Our Local Estate
This booklet has been prepared by the Chairman of the Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed to explain the background and history of the Freemen’s Estate which is managed by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Trust.
Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Freemen Trustees 2019/2020
Freemen’s Committee 2019/20
Secretary/Treasurer Guild of Freemen
Published by the Committee of the Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed
THE FREEMEN'S ESTATE.
1,000 years ago all the land belonged to the King. Berwick was in Scotland and was a Royal Burgh. Freemen leased plots of land from the king known as Burgage Plots and those who occupied them were called burgesses. The king had Royal Officers who collected rent, customs duties and tolls. He appointed his own officers within the town including the Provost who was head of the Guild. These officers swore fealty to the King on taking up office. The Guild was controlled by the Provost and an elected council of 24 Affeering Men who in turn appointed bailiffs and other officers. These in turn swore fealty to the king in front of the Provost. The site of the Town Hall was gifted to the Guild by a burgess in the twelfth century.
After a period of time it was agreed that the Town would pay an annual Ferme Fee to the king and take responsibility for collecting all the rents, custom duties and other money due to the king. This included much of the property in town and the right to pasture, grazing and collection of wattle and other produce from the surrounding land. Thus the Guild became the government of the town. The four main Scottish Royal Burghs formed the Quatter Burges or Four Burghs which met as a Court under Chairmanship of the Royal Chamberlain. This court was an appeal court for any problems which could not be resolved within the Burgh or between burghs and drew up laws to regulate the relationship between the burghs and the Royal Court.
Berwick was much the most prosperous of these burghs, at one stage contributing one third of the entire income of the Scottish king. In context this provided a greater income to the Scottish king than any town, except London, provided to the English king. The Guild drew up rules for the internal organisation of the Guild and these were adopted by the other Scottish burghs. Both sets of rules were adopted by the Scottish Parliament and thus became the law of Scotland.
The king was always short of money and he gave or sold to Berwick Guild the right to appoint their own head of the Guild who was known as the Mayor. Over a period of time the Bounds of Berwick were settled within which the Guild and the garrison were allowed to pasture animals and collect wood and other products.
The wars between England and Scotland resulted in the control of the town passing to a Governor. The Guild remained responsible for trade and still had its ancient rights. The Mayor was one of the Council under the direction of the Governor who were responsible for the internal control of the town and he was once again appointed by the King.
After the Union of the Crowns the position of Berwick as a town captured from Scotland, but not part of England was peculiar. It would have been neither politic nor practical for King James to return Berwick to Scotland after 120 years in English hands. Upon crossing Berwick Bridge James is supposed to have said that the town belonged neither to England or Scotland but be part of the united Crown's domain. This position was recognised in Royal proclamations over the next 140 years which gave a separate mention of Berwick. The description often read 'Great Britain and Ireland and the Town of Berwick upon Tweed'.
Berwick no longer required to be governed as a border garrison town. The Guild saw this as an opportunity to re-establish their governess of the town. They petitioned the king for a new Charter confirming their rights and privileges. They requested that the Mayor be once again a Guild appointment as he had been before 1482 and no longer to be a government official. They also requested that as the crown properties in the town were no longer required for military use that they should be granted to the Guild along with the crown lands within the bounds of Berwick over which the inhabitants and garrison had enjoyed grazing and silage rights for many years. Berwick's new Charter was finally granted on 30th. April, 1604.
This Charter was to be the governing charter until 1835. King James recognised in this Charter the peculiar status of Berwick. It placed the town very firmly back in the hands of the Guild and stated that by giving them greater and wider dignities, privileges, jurisdictions, liberties and franchise they might feel themselves more especially and strongly bound to perform and carry out for the king and successors the services of which they were capable. The wide terms of this charter may have been politic by King James to ensure the support of the burgesses and avoid any question of a return of the town to Scotland. The Charter was confirmed by Act of Parliament. There was no a burgage requirement. The terms freeman and burgesses had become interchangeable. Berwick was excluded from Northumberland and governed directly under the Crown as represented by the Governor. In practice it was self governing and was now also a single parish.
This charter was very extensive with exceptional privileges and granted that; "The Borough of Berwick upon Tweed shall henceforth be and remain a free borough of itself, that the men should be free burgesses and should have all liberties and free customs belonging to a free borough forever. The Mayor, bailiffs and burgesses should be one body corporate and politic in deed, fact and law". It confirmed all prescriptions which were granted in ancient times with the addition of certain liberties, privileges, immunities and franchises.
The Charter granted a Guild Merchant with exclusive trading rights and exemption from tolls throughout the country. Stranger merchants could only trade with Guild members. Merchants with their merchandize may come to the borough, stay and depart, without molestation. It confirmed the Charter Fair to be held from the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross (3rd. May) to the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (2nd. June). The annual fair was to be held on Friday of Trinity Week.
The Charter granted to the burgesses the fee simple of certain lands over which the inhabitants had for centuries previously exercised rights of common, grazing and other rights and of which they had to all intents and purposes been long owners, although legally the estate was vested in the crown. This charter transferred the nominal ownership from the Crown to the freemen. These lands comprised about two thirds of the area of the parish of Berwick, then identical with the burgh north of the River Tweed. The whole area of the burgh was 5,790 acres and the charter granted the Guild about 3,280 acres. They were also granted the properties within Berwick many of which were choice sites. These included the palace, Burrell's Tower, the Governor's House, the Maison Dieu and all government buildings not in use by the military. The Freemen already owned property within the town including the Town Hall. These properties which had been within the ownership of the Guild before King James' Charter became known as the "Town's Ancient Revenues". The remainder of the area of the Royal Manor was granted to Sir George Home.
The grant was made by the charter in the following term; "And further of our more abundant special grace and of our certain knowledge and mere motion we have given and granted, and by these presents for us, our heirs and successors, do give and grant to the aforesaid Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses of the burgh aforesaid, and their successors, all that our lordship, manor, burgh, town and soc of Berwick-upon-Tweed aforesaid, with all and singular their rights, members and appurtenances whatsoever; and all our houses, edifices, buildings, stables, storehouses, lands, tenements, cottages, wastes, foundations and soil whatsoever within the lordship, manor, burgh, town and soc aforesaid being; and also all those lands and fields to the said burgh adjoining, commonly called the bounds and fields of Berwick; and also all those our lands, tenements, meadows, feedings, pastures and hereditaments whatsoever with the appurtenances situate, lying and being within the aforesaid lordship, manor, burgh, town and soc, and in and within the bounds and fields of Berwick aforesaid. the suburbs, limits, liberties and precincts of the same, and every of them, as the same lie and are situate by the ancient and accustomed limits, metes and bounds hereinafter written (that is to say) beginning at the Port of the burgh aforesaid and so preceding or going forward towards the north by the sea shore and the sea banks to a certain path commonly called the Bound Road (The division between England and Scotland). and by the Bound Road aforesaid westward to the River Whitadder and so passing over the said River Whitadder and going and proceeding along the Bound Road aforesaid to the River Tweed, so that is to say from the deep sea to the River Tweed aforesaid, by the Bound Road aforesaid, or other the metes, limits and bounds used and accustomed, whereby the said lands, fields, and bounds of Berwick aforesaid are separated and divided from our Kingdom of Scotland, and so descending and going along the said River Tweed towards the east to the aforesaid port of the aforesaid burgh of Berwick; and also all and singular our mesuages, mills, houses. edifices, buildings, barns, stables, dovecots, gardens, orchards, cartilages, shops, cellars, sollars, lands, tenements, meadows, feedings, common pastures, demesne lands, wastes, furze heaths, marshes, moors, fruits, profits, waters, piscaries, fisheries, suit, soc, rents, reversions and services, rent charges, rentsec and rent and services, as well of free as of customary tenants, fee farms. annuities, Knight's fees, wards marriages, escheats, releases, heriots, fines, amerciaments, court leet, views of frank pledge, perquisitions and profit of courts and leets and all things belonging to a court leet and view of frank pledge, waifs, rights, jurisdictions, franchises, privileges, prifits, commodities, advantages, emoluments and hereditaments whatsoever, with every of their appurtenances of whatever kind, nature or species, or bt whatsoever names they are known by, named or called, situate. lying or being, coming, growing or arising, whether within the aforesaid lordship, manor, burgh, town and soc aforesaid, or in or within any one or more of them or within the suburbs, liberties, limits and precincts of the same, or within the metes, limits and bounds above written or any of them to the aforesaid lordship, manor, burgh, town, soc and othe premises lastly hereintofore by these present given and granted, belonging or appurtaining, or being members, pats or parcels thereof, or parcels of any of them ever heretofore had known, accepted, occupied or reputed; and also the reversion and reversions whatsoever of all and singular the aforesaid lordship, manor, burgh, town, soc and other the premises above, by these presents given and granted and of every parcel thereof".
The charter then goes on to exclude the castle, castle house, castle watermill and certain other houses, lands, fisheries and windmills as well as the lands granted to Sir George Home.
The Mayor, bailiffs and burgesses took formal possession of all the meadows and lands granted to them by the Charter on 2nd. August, 1604. They formally noted the number of horse, kyne, sheep and other cattle pasturing in the said meadows and the owners thereof. In 1605 the land was divided up into meadows. This division was effective until 1608. The Guild allowed dissenting ministers and medical men rights to pasture cattle and horses.
The king recommended that the remaining garrison who were half pay pensioners should be incorporated as Freemen. The Captain of the garrison and the Gentleman Porter were pensioned off and the keys of the town delivered to the Mayor.
It would appear that certain non freemen had enjoyed grazing rights before 1604. This included the garrison and stallengers (stall holders).The new charter placed these rights firmly in the hands of the Guild. This was confirmed by an opinion given in 1616 that only freemen were entitled to these rights. The matter was finally settled by a case laid before the Recorder, in 1624. The Recorder's opinion was that none of the pretences placed before him were good in law and "the said inhabitants cannot justify, by reason of any of the said pretences to have any right or tithe or interest of common or meadow or otherwise, of or in any of the said lands, tenements or meadows, or hereditament granted to the said Earl of Dunbar, or the said Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses respectively.
