Guild of Freemen Of Berwick-upon-Tweed



From earliest  times, Burgesses and Freemen, assembled in their Head Guild, have decided the rules of admission to the Guild and to the Freedom. This right was recognised in the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 and in all subsequent Acts, with the exception that admission by purchase or gift was abolished. The qualifications resolved upon from time to time are recorded in the Guild Books.

The Guild recognised that those who had served their apprenticeship were skilled and worthy to take up the freedom. It was natural for fathers to pass on skills, tools and customers to their sons, who learned their trade from their fathers or  other members of their families. Admission through purchase or gift was used to incorporate new traders into the Guild. By these means the heads of most of the business families of the Town became Freemen

With a high death rate due to fire and plague in crowded Boroughs, the continuation of the Freedom was often lost in a family. The right to the Freedom was cherished in families, but the rules of servitude were restrictive. In 1513 the Guild agreed the right of the eldest son to take up his Freedom by birth at the age of twenty-one, provided that he was born after his father's own admission. In the seventeenth century the right to the Freedom by patrimony was altered several times. It was extended to second sons of Freemen, after the death of a first son without issue (1647), to first sons born after their father's own admission (1670) and to second sons where the first son had not been made free (1682).

In 1652 it was agreed that sons born before their father's admission, or younger sons whose elder brothers had been admitted could not be made free by right of patrimony, but could be apprenticed to their father, or to their widowed mother if she carried on her husband's business. It had become the accepted practice that widows continued with the full rights of the Freedom following the death of their husband.

The use of this form of entry was extended to apprenticeships to their grandfather if he was a Freeman (1741) or their uncle if he was a Freeman (1748). These were often nominal apprenticeships, where the actual training was not carried out. Eventually these nominal apprenticeships were replaced in 1783 to allow all sons to take up the right of the Freedom where they were born after their father's admission and in 1923 in the case of sons born before their father's admission. The rules of admission were revised and updated by the Guild following the 1926 Act. In 1927 the Guild agreed to accept those sons made legitimate by virtue of the Legitimacy Act of 1926. In 1995 the Guild extended the right to take up the Freedom to grandsons in the male line.

The original right of entry to the Freedom still apply by apprenticeship or nominal apprenticeship. The Guild reserves the right to revise the rules for apprenticeship from time to time. These were revised in 1908 and again in 1992. An apprenticeship must be accepted by the Guild and registered with the Mayor. A candidate must have completed his apprenticeship and reached the age of twenty-one in order  to take up his right to the Freedom.

It should be noted that the widows of Freemen take the full rights of their husbands in the Freedom. This includes the right to vote at General Meetings and to be elected to any position within the Guild. When reference is made to Freemen or Resident Freemen these terms include widows in their own right as Freemen.