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Ancient ceremony sees Norwich welcome its 1000th freeman

PUBLISHED: 19:19 09 March 2012

Descendants of the original freemen of Norwich are awarded the traditional honour at the Freemans Court in Norwich City Hall council chambers. Natasha Armes follows in her family footsteps to receive the title.
Photo by Simon Finlay

Descendants of the original freemen of Norwich are awarded the traditional honour at the Freemans Court in Norwich City Hall council chambers. Natasha Armes follows in her family footsteps to receive the title. Photo by Simon Finlay

Archant

A medieval tradition largely unchanged for 700 years was recreated today as Norwich welcomed its 1,000th freeman of the city.

Thirty-two men and women took part in the ancient ceremony at City Hall to accept the honour passed down through the generations.

Only direct descendants of freemen can apply to receive the title, which previously gave people trading rights not held by ordinary residents.

Nigel Back, chairman of the Freemen Committee, said: “Freemen don’t have the same rights and privileges we used to have, such as grazing rights.

“There’s very little area to graze your cattle and sheep. There’s a tiny triangle off Town Close Road, Ipswich Road and Newmarket Road.

“If you wanted to trade in the city you had to become a freeman. There was a small perk if you had to be hanged – you had the option to be hanged in a silk rope.

A law change two years ago also allowed women to become freemen.

Mr Back continued: “There about 1,000 freemen now. We’ve just tipped over 1,000 we reckon after today, of whom about 300 are lady freemen and that’s a change in the last two years.

“Today we are about half and half with men and women, which is just the way it should be.”

Michael Armes’s 18-year-old daughter, Natasha, received the honour today. He said: “I really enjoyed the ceremony. I became a freeman 25 years ago and I can’t recall too much of the day. It’s nice they have kept the tradition.”

Tim Murton, who works in the city council’s general admin support team, was one of four family members to become a freeman today.

The 43-year-old was joined by sister Wendy, brother Andrew and mum Margaret.

Mr Murton found connections to freemen across three generations on both his mother and father’s side while tracing his family history.

The Sprowston Road resident said: “It’s a connection with my relatives, most of which I never met.

“Most of the ceremony is kept as a surprise and they don’t let you in on too much.

“Taking part in a traditional ceremony that dates back years which is largely unchanged and steeped in history is great.”

People have to make a declaration to the lord mayor as part of the ceremony and Wendy Brighton, 50, of Thorpe St Andrew, said: “I thought it was lovely.

“I am not sure about the declaration about ‘being buxom to the mayor’ but being a lawyer I will look that one up and see what I’ve been declaring!”

Andrew Murton, 52, of Hellesdon added: “I didn’t know what to expect so it’s carrying on the family tradition.

“I’ve got three children and I would like to pass it on to them.”

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