With the new Charter the Guild recovered its position and influence for all the affairs of the town and was re-established with its ancient powers. The Registers of the Guild subsequently continue the record of business formerly transacted by the Council in addition to that of the Freemen. A large part of the Guild matters now consisted of the annual regulation of the common meadows and the limitation of sheep pasturing. Over grazing by sheep was recognised as detrimental to the land and river banks.
The Officers named in the Charter are
4 Sergeants at Mace.
Other officers belonging to the Guild but not mentioned in the Charter were;-
Alderman of the Year
Field Grieve or Land Steward
Deacon of the Shambles
Keeper of the Exchange
7 other bell-ringers
Keeper of the fire engine
Keeper of the buckets and pipes.
There were a number of other appointees such as Church Wardens, sides men and Constables and the Town Waites and after 1657 Steward of the Manor of Berwick, Bailiff of the Manor of Berwick, Steward of the Manor of Tweedmouth and Spittal, Bailiff of the Manor of Tweedmouth and Spittal
In 1615 the Guild passed a resolution that the eldest son could take up the Freedom without having to serve and apprenticeship. This was the first time the freedom was granted by birth. The freedom had passed down families, but before this resolution an apprenticeship had to be served to an existing freeman, often his father or grandfather. The freedom could also be obtained through gift or purchase, thus ensuring leading members of the community were freemen.
The Guild purchased the Manor of Tweedmouth and Spittal in 1657 for the sum of £570. The estate was part of the land granted by James I to the Earl of Dunbar and included the Bailiff's Batt salmon fishery, a collery with other mines and minerals and about 100 acres of moorland. The two villages of Tweedmouth and Spittal had always been English and were also the home of a number of fishermen. This purchase gave the Guild control over the south side of the river, although it was not incorporated into Berwick until 1835. The Bailiff's Bat was the first fishery owned by the Corporation rather than individual burgesses. At this time they also stared a new fishery at North Bells.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the property held by the Guild had been fully enclosed and was divided up into three portions. The first portion of this land consisted of several farms which were let to tenants. The rents were collected by the Treasurer and were preserved to the Mayor, bailiffs and burgesses or their treasurer for the time being. These rents together with the proceeds of other properties, called the town's ancient revenues, were formed into a separate fund out of which the salaries of the officers and other corporate expenses were paid as authorised by the charter. The other expenses included a number of ancient charities amongst them the maintenance or the Corporation Academy. These farms were called the "Treasurer's Farms".
The second portion was sub divided into several parcels of land varying in size from one and a quarter acres to two and a half acres. These were called the meadows and at an annual meeting of the Guild, called the Meadow Guild, these were distributed as they became vacant by death or by non residency of the last occupiers (or in the case of widows, by subsequent marriage of the last occupiers). These meadows were allocated among the senior resident Freemen and widows of Freemen, who succeeded to the rights of their husbands as to meadows and stints, although the charter had no provision on behalf of widows. The most ancient resident Freeman was entitled to choose the most valuable vacant meadow but in doing so gave up his existing meadow. This was continued in succession down to the youngest Freeman until the number of vacant meadows was exhausted. The number of these meadows was 594. At first the Freemen were expected to occupy the meadows themselves or let them to tenants, reserving the rent for themselves. In 1727 the leasing of stints had been forbidden. This was eventually rescinded and it became general practice that they were let.
The lands forming the third portion were open fields up to 1761, upon which each Freeman was entitled to a certain right of pasture. At the middle of that century this was one horse and two cattle. After that time these fields were enclosed and from then on were let as farms to tenants for varying terms of years. They were then leased under the Corporation seal generally in farms of 40 acres or thereabouts. The rent from each farm was divided into a number of equal portions, generally eleven but in a few instances twenty two. At another annual meeting called the Stint Guild, a portion was allocated upon a specific farm to each resident Freeman or Freeman's widow, or as many of these as there were vacant portions. These portions were called stints. At one time many Freemen received their stint money directly from the farmer. The number of stints was increased in about 1805 by appropriating another portion of land for that purpose. The number of stints thus added was 44, making a total of 561 stints. The more ancient Freemen were in a like manner to the meadows entitled to a preference as to the more valuable stints becoming vacant and the younger Freemen to succeed to them as vacancies occurred by death, removal or promotion of their seniors. The portions of the rents, called stints, were now paid annually by the Treasurer of the Corporation to the Freemen who were entitled to them.
The Freemen in Guild had by their charter the power to make bye-laws for the good rule and government of the town and for preserving, disposing, letting and demising of their lands. In the exercise of this right the Freemen assembled in Guild to make bye-laws to regulate the enjoyment of the meadows and stints and to have prescribed the conditions of husbandry under which the meadows and stint lands could be broken up and converted to tillage and (in the case of meadows) the term for which they could be let to individual Freemen to whom they had been allocated. They also decided the title of those who claimed to enjoy meadows and stints according to their bye-laws. Instances occur upon the records of forfeiture, both of meadows and stints, either absolute or for limited periods, inflicted by the Freemen in Guild, for infraction of bye-laws or other gross misconduct. However unless there was such a forfeiture or the party either became non resident or relinquished his stint or meadow by choosing one of more value, he could remain in the enjoyment of the stint or meadow which had at first been allocated to him for the rest of his life. Some Freemen were permitted to enjoy one stint only, others had two stints and other again one meadow and one stint.
Where a Freeman died and left a widow, if she was his first wife, she was entered in the Freemen's roll in place of and at the same seniority as her husband. In the case a Freeman married twice and died leaving a widow younger than himself, she was entitled to choose in turn according to her natural age, supposing her to have been admitted to the freedom at the same age at which her husband was admitted. In the case of a Freeman marrying a third time, after the age of 60, his widow was placed in the roll next after the then youngest Freeman.
In 1832 there were 1,118 Freemen, about 500 residents. After the passage of the 1832 Reform Act non resident freemen could no longer vote in Parliament elections. As a result many of their sons did not take up their heritable right to the freedom and many distinguished families lost their contact with Berwick. There was also less advantage in being a freeman Out of the resident freemen 436 retained their right to vote. In addition there were 201 householders in Berwick and a further 68 in Tweedmouth and Spittal who were included on the electoral roll for the first time in 1832. Thus 62% of the electorate were still freemen. The franchise was still limited to males with substantial property. The numbers entitled to vote actually fell as non resident freemen were deprived of their right to vote. The total population of the combined borough which included Tweedmouth and Spittal from 1835 was 13,000, 8,000 living in Berwick, and they still returned two members of Parliament.
The 1832 Reform Act was followed by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. The report of the Commission on Municipal Reform which preceded the drafting of the bill was partisan and saw the purpose of the Act as a compliment to the effects of the Reform Act of 1832 by securing an actual transfer of power in local politics. Peel and Wellington wanted to see greater efficiency and also wanted to avoid towns falling into the hands of radicals. The Bill was opposed particularly in the House of Lords, but Peel and Russell managed to achieve a compromise. These included proper qualifications for councillors, election of Aldermen for twelve years and nomination of Justices of the Peace by the Crown. The rights of freemen were insisted upon in the House of Lords and put into the Bill. The Act applied to the existing 178 boroughs, which included Berwick, but provision was made to allow other towns to be brought into the Act. By 1851 a further 18 new towns had applied including Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester and Sheffield. London was not included.
The 1835 Act, as it affected freemen, repealed all laws, customs, charters, etc, inconsistent with the Act. Trading rights which had formerly been exclusive to freemen were thrown open to all. It prohibited the admission of freemen by gift or purchase. Freemen's rights to admission, except by gift or purchase, and the rights of property, other than corporate borough property, or to participate in charities were to be unaffected by the Act.
Municipal affairs had been controlled by the freemen for seven hundred years. From the Charter of James 1 until the end of 1835 the government of Berwick had been controlled by the freemen in Guild under the terms of that charter. The Corporation was described as the Mayor, Bailiffs and burgesses assembled in Guild to manage the affairs of the Corporation, make byelaws and dispose of their property. The Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 repealed all laws and usages previously in force relating to the boroughs named in the schedule, of which Berwick was one. It created a new body with the title of Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses elected by the ratepayers in accordance with the Act and which took the place of the old Corporation. The terms burgesses and Aldermen now had a new meaning of elected councillors and from this time on the term freemen is exclusive to members of the Guild who can no longer be referred to by their original name of burgesses nor could they appoint Aldermen. The new council was elected by all householders in the borough who had been rated for relief of the poor over a three year period. Eighteen Councillors and six Aldermen were elected, thus preserving the 24 afeering men of ancient times. The Aldermen had an entirely different meaning as they were elected every 12 years. The new Councillors themselves elected the Mayor.
In recognition of Berwick's distinctive traditions and its peculiar position as a place won by conflict from Scotland, the Act also constituted Berwick as a County of a town and authorised the annual appointment of a Sheriff. The Mayor and Bailiffs had held the office of Sheriff before 1835 although in practice the duties were carried out by Guild officials. After 1835 the Sheriff was appointed by the Council with a deputy Sheriff to carry out the legal work. Bailiffs were not appointed by the new Council and continued to be appointed for some time by the Guild although they had no official position in the town. The new Council had powers in relation to police, street lighting, markets, harbours and local byelaws as well as the right to levy a rate.
Section 3 of the Act prohibited the admission of freemen by gift or purchase. Section 5 required the Town Clerk to keep a roll of freemen and when any claim to the freedom was made by birth, servitude or marriage, the Mayor was to examine such claims and on it being established was to admit and enrol the claimant. The Act confirmed freemen's rights of admission other than by purchase or gift. The rules of admission were not rendered unalterable by the Act. It was established that as long as a Guild could have changed its rules or regulations regarding admissions before 1835, they could continue to amend them as long as this was consistent with common practice. In the case of Berwick the rules had been changed on many occasions before 1835 and the power of the Guild to change these rules remained unaltered. This allowed the Guild to draw up its own regulations for the conduct of the Guild and amend the rules for admission as long as the resultant rules were consistent with common practice. The Mayor had to be informed of any change of rules, but had no power to prevent these changes. The reason for informing the Mayor was because he had a duty to examine any claim and establish the claim.
After 1835 the Guild and the Corporation were separate. The Guild remained in existence after 1835 although they no longer played any part in the administration of the town. They still had their ancient traditions and continued to meet in Guild to administer their own affairs. They set up the Freemen's Standing Committee of Berwick upon Tweed to consider the various matters effecting Freemen.
