions have been brought into line with life in the 21st century in many other respects. And the Privy Council’s assistance extended to suggesting that a further provision might be incorporated to ease and speed any future amendment that might prove desirable.

As I have said,, not every borough can follow this path. But if readers think this may be possible, they are most welcome to enquire of us if they think we might assist. One of the principal purposes of FEW – indeed in my view the paramount one - is to enable member boroughs to assist each other"

All applications for admission must be made to the Secretary, Members' Services, St. Aldate’s Chambers, St. Aldate’s, Oxford.

The first New Order Admission Ceremony - 30th October 2008.

The Assembly Room became the stage for the inaugural Admission Ceremony under the new Order of Admission to the Freedom since the Privy Council approved and sealed the Order earlier in the month. All seats were taken, folk peered around doorways and the gentlemen of the press hovered .

Our Chairman set the scene and recalled the events leading up to this historic evening. He welcomed the Lord Mayor, Councillor Susanna Pressell , who had presided at the Common Hall meeting in May where voting endorsed the changes. The Lord Mayor of course , is also responsible for validating all claims for new Freemen. Helen Lynch , a lawyer at the Town Hall was thanked for her determined contribution in ensuring the legal accuracy of the new order and of course or own Vice Chairman Chris Butterfield , who had unravelled the ancient order of 1551and found the opportunity for amendment . The original new order , sealed by Privy Council was displayed to the audience , prior to its safe keeping in the Town Hall vault .

Twenty one applicants stood sharp and alert in front of the Sheriff . Councillor John Goddard called each applicant by name to come forward and the Oath of Admission was recited . The vigour and volume of the rendition of the oath was quite remarkable. It was not just the number of applicants , the largest number in living memory , but the enthusiasm for this tradition. Applause rang out at the conclusion . The Lord Mayor and our Chairman welcomed the new Freemen with kind words , handshakes and beaming smiles.

Howard Crapper welcomed the new Freemen in a short speech which included the historical background of the Freemen and the important reasons why Freemen continue today . The twenty one new Freemen , eleven men and ten women , learned of the old responsibilities of Scot and lot (the term ; scot free , became clear).

Among the new Freemen were two sisters and also an entire family who had travelled from Paris for the occasion.

A cheese and wine buffet rounded off the extraordinary and historic evening .