The Committee & Common Hall
From 1835 until 1863 there appears to have been no organised body to look after the Freemen’s affairs. But in 1863 some Freemen objected in Common Hall to a plan to the construct a raised path which would divide the southern end of Port Meadow. Despite this opposition, a portion of the path was built with the Sheriffs approval. The Freemen then banded together, appointed a Committee to deal with the matter, and destroyed the path. This appears to have been the origin of the General Committee and from then on, the Freemen’s day-to-day affairs have been administered and jealously guarded by such a committee.
From time to time, when important matters need to be discussed, the General Committee asks all the Freemen to assemble in ‘Common Hall’ which is usually held in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall. Common Hall is the Freemen’s legislative assembly where every Freeman has the right to voice his opinion and vote on the matters put before him. According to legal experts, Common Hall is a successor to the ancient Leet Courts and, providing only matters relating to Oxford Freemen are dealt with, any decisions made by it would be upheld in any court. It is therefore important that you attend these assemblies to ensure that you have a voice in the way your rights are handled.
A new committee with the power to co-opt further members is elected by the Freemen at every meeting of Common Hall. The aim is to have a blend of experienced and inexperienced Freemen so that eventually the latter can take over from the former. This policy can only succeed, however, if Freemen come forward when a vacancy arises and stay on the Committee for many years. It does not matter if they are unfamiliar with the ways of the Freemen as they will become conversant with them in the course of time.
Before the mid-l7th century, there was no proper system for keeping records of proceedings of the town council and it was only later that council books were kept. When the list of Freemen was compiled during the mid-1800s, it was taken from the books that had survived, and so the Freemen’s Roll only includes admissions from 1663. Unfortunately, research has shown that this list is not complete. However, once the roll had been compiled, current entries were made at the time of each admission - so that from the mid-1800s, the roll should be complete - although not, perhaps, totally accurate.
The Lord Mayor, through the City Council's Members' Services Department, is responsible for validating all claims for admission to the freedom of the City and, after admissions, for entering the details into ‘The Alphabetical Index to the Admissions of Freemen of the City of Oxford’, generally known as the Freemen’s Roll. Entries include the name of the admitting Lord Mayor, full name of the new Freeman, reason for his admission and the date he was admitted. Our archivist also keeps a record of all admissions.