A Select Committee reported in 1840 on freemen in cities and boroughs. The position in Berwick was very complex and gave rise to proceedings in the Court of Exchequer in 1840. The problem was that part of the property of the freemen had been used for public purposes and part as their private property providing income for freemen and pensions for their widows. The main issue was how much the new borough council was entitled to take out of the income enjoyed by the freemen. A compromise was reached which was embodied in the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Act 1843.
The Act contained provisions with regard to corporate property and various offices in the borough and stated that any earlier laws or customs with regard to such property which was inconsistent with the new Act was repealed or annulled. Part of the estate was allotted directly to freemen while other parts were enclosed and let as farms. From the seventeenth century only freemen could benefit from those parts allocated to the freemen.
The money required for the needs of the town was supplied by rentals of some of the farms, tolls, dues and other similar income. It had generally proved to be more or less sufficient for the administration of the town. During the eighteenth century the custom grew of borrowing money by sale of annuities. Berwick adopted this plan when the Town Hall was built and a certain amount of debt had accumulated. This increased rapidly in the early part of the nineteenth century until by the end of 1835 it amounted to just over £40,000.
In Section 2 of the Act there was a reservation of all rights of property to the freemen, but with the proviso that "The total amount to be divided amongst persons whose rights were reserved should not exceed the surplus remaining after payment of interest of all lawful debts chargeable upon the Estate out of which the sums so divided have arisen together with the salaries of municipal officers and all other lawful expenses which on 5th. June, 1835, were chargeable upon the same". The Act authorised rates to be levied by the new Council upon the ratepayers to provide a Borough Fund.
The officers of the Guild administration had been named in the Charter of James I. These were the Mayor, four Bailiffs, Recorder, Coroner and Sargeants at Mace nor exceeding four. Other officers had been created at different times by the Guild. These were the Town Clerk, Treasurer, Bellman, Master Bellringer, Beadles, Goaler, Alderman for the Market, Stewart of the Court Leet, Bailiff of Court Leet, Field Grieve, Deacon of the Shambles and Keeper of the Exchange. The Guild was also responsible for the Corporation Academy.
The Act reserved the freemen's beneficial interests subject to the payment of interest on debts, salaries and other lawful expenses. As these rights and liabilities were not clearly defined disputes arose between the new Council and the freemen which culminated in a Private Act of Parliament now called the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation Act 1843. This was a settlement Act which established the rights of freemen and widows. The freemen's estate as set out in the schedules of that Act was vested in the new Corporation as Trustees upon the Trusts mentioned in the Act. The Estate was set out in four schedules. The Corporation had no beneficial interest in the first two schedules. The fourth schedule was along with the town's Ancient Revenues primarily applied for the payment of interest on debts, salaries of municipal officers and lawful expenses. The third schedule was in the first place to supply any deficiency from the fourth Schedule, the remainder being divisible between the freemen.
The other expenses of the new Corporation and any further deficiency when both schedules three and four were exhausted would have to be met out of the Borough Fund created under Section 92 of the Act, i.e. would be paid out of the Borough Rate. The Corporation had the power of sale over land in the first part of the Schedule 4 subject to a power of veto from the freemen. There was no power of sale for lands in Schedules one, two or three or in the second part of Schedule four.
Schedule 1 lands consisted of 333 parcels of land collectively called Meadows, which had always been physically occupied, or let by, individual freemen or their widows for their own benefit. The distribution of these was made by seniority in accordance with custom at the annual Meadow Guild.
Schedule 2 lands, called stints in lieu of Meadows, were not physically occupied by freemen, but provided income from lettings which was divided among the freemen or their widows for their own benefit. Each share was called a stint and they were allocated at an annual Stint Guild.
Schedule 3 lands consisted of a further 33 parcels of land totalling some 823 acres. Before 1843 this had been part of the second category above, so the income was applicable to the freemen's benefit. By the 1843 Act, in order to deal with the differences which had arisen, the income from these lands (a) became applicable in making good any deficiency in the income from Schedule 4 lands to meet the outgoings charged on that income and (b) subject thereto, was divided between the freemen and their widows.
Schedule 4 consisted of further lands called 'Treasurers Farms'. These lands had been public property since 1835 and earlier, and the income from them had been applicable to public corporate expenses, and also to support a number of ancient charities and the Corporation Academy. The income from the Treasurers Farms was by the Act of 1843 made primarily applicable to payment of various municipal expenses.
Council as Trustees
The Freemen's Estate was managed by the new Council under the 1843 Act. In later years the management was delegated to the Farms and Works Committee. By 1920 the Estate had been reduced to some 3,000 acres and many of the items mentioned in the 1843 Act had been lost to the Estate. Tolls had been abolished. Comparison with the inventory taken at the time of the Reform Act show that many of the archive papers had also been removed or lost.
The 1835 Act was repealed by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, but this did not affect Freemen's rights. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1883 extended the provisions of the 1882 Act to a number of other towns. Berwick was already included in the schedule for the 1835 Act and was not therefore affected.
In 1888 the Borough Council attempted to close the Market in the High Street. This was opposed by the Freemen's Guild who claimed that the Market was a Charter right and could not be closed. There was a public enquiry regarding the Berwick Markets and Fair on the instructions of the Royal Commissioners. This confirmed the Charter rights of holding markets and a fair in Berwick. It was noted that in Berwick the rights of the Market had never belonged to the Corporation and had been confirmed to belong to the Freemen in the Settlement Act.
A Freemen's Standing Committee had been set up to represent the interests of Freemen. It represented the Freemen and tried to preserve their customs and rights. This was difficult as the Town Council controlled the administration of the Freemen's Estate and did not always act in the interests of the Freemen. The income from Schedules 1 and 2 should have been paid to the Freemen, but this often did not happen. The Committee was not always able to meet in the Town Hall, although this was part of the Freemen's Estate.
Many matters were raised with the Council and the Committee received very few satisfactory answers. The financial accounts of the Estate were not being made available. Quarterly statements were made which did not give any details and the audited accounts were only made available after many months. Thus it was not possible for the Freemen to determine finances of the Estate. It was deduced that money which was clearly applicable to the payment of Stint money had not been received by the Freemen. In 1897 the Town Council attempted to open the Corporation Academy to non freemen children. This was resisted by the Freemen's Committee who pointed out the Council held the Academy in Trust for the education of freemen children and had no right under the Trust to open the Academy sons and daughters of any other than those of freemen and freemen widows. The Council attempted to lease ground for a period of 500 years when the normal lease period had been 150 years. The Committee demanded that the stint money held by the Council be paid over to resident freemen and widows. This was paid.
The Freemen's Committee, wrote to the Town Council giving an extract from the meeting of the Freemen's Committee ' That we the Freemen's Committee of Berwick hereby unanimously protest against the proposed terms of leasing and road making, of, and at the said close; because if such highly speculative proposals were carried out they would cause a considerable loss annually to the Corporation's Funds, and be an alienation of the rights and privileges of the Freemen and Widows of the Freemen of the Borough as now established by law in the said close. - That we would suggest that a proper Plan of Building site spaces of the said Close be got by the Corporation and that any such spaces be advertised for sale, at the price. There were also objection by the Standing Committee when the Town Council attempted to alter some of the farm leases and leased farms without advertising that they were for lease.
This type of minute and objection appear in various minutes of the Freemen's Standing Committee and letters and replies from the Town Council. The Town Council Treasurer had acted as both Treasurer and Land Agent, which was of considerable concern to the Freemen. These posts were now separated and held by different persons. The Freemen's Standing Committee petitioned the Local Government Board. The Town Council avoided a submission to the Local Government Board at this time. Eventually the Local Government Board resolved that it was not a matter in which they had authority to intervene.
The relationship between the Freemen and the Town Council were not easy. The Freemen's Standing Committee's minutes show their frustration with these transactions. In August 1906 they write to the Council complaining that they have not had a reply to letters sent in April. The Council minutes were published in the local paper stating they had not received a letter from the Freemen and the Freemen's Standing Committee had to send copies of their minutes and the letters to the Town Council to show the errors in the Council minutes.
In 1909, the Standing Committee wrote to the Board of Agriculture complaining about a proposed loan of £1,500, the interest and capital payment to be made from the Estate. This was towards buildings at Folly Farm which had already received considerable improvements and was quite unable to meet the interest payments from rent. The buildings would not be part of the lease and there was to be no payment towards this from the tenant. This rent of Folly Farm had been considerable reduced from the former level. It was stated that this proposal was primarily by certain members of the Council.
The original Estate had been 3,280 acres, but this had been reduced and the annual income had considerably reduced. It was stated that if the whole of the Estate except the Meadows was put up for sale it might not clear the Corporation debt. The previous year’s accounts had shown that the Borough had spent not only the Borough rate, but all the income from the Freemen's Estate and the Stint rents. There were outstanding debts to the Lands improvement Company and to Bond Holders which was the original pre 1835 debt. It was stated that the new police station and lock up had an outstanding balance which was being taken annually from the Estate. It was noted that the Meadows were settled on the Freemen by the Settlement Act and income should not have been used for Corporation expenditure.
In 1914 the Freemen's Standing Committee wrote directly to the President of the Local Government Board complaining that the Council accounts had not been completed on time and had just been received seven months after the date required by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882. The Corporation auditors included the Town Clerk. The letter stated that the administration of the Estate, which was to a great measure liable to the expenses of the Borough, was anything but satisfactory. They suggested that the Board should appoint an auditor to look at the Borough expenditure. The auditor appointed by the Local Government Board refused to accept expenditure for hires, dinners and various other expenditure, which had not been contemplated under the Settlement Act
In 1916 the Freemen's Committee was again writing to the Local Government Board complaining that the Borough intended to lease the market rights to themselves at a rent of £5 per year although the annual profit to the Estate was £150.
Berwick Freemen had been concerned for many years at the way the Trustee lands were being administered by the Corporation. Any surplus from Schedule 3 should have been paid to the Freemen. However there had been few surpluses from the Estate since 1835 and the Estate was very run down. The 1843 Act also prevented the sale of any land within the Estate and this was restricting the growth of the town. The duties of the Corporation had changed since 1835. The Commission of Goal Delivery had been abolished in 1842, their former jurisdiction over the harbour was transferred under the Berwick Harbour Acts, the police were now incorporated into the County system and the Corporation Academy had been closed. Their duties had increased as Urban Sanitary Authority under the public Health Acts, Housing Authority, Rating Authority, Local Land Registry, etc.
