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Drawn swords, silk scarves and sheep – Legend’s of London’s ‘freemen’ revealed

(PRWEB UK) 29 November 2011, the UKs favourite family history website*, in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives today launched online for the first time more than half a million records detailing the people awarded the Freedom of the City of London.

The Freedom of the City Admission Papers 1681-1925 collection details some of the countys most revered famous names and is an invaluable resource for anyone looking to uncover more about an ancestor who plied a skilled trade in London from the 17th century.

The records reveal more than 590,000 historic individuals from around the UK who had the freedom to trade in the City of London as part of a livery or guild, which also accorded certain renowned privileges.

As well as being able to vote in parliamentary elections, exemption from certain tolls and the granting of legal privileges, legend has it these ancient traditions allowed a freeman or sister to drive sheep over London Bridge, be drunk and disorderly without fear of arrest, wander the city with a drawn sword or if sentenced to death be hanged with a silken rope.

Today, these colourful privileges are rumoured to have never existed and the Freedom is widely regarded solely as an honour, granted to stars including Colin Firth, Alastair Cook, Barbara Windsor, Terry Wogan and Dame Judi Dench. Yet before the mid-19th century it was actually a practical necessity for Britons who wanted to ply their trade in the City, on pain of prosecution.

Originally individuals wanting to work in certain trades had to apply for the Freedom through livery companies and guilds, which controlled the majority of crafts in the City. People couldnt become a freeman of the city until they were a freeman of a company. Freedoms could be obtained by servitude (completing an apprenticeship), inherited from a parent, granted as an honour, or by simply buying the title.

Applicants included councilmen, aldermen, sheriffs, and liverymen (who all still have to be freemen or sisters today), retail traders, licensed brokers, and others who wanted to take advantage of the privileges it brought.

Included among these are a number of renowned individuals, such as:

Rudyard Kipling Author Rudyard Kipling, best known for penning The Jungle Book, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. Hes listed in the records as receiving the Freedom of London on 3rd July 1925 as an author in the company of Stationers

Benjamin Disraeli Former Prime Minister and leading social and literary figure, Disraeli was awarded the Freedom of the City in July 1878. His record says the Freedom was awarded for the many years he exercised his abilities and talents for the welfare of his country

Robert Peel Peel was Prime Minister twice during the 1800s, and while Home Secretary helped create the modern concept of the police force, leading to officers being known as bobbies. His record, dated 1829, reveals his Freedom of the City was presented in a gold box worth one hundred guineas.

The records themselves contain a number of documents including applications, certificates, apprenticeship records and declarations of loyalty to the king or queen, revealing key details about each freeman and sister, including their profession and guild.

This information provides a valuable insight into the history of trades and guilds in London from the 17th to the 20th century, revealing the lost trades that, while still in existence, seem alien to us today.

For example, early records in the collection detail a number of tallow chandlers, coopers, cord wainers, vintners, wheelwrights, turners, loriners and scriveners. Today wed recognise their equivalents as candlemakers, barrel/cask makers, shoemakers, wine merchants, tyre repairers, wood sculptors, metalworkers and writers respectively.

Later records dating from the 20th century reveal the emergence of more familiar professions today, including engineers, estate agents and people serving in the armed forces.

This evolution of occupations has meant that today three more liveries (trade associations) aim to be added to the 108 livery companies currently in existence in the City of London. They are the Company of Educators, the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners and Company of Art Scholars, Dealers and Collectors. Global Content Director Dan Jones comments: Whether they are a vintner, turner or even a scrivener, these records provide a fascinating history of British trades and a valuable account of the evolution of occupations over the past four centuries. Anyone with an ancestor who had a trade from the 17th to the 20th century could well find his or her ancestors within this new database.

Dr. Deborah Jenkins, Heritage Services Director in the City of Londons Department of Culture, Heritage and Libraries, comments: The Freedom records of the City of London are a rich resource for those who are researching ancestors who worked or traded within the Square Mile. They reveal the myriad of trades and occupations of the Citizens and demonstrate how the face of the City has changed over the centuries. The records will be an invaluable research tool for anyone who has an interest in the history of the City of London.

While most of these freemen and free sisters were from Middlesex, the records actually contain information of people from all over the UK who came to London to ply their trade. Surrey, Essex, Kent, Hertford, Gloustershire, York, Oxford and Northampton are listed among the counties where most of the freemen hail from.

The Freedom of the City collection has been added to millions of London Metropolitan Archive records now online, including London Poor Law records such as workhouse admission and discharge registers.


Officially the UKs favourite family history website, hosts more than 895 million UK records, including the most comprehensive online set of England, Wales and Scotland censuses from 1841 to 1901, the fully searchable England and Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes, the World War One British Army Service and Pension records, UK parish records and the British Phone Books. was launched in May 2002 and belongs to the global network of Ancestry websites, which hosts seven billion historical records. To date, more than 26 million family trees have been created and 2.6 billion profiles and 65 million photographs and stories uploaded. (July 29, 2011)

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Source: .comScore, 2010, based on Genealogy related websites selected from the Family and Parenting sub-category under the Community category.


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