The Corporation took several steps in 1920, many of which the Freemen considered to be very detrimental to the Freemen's Estate. A new Town Clerk was appointed as a full time official and absorbing the duties of the clerk to the Sanitary Authority. As a result the sum which was charged against the Freemen's Estate had increased annually. A new housing estate was about to be undertaken in Tweedmouth under the Housing Acts and Schedule 1 lands were being appropriated by the Corporation for that purpose although there was no power of sale over these lands. An application had been made by a firm to purchase land for a steel factory which was also on Schedule 1 lands. There had been no surplus from Schedule 3 since 1915 due to the increased costs of the administration while the income had remained stationary. Three eights of the whole expenses of the Borough were charged by the new Corporation to the Freemen's Estate. With increase in concern over public health the demands upon the finances of the Estate became exorbitant and resulted in the Estate getting more and more into debt.
In 1920 the Standing Committee was reconstituted to look after Freemen's affairs as the constitutional method of all Freemen meeting in Guild was too cumbersome and too infrequent for the consideration of matters such as had arisen. The first meeting of this Committee requested the Council to make reasonable charges for stances in the Market Place on Market days and so preserve the Freemen's ancient rights in the market. They also asked for a scale of charges to be put in place for the use of the Town Hall in view of the high costs of lighting and heating this building.
The lack of powers of sale and leasing made it difficult to administer the estate properly. At a Guild Meeting in 1921, it was agreed that the factory site should be approved if this could be legally completed. This was on the grounds of the long term interests if the town of Berwick. The Guild gave consent to the court fees for power to sell should be paid out of the Estate and at a special Guild Meeting the Committee was instructed to confer with the Council as to the advisability in selling parts of the Estate. An official enquiry was held in March, 1921, at Berwick before Mr.Wallace, the Chief Commissioner of the Charity Commission. At this enquiry certain persons residing or carrying on business in Berwick, but non Freemen, put forward proposals that the whole Estate should be handed over to the Council and paying each of the Resident Freemen at that time an individual annuity equal to his current income from the estate until his death, but not to allow any future Freemen to receive any benefit. Mr.Wallace pointed out that while the Charity Commission were willing to promote a "Parliamentary scheme" where it was agreed by all parties, they had no powers to take any steps in the absence of complete agreement.
"The Non-Freemen's Association" was formed to try and remove the beneficial interests of the Resident Freemen in their own estate. It proposed to promote a Bill in Parliament for that purpose. They proposed a meeting with the Farm and Works Committee of the Borough Council and the Freemen's Committee. The Freemen refused to attend this meeting as the Non-Freemen's Association had no standing. The Council then supplied various documents to the Non-Freemen's Association to which action the Freemen objected on the grounds that the Council were acting as Trustees for the Estate. The Mayor who was a prominent anti Freeman stated that he had released the documents on legal advice. However the Town Clerk stated that his advice had been not to release the documents.
The Secretary of the Non-Freemen's Association, James Gibson, was appointed Borough Treasurer in 1922 following the resignation of Mr.T.C.Smith who was a Freeman and had held the position of Borough Treasurer for twenty years. After the appointment of Mr.Gibson the amounts charged in the Corporation's accounts against the Freemen's Estate were increased very considerably. The Freemen's Committee brought various matters before the Farm and Works Committee and criticised their management of the Estate. The Corporation reduced the rents they paid to the Freemen's Estate in their capacity as Urban Sanitary Authority, charged items against the Freemen's Estate which should have been charged to the Borough rate account and credited small payments to the Borough rate fund which belonged to the Freemen's Estate. There were serious problems for the Corporation in dealing with parts of the Freemen's Estate which were required to be sold for the benefit of the town. This gave rise to problems which did not allow the improvement and development of the Freemen's Estate. The Corporation endeavoured very strongly to make out a case that as the town's expenses had grown so considerably, the whole of the income from the 3rd. and 4th. schedules was absorbed by their claims and consequently the property should be transferred to their ownership. This claim was eventually dropped as not being tenable.
Both parties endeavoured to meet each other's views. Guild representatives held meetings with Parliamentary Agents and the Town Council representatives which eventually reached an agreement for a new Act of Parliament. The Act contemplated and made provision for a surplus income remaining in the 3rd. Schedule. As all parties were in agreement the Charities Commission was able to support this Act. The Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Act 1926 was passed through Parliament. The Non Freemen's Association ceased to function after the passing of the 1926 Act.
The 1926 Act made various modifications to the basic scheme of administration of the estate. The first was to incorporate and to transfer all property, which had previously been vested in the Borough Council to the Trustees and to provide regulations for elections and procedures of the Trustees.
At the same time a new, unincorporated, body called the Freemen's Committee was created, with regulations for it's election and procedures. The various provisions relating to the Freemen's Committee were interwoven in Part ll of the 1926 Act. The Freemen's Committee was elected annually.
There was a new scheme of management. The Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Trustees were constituted as Trustees by the Act. The administration of the Freemen's Estate was transferred to their control from the Borough on 1st. December, 1926. Five of the Trustees were to be elected annually by the Freemen in Guild by Resident Freemen and five non freemen appointed by the Corporation. The Trustees were given powers of management of the estate. They were required to employ the then Town Clerk and Treasurer or Accountant of the borough as their clerk and accountant respectively, and to pay them 'adequate' salaries. They were given the power of sale. The rights of physical occupation of land by the freemen was to cease. The Act contained provisions in case of their non agreement.
The 1926 Act restated, with some changes, the trusts for application of the income. The income from of Schedule 1 lands and Schedule 2 were to be distributed by the Trustees to resident freemen or their resident widows as before. The income from the third schedule was to be applied by the Trustee
(a) In meeting any deficiency of Schedule 4 over the income of Schedule 4 lands
(b) Subject thereto to pay salaries and expenses as provided in the Act.
(c) Subject thereto to pay to the retention of a reserve of £300, to pay any surplus to the Freemen's Committee.
The income of the Schedule 4 lands was to be applied to the costs, charges and expenses of the Trustees, various taxes, interest on certain debts and to pay any surplus to the Council which in turn was to apply that under s.15 of the 1843 Act.
Thus the income of the Meadows and Stints was distributed by the Trustees to freemen or their widows. There were 496 meadows and the income was distributed in order of seniority as follows;-
Groups Meadows Percentage Total
1 1 0.6875 0.6875
2 4 0.6250 2.5000
3 5 0.5000 2.5000
4 7 0.4375 3.0625
5 17 0.3750 6.3750
6 61 0.3125 19.0625
7 91 0.2500 22.7500
8 139 0.1875 26.0625
9 101 0.1250 12.6250
10 70 0.0625 4.3750
Totals 496 100.0000
The Resident Freemen and widows received their meadow entitlement in order until all the Meadows were allocated. Thus for example with 99 resident Freemen and widows the most senior would receive payment from;-
Group Number off Percentage
1 1 0.6875
7 1 0.2500
8 1 0.1875
9 1 0.1250
10 1 0.0625
While the youngest freeman in order of seniority would receive only;-
Group Number of Percentage Total
7 1 0.4375 0.4375
8 2 0.1875 0.3750
9 1 0.1250 0.1250
The Town Council tried to buy property of the Trust in Prospect Place, Low Ropery Close in 1928. They offered £250. The Freemen Trustees opposed this price as being too low and the matter went to arbitration. This fixed the price at £475.
The Freemen's Committee were entitled to receive any surplus of Schedule 3 money. They had the power to utilise this by forming a Reserve Fund for the protection and promotion of the general interests of the freemen, or to apply the money as stints in lieu of meadows, or any charitable purpose for the benefit of freemen. It was to be another 40 years before there was any surplus from Schedule lll. The Freemen's Committee also received certain 'improved value money'. This arose when land from the first and second schedule was sold and a sum was set aside known as improved value moneys. This was to be invested and the interest used by the Committee of the Guild within the terms of the Act. An order was made by the Charity Commission in 1931.
It was confirmed by the Clerk to the Trustees in 1931 'That the Guild have the sole right of deciding who should be on the Resident Roll'.
Thus the primary function of the Trustees was the management, maintenance, development, improvements and administration of the estate and otherwise carry out the provisions of the 1926 and 1843 Acts. The primary function of the Freemen's Committee was to be the protection and promotion of the general interests of the freemen. The 1926 Act anticipated the possibility of questions arising between the Corporation and Trustees as to the rights of the Corporation under the 1926 Act, which were to go to arbitration. It did not anticipate any question arising between the Trustees and freemen as to the rights of freemen. It did create and equal number of Freemen and Corporation Trustees and gave the right of veto at meetings to three of either and provided for arbitration if a deadlock took place.
There were disputes over the wording of parts of the Act. The Corporation Trustees favoured the interest of the Corporation as opposed to the Freemen and this position was made worse by the Accountant to the Trustees being the Borough Treasurer who had formerly been Secretary of the Non Freemen's Association. An Arbitration Committee was set up by the Trustees with two Freemen and two non Freemen. A separate Arbitration was set up by the Corporation which did not contain any Freemen, but did contain three Corporation Trustees. This caused considerable problems as the Freemen were only allowed access to a limited amount of the information leading up to the Arbitration.
Before the 1926 Act was passed the Corporation had been Trustees on behalf of the Freemen for the Estate. They were entitled to certain statutory and customary charges against the income of part of the Estate, while the Freemen were entitled to the income from the other part of the Estate and the residue of the income from the part upon which the Corporation charges were made. The amount of charges in favour of the Corporation had been, while they were Trustees, settled by themselves in accordance with what they considered the correct interpretation of the terms upon which they controlled the Estate. After the 1926 Act it was necessary for the Corporation to submit an account for their charges to the Trustees for payment. This was duly submitted on 10th. October, 1927. The Corporation asked for a fixed annual sum of £1,140 per annum to represent (a) the charge imposed on the Estate in favour of the town by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Act of 1843 and (b) the use for the purposes of the Trustees of the office accommodation provided at the Municipal Buildings. This sum was greatly in excess of the amounts which had been paid before 1920. The claim was based on the largest claim under each heading over the past five years. It was considered by a sub committee of two Corporation and two Freemen Trustees. The Freemen nominees were of the opinion that the demand was too great. Matters were further complicated by a claim by the Town Clerk and Borough Treasurer for additional remuneration under Section 22 (3) of the Act, but this application was refused by both Corporation and Freemen nominees. There being no agreement the matter was referred back to the Council who resolved to ask the Trustees to refer the matter to arbitration. Attempts were made to resolve matters, but the Trustees eventually agreed to go to arbitration in 1929.
The position of clerk to the Trustees, who also held the position of Town Clerk, was very questionable. However Mr.Wright left Berwick to take up a new appointment in Warwick and the new Town Clerk asked to be allowed not to act for either side in the arbitration as there was an obvious clash of interests.
Prior to the 1926 Act when the Corporation had acted as Trustees of the Estate there had been considerable dissatisfaction among the Freemen on a number of matters concerning the Estate. They had not been able to take any effective action as the Corporation had extensive powers as Trustees of the Estate. With the exception of the right of veto over the sale of certain parts of the Estate, the only way the Freemen could have taken action was by an individual Freeman taking legal proceedings. This was a course which would have been too expensive to adopt other than in a matter of very large importance. Consequently, once arbitration proceedings had been decided upon, they took the opportunity to include their complaints against the Corporation. The arbitration was between the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Trustees.
There were two main difference of opinion and a number of minor points. The major points were the salaries and lawful expenses. The 1843 Act rendered the Estate liable for the payment of the salaries of Municipal Officers as existed on 5th. June, 1835, and the amount to be paid to them was to be ascertained having regard to the circumstances existing at that date and to the duties then attached to each of the posts. Some of these posts were by now mere sinecures and some had ceased to exist. Also with existing offices some of these duties had been transferred to other bodies or persons who were now paid by other bodies. Consequently the Trustees claimed that payment for these posts should be discontinued. They also claimed that salaries paid for all new posts and duties incurred since 1835 should not be paid from the Estate. The Corporation claimed that the salaries of all the municipal officers and their staff and the expenses or their respective offices should be paid out of the Estate and that these payments should be increased from time to time to allow for increased cost of living and any additional duties which might be imposed by legislation. They further claimed that additional payments should be made to the Clerk and Accountant of the Trustees although these were the same people as the Town Clerk and Borough Treasurer and were doing no additional duties as a result of the change of trusteeship.
Until 1920 while the Corporation acted as Trustees of the Estate the amounts charged against the Estate were generally in line with those now stated by the Trustees. Even between 1920 and 1926 the only increase was the salaries of the Town Clerk and Borough Treasurer. It was these increases which had caused the Freemen to take the action which led to the 1926 Act. The amount claimed in 1927 was £3,703.41p. This was considerable in excess of the income from the third schedule.
The 1933 Arbitration determined that the Fourth Schedule should pay all costs, charges, expenses and other payments incurred by the Trustees, including payments to charities, interest charges and the expenses of the Freemen's Committee. Any surplus was to be paid to the Corporation.
The Third Schedule was to be used to make up any shortfall in the payments due from the Fourth Schedule. Any remaining surplus was to be divided as follows;-
(a) The first £1,000, 97% to the Corporation and 3% to the Freemen's Committee.
(b) The second £1,000, 90% to the Corporation and 10% to the Freemen's Committee.
(c) The balance to be divided 50% each to the Corporation and the Freemen's Committee.
This was a major concession by the Guild as surpluses from the third schedule had traditionally been paid to freemen. However it was agreed in order that agreement could be reached. The Estate was charges with the payment of the fees incurred in the arbitration including the costs of submission and negotiations for the preparation between solicitors and clients.
A further Arbitration was required in 1934 which determined that the wages and expenses incurred by the Corporation for the benefit of the inhabitants of Berwick-upon-Tweed were a charge on the Corporation and not the Trustees. The charges for this arbitration were divided between the Corporation and the Trustees.
As part of the agreement a 99 year lease of the market rights at a fixed low rent was agreed between the Trustees and the Borough Council. Under Section 41 of the Settled Land Act 1925 this should have been limited to 50 years. Under Section 64 a lease for 99 years would have required the consent of the Court which was not obtained. An Order of the Charity Commission was obtained as the lease was for more than 21 years. This may have validated the lease.
In addition to the original Bond Holders there had been considerable debts incurred during the period during which the Corporation had acted as Trustees and the costs of the Act and Arbitration were added to these leaving the Trust in a very poor financial state. Little improvement had been carried out to the Estate and the amount of debt meant that it was many years before these could be cleared and attention paid to improving the Estate. The Town Hall was a considerable drain upon the income of the Estate. It was to be the 1970s before the debts were cleared on the Estate and there was any surplus from Schedule 3.
The 1926 Act had allowed that when land was sold from Schedules 1 and 2 there was basic Value monies paid into schedule 1 and improved value money of which 1/3 was due to the Freemen's Committee and 2/3 to Schedule 1. These monies were part of the sale value of any of the "Meadows" and "Stints in lieu of Meadows" as specified in the First and Second Schedules of the Berwick-upon-Tweed (Freemen) Acts of 1843 and 1926. The basic value and improved value money paid into Schedule 1 was placed in a Charity which was administered by the Freemen's Committee.
The Municipal Corporations Act of 1882 was repealed and replaced by the Local Government Act 1933. Although the wording was changed, the purport of the Act was the same with regard to Freemen. This preserved the status and rights of Freemen subject to the provisions of the 1835 Act.
In 1950 the Trustees agreed the transfer of Berwick Bridge to the County Council. The Trustees were released from the charge on the Manor of Tweedmouth and Spittal which had been a security for a covenant on the part of the Corporation to keep the bridge in repair.
The state of the Town Hall was a cause of considerable concern, The fabric had weathered badly and the building had developed a list towards the north west corner. There were fears that the building would have to be demolished. An architect Professor A.E.Richardson, was engaged and financial grants obtained from the Pilgrim's Trust and Society of Historic Buildings. The remainder of the debt was financed through the Trust. The total cost of these repairs was £35,000. The condition of the frame and tower of the Town Hall was such as that the full swing had to be stopped
An examination of the Town Hall in 1951 had shown that the Portico was in a dangerous condition. The work was estimated to cost £3,000. The Ministry of Works proposed that if the Trustees could provide half they would match this and cover any excess over £3,000. The Trust still had considerable debts carried from bonds incurred before 1926 and the cost of the 1926 Act and subsequent arbitrations. The Trustees were not in a position to raise more than £600 to £700. The Freemen's Committee guaranteed an overdraft at the bank to enable the Trust to raise the £1,000 required. Thus the work was able to proceed.
Due to the ongoing debts of the Trustees and the problem of the restoration of the Town Hall they decided to sell Lilliesteads Farm by pubic auction. The farm covered land in all four schedules. It sold for £9,000. Schedule lll was now in surplus, this money being transferred to Schedule lV (the Treasurer's Farms) which were in deficit.
A five year scheme was developed to improve the Trust lands. An adequate supply of piped water was to be laid on to all farms and the houses and cottages were to be reconditioned or abandoned as unfit for reconditioning. A number of new agricultural cottages would be erected. The local authority would receive a grant for the mains water supply and the Trust would receive grants for the housing. As part of these improvements the Trustees undertook to look after the structural repair of the buildings, which had previously been a tenants' responsibility. The rents had been well below average levels and these were reviewed and updated. It was recognised that the Trust would be involved with considerable expense over the five year period, but at the end of that time the estate should be in a much more profitable situation. It was necessary to raise a number of mortgages to improve and renew the cottages.
The restoration of the Town Hall continued. It had not been possible to replace the coat of arms due to lack of finance. The restoration of the south elevation of the building was scheduled. Within the Town Hall the Court Furniture was removed from the Guild Hall and a stage and lighting installed to make the hall available for public purposes. Schedule lV was still in deficit even after the transfer of the surplus from Schedule lll.
The Freemen presented the Town with a new solid Silver Mace to mark the deep affection which all freemen have for their native town and to register 25 years of successful co-management of the Estate by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Trustees. This mace replaced the original mace which had been melted down along with the rest of the town silver in 1836 by the first elected council. The Freemen paid for a chain for the Mayoress which the Committee felt was in keeping with other boroughs.
The Town Hall was again in urgent need of repair. The roof required immediate attention and repairs would cost about £5,000. The fabric of the building also required repair and the probable cost would be £30,000. The Ministry of Works offered the £5,000 for the urgent roof repairs on condition that the Trustees guaranteed £1,000 per year to a programme of stone restoration on the building. The Trustees were not in a position to make this commitment as they actually had a deficit on Schedules 3 and 4 of £200 in the last year. Some extra money would come from increasing rents. The Freemen's Committee agreed to advise the Guild to forego the deduction of income tax on schedules 1 and 2 which had been paid from Schedules 3 and 4 and to place a limit of £1,200 on the Meadow money paid to Resident Freemen for the next five years. In the case of hardship the resources of the 1926 Fund could be used. The resulting savings by the Trust would amount to £500 per year. This was agreed by the Guild with the proviso that the Trust also contributed £500 per year for the next five years. When work started on the roof it became apparent that considerably more work was required on the tower, amounting to £10,000 with a further £10,000 to £15,000 for further restoration work. The Ministry of Works required the £2,500 each from the Trust and Freemen to be made available immediately. The Guild had £250 in their account, but agreed to arrange an overdraft to provide the money. The cost continued to increase and the next year the Ministry of Works required a further £100 per year from both bodies. The Meadow money available had increased although payments to Resident Freemen were still restricted. The Guild agreed to vary their previous resolution which paid the surplus into Schedule 3 to allow discretion by the Trustees. Some money was raised for the restoration of the Town Hall by subscriptions and admission charges to look over the Town Hall following the visit of HM the Queen and from a dinner and dance organised by the Mayor. A grant was received from the Pilgrim Fund. Professor Sir Albert Richardson waived his architects fee of £1,000. A special plaque was installed in the building commemorating the restoration work.
Professor Richardson was the architect for the Town Hall. He was given an honorary Freedom by the Berwick Borough Council. The Freemen did not receive an invitation to this ceremony.
The cost of repairs to the Town Hall continued to provide financial problems. Some £36,000 worth of restoration work had been completed, but more was required. It was intended to restore the Butter market when the toilets had been removed. These had been erected by the Council prior to 1926. The Guild Committee had borrowed money from the British Linen Bank to assist the Trust and some of this was still outstanding. There had been no surpluses from Schedule 3 for distribution to either town or freemen since 1926. The resident freemen did get an income from the Meadows and Stints although this was limited by the agreement to help fund the restoration of the Town Hall. The Guild agreed that the Meadow money would be restricted to a total of £1,800. The balance from schedules 1 and 2 would be paid to the Freemen's Committee to be held or disbursed by them for the benefit of Resident Freemen and Widows. The repayment of the bank loan for work on the Town Hall was the first charge on this money.
The toilets in the Buttermarket of the Town Hall were removed. Stint money was paid for the first time since 1927.
The Trustees again contacted the Freemen's Committee in 1964 regarding the Town Hall. The Ministry of Works had proposed further work including opening up the ground floor and the main beams. The Ministry were contributing 50% of the money with £300 per year for five years from the Trust. The Freemen and the Town Council were requested to contribute £100 each for five years. A special meeting of the Guild agreed to pay this sum. A total of £5,000 was to be spent on this restoration work. It was later agreed to proceed with this work at one time. The debts on schedules lll and lV had now been repaid. By 1966 the debt on the Freemen's Estate was finally paid off.
An association of Freemen in England was formed in 1966. This Association retained Parliamentary Agents and Queen's Council to monitor the Act of Parliament which was to reorganise local government. As the Act passed through its committee stages several alterations were introduced to protect Freemen's rights. This included an additional clause which stated that any property and other rights pertaining to Freemen would be preserved irrespective of any other articles in the Act. The Local Government Act of 1972 repealed the provisions of the 1933 Act, replacing them with provisions intended to secure the same results in different words (section 248). It also contained provisions for the expiration of local Acts of Parliament (Section 262), but provisions relating to Freemen's status and rights were expressly excepted (Subsection 12 iii). The Act did not expressly annul borough charters, but did state that the borough corporations should cease to exist. The object of this was to annul borough charters so far as local government was concerned, but not to destroy them completely as this would have caught other matters in many charters. The provision in Section 248, that Freemen should have and enjoy the same rights as before, gave a new statutory confirmation of any chartered rights, thus saving them from extinction.
The Guild rescinded their resolution limiting the payment of Meadow Money. The Guild funds were now adequate to cover the donation of £500 towards the restoration of the Town Hall. The Town Council made a proposal to take over the Town Hall and convert the Guild Hall to an Art Gallery and the second floor to a museum. The Committee consulted Mr.R.W.Walker, who pointed out several difficulties with this proposal. The proposal was dropped.
In 1968 there was a surplus from Schedule lll after the deduction of the deficit on Schedule lV. This was the first surplus since the passing of the 1926 Act and was a tribute to all who had nurtured the Estate during the very difficult times since then. There had been large debts inherited by the Trust with further debts from the cost of the Act and subsequent Arbitrations. The restoration of the Town Hall had been a considerable expense which had been a drain on the Trust and was only completed due to the Guild and resident freemen making substantial contributions. The Estate was now profitable.
Further work was required on the Town Hall which cost in excess of £13,000. A 75% grant was obtained from the Department of Environment, the remainder being funded out of Schedule lV.
1974 Borough Council.
A White Paper had been issued which proposed major alterations to local government, which was to be reorganised into a smaller number of larger authorities. Many existing Boroughs would disappear including Berwick. There was considerable concern over the original wording of this Act as it would have effectively abolished the Freedom. The Freemen of England took up this problem and engaged Parliamentary Agents which succeeded in altering the Bill and inserting a clause which would preserve the rights of Freemen. The 1926 Act would remain in force although several other local Acts would lapse after 10 years.
The Local Government Act of 1972 defined "England as subject to any alterations under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by Section I of that act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly". Thus for the first time Berwick is officially incorporated into England. The Act abolished the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1974 and created a new District which included Belford, Seahouses, Norham and Islands, Glendale and the surrounding rural areas. The Act gave all boroughs the right to apply for borough status. Berwick duly applied and received a new Royal Charter. This was considerably shorter than previous charters as the powers and duties of the new borough depended upon statute and not Royal Grants. One power reflecting old traditions was the power to appoint "local officers of dignity".
There was still some doubt about the status of Berwick and of Monmouthshire. As a result the Interpretation Act of 1978 was passed which provides that in legislation passed between 1967 and 1974, "a reference to England includes Berwick-upon-Tweed and Monmouthshire". Monmouthshire is now fully in Wales.
The creation of the new Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed left the status of the Borough Trustees and the recipient of the Borough share of Schedule lll in some doubt. Had there been a Parish Council created for either the ancient Borough of Berwick or for Berwick, Tweedmouth and Spittal, this would have been the natural successor to the Borough rights. However a new Parish Council was not created at the time the reorganisation of local government took place and the new Borough Council appropriated to itself the position of the old Berwick Council. The Freemen took advice which confirmed that the new Council had not the right to appoint the Clerk and Treasurer of the Trust. However the Council Trustees voted for the Borough officials and the Trustees passed a special resolution that the Borough Secretary be appointed Clerk to the Trustees. This implied that the Council accepted that the relevant provision in the 1926 Act, appointing the Town Clerk was now defunct since the office of Town Clerk no longer existed. The Freemen Trustees did not take the matter to arbitration assuming the good relationship between Freemen and Council would continue. The Borough Council altered the furniture and seating in the Council Chambers in the Town Hall. The old furniture was stored within the Town Hall.
The Local Government Act of 1972 gave rise to some technical questions as to the effect of the local government reforms on the rights of freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed, in that under that Act various local statutory provisions would lapse at the end of 1984. There were however specific provisions to save the rights of freemen under s248 and s262(9) and (12). The precise affects of these provisions was regarded as unclear, and it was thought that it might be desirable to take positive steps to clarify the position and to preserve the Acts of 1843 and 1926. In the end no steps were taken, because the Corporation Trustees indicated that they would not support any such steps to preserve the Acts.
The Estate was now in good condition and all the debts had been settled. There was a surplus from Schedule lll which was distributed between the Borough and the Guild Committee according to the arbitration. The Borough absorbed their share of the money into their funds and did not show it separately as either income or expenditure in their accounts. A number of Councillors did not know the Borough received money from the Estate. The Guild Committee held the money in the reserve fund. Payments were made from this fund for various local or Guild matters. These included subsidising Guild functions, a death grant to cover funeral cost of Freemen family members, assistance with work at the Parish Church and payments to several local charities. A payment was made each year to the Mayor to assist with entertainment following freedom ceremonies.
The Arbitration award of 1933 had allowed the expenses of the Freemen's Committee with relation to the Trust should be met from Schedule lV. Due to the poor financial state of the Trust these expenses had not been claimed. The Guild now agreed to claim these expenses and they were duly paid.
The 1972 local Government Act preserved the rights and status of Freemen. The future of the Berwick-upon-Tweed Acts of 1843 and 1926 were not specifically protected. The Act provided that all local statutory Provisions would cease to have effect in non metropolitan areas at the end of 1984 unless individual provisions were exempted by order or the Secretary of State postponed the date on which they ceased to have effect. The Department of the Environment asked local authorities to take action to renew statutory provisions by promoting a private bill. The Trustees were a corporate body existing independently of the Council. The Council received advice that if nothing was done the Estate money would revert to the Borough. The Guild agreed to work through the Freemen of England and employ Counsel if necessary. This was obtained through the Freemen of England which stated quite clearly that all freemen's rights were adequately protected by the Act. The Committee then obtained a Counsel's Opinion with specific regard to Berwick. This Opinion stated quite categorically that the view expressed by the Borough was not correct, and while the Berwick-upon-Tweed Acts would lapse in 1984 if not revived in the meantime, all the provisions so far as concerned freemen's rights would be expressively preserved. This would however create a large area of uncertainty particularly with regard to that part of the income of the Estate which at that time went to the Borough. The Committee agreed that the Freemen Trustees should propose that an Order in Council be obtained to preserve the Berwick-upon-Tweed Acts. The Borough Trustees requested a delay to allow the Borough to obtain a separate Opinion. This was agreed. The Chairman of the Guild expressed the opinion that a confrontation with the Borough should be avoided if possible over the Act as any costs would devolve on the Estate. The Borough obtained an opinion which broadly agreed with that obtained by the Guild. The Charity Commission were consulted and expressed that in their opinion the 1926 Act was not a local Statuary Provision within Section 262 (9) of the Local Government Act 1972, since it was set up by a Committee consisting of representatives of the Freemen and Local authority, which is not a local authority within subsection 13 of that scheme. This would mean that the freemen acts would remain in force after 1984. They stated that it was up to the Borough Council to satisfy the Charity Commission that these acts would not remain in force. There was no further action on this matter.
By March 1979 it had became clear that the Council took the view that it wanted to have a larger amount of the revenue derived from the properties the subject of the 1843 and 1926 Acts. These properties were valued in 1980 (on behalf of the Council) at a value of £2,000,000; the freemen considered that figure to be conservative. The Borough now proposed to divide the Estate with the greater part passing to the Borough. The Guild was not in principle against a division of the Estate which would stop the continuous problems with the new Borough. However they insisted that any division should be equitable with the provisions of the 1926 Act and arbitrations. The Borough offered the Guild £38,000 to relinquish their share of the Estate. This was refused. The Borough conceded that they had no rights in Schedules l and ll. Negotiations continued for some years with a view to any new arrangement and the Charity Commission was consulted. The Charity Commission stated that they would be unwilling to agree any alteration of the Freemen's Estate which gave a larger benefit to the Borough.
In 1981 for the first time a substantial payment was made to the Freemen's Committee as surplus from Schedule lll of the Trust. Until this time the money available to the General fund of the Guild had been limited. This had limited their ability to back their defence of freemen's rights as money was required for Counsel's opinions and other matters. Under the 1926 Act these sort of expense should have been chargeable to the Estate. This had been resisted by the Borough Chief Executive, although the grounds for this resistance was not clarified.
The Town Hall continued to be a large financial drain on the estate. In 1984 there was concern over the high leads balcony. The Trustees were awaiting a specialist report when a small piece of masonry fell off, which fortunately caused no damage. The repairs in this area cost £28,000. A survey of the general stonework was carried out. This showed serious deterioration of stonework within the tower with a total cost of £60,000. £20,000 was received in grants and the remainder was in excess of the annual income of the Trust. In view of this unexpected cost both the Borough and the Guild agreed to delay the payments due from the Schedule lll payments for 1985. The general financial situation of the Trust was satisfactory. The debts on the estate had been cleared 15 years previously. At that time the farm rents had been low as it had not been possible to improve the farms due to the financial situation. Considerable improvements had been carried out since that time and the new Estate Agent had instituted a programme of improvements to the farms with was paying dividends.
The dispute between the Council and the freemen had continued since the reorganisation of local government in 1974. The Council was receiving the non freemen share of the revenues from Schedule lll. This was not being shown separately in their accounts and no attempt was made to apply the money in Berwick in accordance with the provisions of the Acts. It was absorbed into the revenues for the new enlarged borough.
In 1985 a proposal was made on behalf of the freemen to the Council in effect proposing the partition of the estate in accordance with the value of the freemen's and the Council's respective interests. The response from the then Chief Executive of the Council made clear that the Council regarded such a division as inequitable and indicated that the Council would be recommended 'to undertake unilateral action to redress their grievance by the promotion of an amending local Act. It was abundantly clear from this letter and the content of the negotiation that any Bill to be promoted would be one which substantially removed or curtailed the existing beneficial rights of the freemen to the financial advantage of the Council, and newspaper reports appeared in February 1986 indicating that the Council had authorised the engagement of Parliamentary Agents as a preliminary to the promotion of a private Bill. In view of the potential attempt to diminish or remove the rights of freemen, the Freemen's Committee concluded that it would be wise for them to take the advice of Parliamentary Agents, which they did.
At this time a private Bill was promoted by the local authority at York to remove the property rights of the freemen in the strays in York. The Pasture Masters in York had little financial resources to oppose this Bill. However the Freemen of England and Wales provided financial assistance and the Berwick Guild donated £1,000 to the York Pasture Masters and $1,000 to the Freemen of England legal fund in order to support this action. The Guild also lobbied various members of Parliament.
It was noted that the Charity Commission had stated very clearly that they would not support any alteration to the terms of the Trust without the consent of both parties. In view of this it would not be possible to promote a Bill through the Trust. Any cost would be borne by the ratepayer with little chance of it being successful. Such expenditure would be outside the Borough Council guidelines and would involve a penalty for the Council. It is probable that the Borough auditors would query such expenditure in view of the contents of the correspondence.
The Trust realised £94,000 for the Hope Nursery site. The Borough had attempted to buy this at the District Valuer’s price of £25,000.
Berwick Borough now resolved to promote a bill to amend the Trust and Estate. The voting was 11 to 5 with many abstentions, the motion being carried largely because the ruling group voted en block for the motion. The Bill was to propose that the Estate should be divided between the Freemen and the Council, the Schedules l and ll lands going to the Freemen and Schedules lll and lV going to the Council, who would pay £75,000 to the Freemen as compensation. The Guild had proposed a division of the Estate on the basis of existing rights and this had been rejected by the Council.
The Guild Chairman had made a formal statement to the Trustees in reply to the Council's proposals including the following points;
(1) The Freemen's Estate belongs to the Freemen, not the Borough, as a whole. The rights of the Borough in it are limited to certain specific payments which are clearly defined in the 1843 and 1926 Acts. These payments cover specific Borough expenses, most of which are out of date- e.g. the cost of the Recorder, prison maintenance, the Mayor's salary etc.
(2) The Council claim that the Borough is losing money in running the Estate. If this were true it could easily be remedied by transferring the administration of the Estate out of the hands of Council officials to either the Freemen or an independent body.
(3) The cost incurred by the Council in promoting a private bill will be payable by ratepayers, cost of the Freemen in opposing the Bill will be payable out of the Estate. The total costs incurred by both sides in an opposed Bill were likely to be at least £100,000. The impact of the Estate's share of this would be likely to cripple the Estate financially for many years and so totally defeat the Council's object in promoting the Bill.
(4) If the Council went ahead with the Bill, it would be open to the Freemen to propose amendments to it which would have the effect of removing the Council's rights in the Estate altogether, including for instance their market rights in the High Street.
The Guild gave the Committee authority to take any necessary action by way of briefing Parliamentary Agents, Queen's Counsel or any other means to defend the rights and property of Berwick Freemen. The Council claimed the cost of administrating the Estate was £35,000. A new Mayor and Chief Executive were elected and appointed in 1988. The Guild Chairman briefed both with informal discussions regarding the Berwick Bill and the York Bill.
In 1989 the York Bill which included the reference to the York Strays was rejected by Parliament. The cost to York Council had been £100,000 and to the York Freemen £30,000. Because the whole bill was rejected York City Council had to start from scratch to formulate a bill excluding the references to the York Strays.
The Borough Trustees attempted to veto that part of the Freemen's expenses which related to Counsel's advice. This was an attempt to preclude the freemen claiming expenses in opposing the Berwick Borough Bill. The Guild agreed to take further Counsel's advice on this specific item. The advice when received was clear and unequivocal that the Freemen had the right to reclaim these costs. The Guild agreed that if the Council Trustees continued to oppose the payment of these costs the matter should be taken to arbitration. By this time the Reserve Fund of the Freemen's Committee was sufficient to meet any attempt to alter the 1926 Act against the wishes of the freemen.
The Council then proposed a meeting with an agenda to split the Estate between the Guild and a local Berwick Town Housing Corporation. They rejected the Freemen's expenses claim although these had been paid for many years. They also put in a highly inflated account for the administration of the Estate. Costs were obtained from several other comparable Estates, including some Freemen's estates. All were considerably less than the claim by Berwick Borough Council. Again the Guild took Counsel's opinion. His advice was while there was little doubt the Borough Council's claim was excessively high they may be able to juggle the figures to show these costs.
The position of the Borough Secretary as Clerk to the Trust caused some concern. As clerk to the Trust he was responsible for any correspondence. This was not shown to the Chairman/Vice Chairman and therefore the Guild had no knowledge of the contents. After some discussion the Chairman and Vice Chairman were given copies of some of these letters, but still could not influence their content. On several occasions the Guild Secretary wrote additional letters giving the Guild view on certain matters.
These matters came to a head in June 1989. For many years the Freemen's Committee had submitted expenses in accordance with the 1934 Arbitration award. These claims were met without question. These expenses had included those incurred in taking legal advice. The Clerk to the Trust, who was also the Borough Secretary and legally qualified as a solicitor, made a report to the Trustees advising that certain expenses from 1988 ought not to be met. This included charge for taking advice of Parliamentary Agents. At the same time the Borough proposed to increase their charge for administrating the Estate from £5,287 to £18,541. This was opposed by the Freemen Trustees. The Borough Council had been progressively increasing the cost of administration charged by the Council to the Trust. The Freemen took advice and made a claim for legal expenses in protecting their rights to the Trustees. This was rejected by the Borough officials. Advice was obtained from the Charity Commission by the Trust which confirmed the right of expenses of the Freemen's Committee in connection with the estate.
A quotation was obtained from a private company to cover the work of the Clerk and Treasurer. This was considerably less that that being charged by the Borough in 1988. The Freemen Trustees proposed in April 1994 that the firm be appointed clerk and treasurer. A decision on this was deferred to allow a report by the existing Clerk and Treasurer. The Freemen had taken a second Counsel's Opinion regarding the two items in question. This stated that legal expenses to protect the interest of the Freemen rights was a legal charge on the Estate although there was some doubt about whether this should be a charge on Schedules 3 or 4. The question of Borough charges would have to be settled by arbitration. The advice was that the Freemen Trustees should take action in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice against the Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (Freemen) Trustees and the Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council. This action was duly prepared.
By this time the freemen had obtained various Counsels’ Opinions from Mr.C.Sparrow, QC, and Mr.A.Walker, QC, as well as independent legal advice, all of which confirmed their position. These documents were made these available to the Borough Council and Borough Trustees. The Chief Executive of the Borough claimed to have a legal opinion which contradicted these opinions. However this was never made available to the Freemen. A letter from the Borough Council stated that if the Freemen took the matter to arbitration or court this would create such hostility that it would not be possible to achieve anything by negotiation. The Freemen offered to circulate the Councillors with a paper stating their position and the steps taken to confirm this position. The Council officials stated that this would be unprofessional.
The Freemen Trustees decided to ignore the threat and commenced proceedings against the Borough Trustees and the Council in the High Court. Before this went to Court a meeting of the Trustees was held without officials being present. The Guild Chairman went through the various points very clearly calling attention to the relevant passages in the 1926 Act and the various Counsel's Opinions, the Charities' Commission position and legal statements. He also pointed to the complete lack of any collaborated evidence for the Borough's position. Most of the Borough Trustees had not been Councillors when this dispute commenced. The Freemen Trustees agreed not to press the case to the High Court at that time and allow the Borough to consider their position. Although it took some time eventually the Borough agreed that the Guild had the right to claim from the Trustees for costs to protect their rights and this was confirmed in writing. A compromise was reached on the expenses charged by the Borough, based on the 1988 figure. The Freemen expenses were paid. The Freemen Trustees agreed not to press for the Borough officials to be replaced by a private firm. The total cost of the action by the Council was very high and had to be met by Council Tax payers. The Freemen's costs were met out of the Estate which resulted in a reduction in the surplus and therefore money paid to the Freemen's Reserve Fund and the Borough Council. There were still some items to be cleared up, but the relationship between the freemen and Borough Council remained calm from then until the Borough was dissolved in 2009.
Throughout this twenty year period the Freemen and their Trustees had a clear knowledge of the Estate and the various charters and Acts of Parliament. They were also aware through the Freemen of England and Wales of activity in other towns and cities in England and Wales. Their actions were based on this knowledge. The Council and their Trustees had a considerable turn over of Councillors and staff and therefore did not have the necessary knowledge available or the continuity which was available to the Freemen. It is not known why they pursued the course which they followed in spite of the information being supplied by the freemen. They may have been badly advised or assumed they could force action on the Guild which would result in a financial gain for the Borough Council. It was an expensive action for the Borough Council, but throughout this period they were drawing significant funds from Schedule lll surpluses which were not shown separately in their accounts.
The Trustees considered various options for disabled access to the Town Hall over a period of years. For various reasons each option was unacceptable. The Coat of Arms had been missing from above the front door of the Town Hall since the restoration work in 1949/50. Mr.Dick Reid of York was commissioned to make new armorial arms which were installed in 1999.
Following the discovery of archaeological finds of considerable importance at the vacant site at 21 Castle Terrace, the Trustees purchased the site in 1998 for retention as a site of archaeological and historical importance. The Guild contributed £1,000 towards this purchase. The Trust received grants, from English Heritage, the Sir James Knott Trust, the Hodgson Trust, the Guild and from an anonymous local benefactor. An initial dig was carried out and the site. This indicated that it was a church dating from about 1150 and burial ground. The site was probably abandoned after 1333 when the English captured Berwick. The site was then covered to preserve it until a proper survey could be carried out.
The Trustees bought back into the Estate Lilliestead Farm which had been sold to meet debts and the cost of restoring the Town Hall for £9,000 in 1951.
Following the survey of 1997, the Trustees decided that in view of the dangerous condition of the 6th. bell and the condition of the hanging straps of the other bells, use of the bells be stopped. The bells had not been swung for some considerable time due to the state of the hangings. It was considered that restoring the bells to be fully operational would be a suitable Millennium project. Prices were obtained and the grant situation explored. The bells were surveyed by Hayward Mills Associates of Nottingham in 1997. The Trustees successfully applied for a Millennium grant to help with the cost of restoring the bells.
The work was carried out by Hayward Mills Associates of Nottingham and the bells were removed in 1998 with a view to having them recast. While the bells were there the Trustees were notified that three of the bells at St.Thomas Church in Stourbridge were redundant and available. Two of them were of a similar age to the Berwick bells. The Trustees agreed to buy these bells and they were used to replace the Fenwick, Cuthbert and Elizabeth bells. New cast iron frames with new fittings were installed. The refurbished bells were tuned and hung in time to ring in the Millennium on New Years Eve 1999. The original Fenwick Bell was recast and hung stationary to be used for chiming as the Curfew Bell rung daily at 8 pm.
The tower of the Town Hall was surveyed in 1988 which recommended reinforcing the Tower and confirmed that it would be dangerous to swing the bells. The tower was re-surveyed in 1997. This showed the tower to be in reasonable condition with the requirement for a few local repairs and that it should be able to withstand the pealing of the bells assuming that the bells were rehung with a new frame tied into the structure of the tower.
The Millennium project for Berwick was part of 'Ringing in the Millennium'. This part of the Millennium project was intended to restore historic peals of bells throughout the Country in time for the Millennium. The Berwick project was classed as an excellent scheme of high priority. A special feature was that it was the only secular project which was part of Ringing in the Millennium. Berwick Town Hall is a listed building of great historical importance.
With the refurbishment of the bells in the Town Hall it was agreed by the Trust that, in addition to use by the Bell Ringers, the bells would be rung on specific occasions. To enable this to be carried out safely and without harm to the bells, the Town Hall Keeper was given instruction on the safe ringing of the bells. It was agreed that the bells would be rung by the Town Hall Keeper or the Bell Ringers on the following occasions;-
Induction of a new freemen Elizabeth or Trumpet Bell
Freemen Head Guild AGM on 14th. November or SGM Elizabeth Bell
Shrove Tuesday at 11 AM Cuthbert or Pancake Bell
Town Council Meetings William and Fenwick Bells
Town Council Committees Fenwick Bell
Death King James Bell
Either the death of a former Mayor, Councillor, Chairman of Member of Freemen's Committee.
Annual Meeting of Council William and Fenwick Bells
Midnight on New Year's Eve All Bells
Death of Sovereign King James Bell
Alderman Ceremony on conclusion Fenwick Bell
A formal lease was agreed for Conundrum Farm to allow the development of a cafe and diversification scheme. The land holdings in the estate were registered with Durham District Land Registrar.
A piece of masonry fell off one of the pillars on the top of the steps at the front of the Town Hall. A full survey of the building including the clock tower was undertaken to confirm it's structural integrity and a schedule drawn up to repair stonework. Redeemial work was required on the south elevation of the building. Further work was required on the front of the building. These repairs cost £65,000. The cost of maintaining the building was very high and funds limited. Thus consideration of a disabled access to the building and the computer aided survey were put on hold. An access audit was completed for the property in April, 2004.
Weatherburn's Charity provided a distribution of cash "between and among fifteen aged, sober respectable widows of Freemen of the Corporation of the Town of Berwick". This distribution was traditionally made at Christmas-time. The distribution was made by the Borough Council. In 2007 the investment in which the charity's income was accrued matured. The Borough wound up the Charity distributing the funds equally between the qualifying widows. This was agreed by the Guild of Freemen and the Charity Commission.
The Town Hall was an ancient monument, built in 1751. New legislation required public buildings to be provided with access for people with disabilities. This was discussed by the Trustees and various schemes were evolved over a period of years from 1995. These include the provision of an internal lift, an hydraulic lift at the north side of the outside stone steps, ramps, stair lifts and other possibilities. However as a Grade A historic building any modification had to be approved by English Heritage. A ramp had been provided between the annex in the front of the building to the Guild Hall.
Changes to agricultural subsidies came into effect from 1st. January, 2005 with a new single Farm Payment system which decoupled the subsidy from production. The single Farm payment was the property of the tenant and not the estate owner and therefore became a tradable asset. Tenants were able to keep the subsidy and give up a large part of their holdings. The land released was worth very little as it had no subsidy. The Trust Estate lost considerable sums on Camphill, Baldersbury Hill, Lilliestead and West Hope. It was several years before these lands returned to profitability. As a result of this and repairs to the Town Hall there were no surpluses from Schedule lll in 2005 and 2006.
An Eric Lomax made a claim that he had been discriminated against contrary to Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Trustees considered closing the building to the public. However it was decided to have a further examination of the possibility of achieving disabled access. An access report was commissioned in 2008. As a result a stair lift was provided on the side stair and a climber for the front steps. An induction loop and disabled toilet were installed.
Applications were made from Morrison's (ex Safeway) to enlarge their supermarket and from Edison Properties to develop a non food retail park west of Morrisons in 2005. These were subject to planning and there was a major public enquiry as there had been two other applications from supermarkets to develop in Berwick. An offer was made by Hudson Homes for 12.8 acres at West Hope for residential development in 2006. This area was already zoned for housing. The next year they applied to the Trust for an option on the remaining housing land in this area. The Bondington Society was investigating the site of the former nunnery north of Berwick in the Castle Terrace area. The Trustees co-operated with the Society in this investigation which showed an extensive range of buildings had existed. The refurbishment of the Guild Hall was completed and the Town Hall registered for marriages.
The Corporation Academy Foundation income had been fixed in 1843 at £450. By 2004 the amount of awards which could be made was small. It was administered by trustees elected by the Freemen, Borough and County Councils. Eventually the cost of administration would have matched the available grant. It was agreed with Berwick Borough Council and Northumberland County Council that the Freemen's Committee should take over responsibility for these awards and the agreement of the Charities Commission was obtained. The income to the Freemen's Committee would enable these grants to be enhanced.
Berwick Town Council.
In 2009 Local Government was again reformed. Berwick Borough was abolished and incorporated into a new Unitary Authority for Northumberland. During the run up to this reform Berwick along with FEW ensured that the rights of Freemen were not affected by the changes.
A Civic Parish and Town Council was set up in 2008 covering Berwick-upon-Tweed, Tweedmouth and Spittal. It assumed the name of Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council. The Trustees were concerned that these alterations should not effect the smooth running of the Trust and that the controversy after the 1972 Reform should not be repeated. The Chairman of the Trust at this time was the Chairman of the Guild. He prepared a paper which was circulated to the Guild, Trustees, Town Council, Berwick Borough Council, and the new Unitary Authority. This outlined the background to the Trust and proposed that the natural successors to the original Berwick Borough would be the Berwick Town Council. While the original Borough had been that area north of the Tweed, the new Berwick Town Council included Tweedmouth and Spittal. As these areas had been incorporated into the original Berwick Borough at the time of the 1835 Reform Acts, it was considered that the new Town Council area was the logical authority for the Trust. This paper was circulated to all the Local Authorities concerned and agreement was reached with the conclusions of the paper. The Charity Commission was informed of this agreement and concurred with the conclusion.
The new Unitary Authority had written to the Chairman stating that they would no longer be responsible for the cost of the Clerk and Treasurer. The Trustees therefore advertised the posts of Clerk and Treasurer to the Trust. The lowest tenders being received from the existing holders of these posts, they were appointed by the Trustees. The new costs were considerable less that that which had been charged by the former Berwick Borough Council.
In 2010 The Guild altered their rules of admission to allow daughters to take up the freedom. This resulted in a large number of admissions in 2010. This effectively increased the franchise of Freemen within Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The Freemen’s Estate is very important to Berwick. Prior to 1835 it provided income to freemen and widows and also provided the finance to the Guild by which the town was run. There have been two major conflicts between the Council and Guild since that period, prior to 1926 and from 1974 to 1994. Both these periods have resulted from the Council attempting to take over the freemen’s estate. In both cases a group of dedicated freemen have resisted these attempts backed by a far superior knowledge of the Freemen and the Estate.
Between 1934 and 1974 and after 1994 the two bodies have co-operated and worked well together. These are the two periods in which the Estate has flourished.
It should also be noted that had either of the attempts by the Council succeeded the estate would have passed out of local control and it’s assets passed to Northumberland Council in 2009.
If the new Town Council and the Guild work harmoniously together there is a lot to be gained for the town from both Council and Guild.
For the freemen the message is very clear. They must ensure that their traditions are maintained and ensure knowledge is passed on to be able to face any challenge in the future.
For the Council the message is equally clear. When the Trust works together assets and income will rise. With conflict assets and income will be lost and then will be less finance available for the town.