Bernard Matthews stalwart joins Freemen elite

He rose up through the ranks at Bernard Matthews to become one of the leaders of agriculture in the country- and from Tuesday he as been given the formal right to herd sheep across London Bridge should he so choose.

Ted Wright, who lives in East Dereham village of Foxley, is being honoured for his outstanding achievements in the world of poultry by being made a Freeman of the City of London.

In doing so the current chairman of Red Tractor Farm Assurance Poultry Sector and father of three will be joining a tradition that goes back a millennia.

Mr Wright, will be joined by his family at the age-old induction ceremony in the city's Guildhall, said:

'I'm excited and nervous because I don't know exactly what will happen, but I feel like it's an achievement, coming from a Norfolk village and with my background in agriculture to be asked to join the higher echelons of society in London. It's a bit like Dick Whittington, really.'

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The 66-year-old started at the Bernard Matthews factory in Great Witchingham as a quality controller in 1965, and quickly moved into becoming factory manager.

By the 1990s he was overseeing the firm in Hungary and it was upon retirement seven years ago that he was asked to be chairman of the British Poultry Council.

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Here he held meetings, liaised with big figures in the industry and had to navigate the bird flu crisis, before last year moving on to be to Red Tractor, which covers everything from lamb to sugar beet and includes a membership of 78,000 farmers.

His long journey to becoming a Freeman of the city started three years ago at an industry event in London by the master of The Worshipful Company of Poulterers, a group founded in 1274 with a range of charitable links.

And it was after agreeing to use some of their charity-directed funds for an award aimed at young farmers that he was entered into the, a precursor to becoming a freeman.

While at a group meeting he recently met soldiers from the The 3rd battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment.

'They had only just come back from Iraq three days earlier,' he said, 'and it was fantastic to meet them. You realise they're just ordinary guys but extremely brave and it was a treat to talk to them.'

And it was having been through an interview process for which he had to study that he was finally accepted.

Under the prestigious and tradition-steeped surroundings of the Guildhall, Mr Wright will say an oath before being handed over an ornate scroll inscribed with golden lettering to confirm his position.

An once the ceremony is over, as well the right to herd sheep- strictly theoretical, Mr Wright added- among many privileges he will be able to visit other private halls of other liveries strictly closed off to members of the public.

And on Tuesday, alongside his wife and children, another important family member will also be present in the mind of Mr Wright.

'I was able to choose what day the ceremony took place, so I chose the day of my late mother Hilary's birthday. I think she would have been proud,' he added.

Established in 1274, the Worshipful Company of Poulters of London are one of many livery groups covering all aspects of industry, commerce and agriculture. Such groups are closely associated with the honouring of Freemen of the city. With a membership of 204, its role is to uphold the tradition London and play a full part in its activities, while supporting and developing poultry standards by providing scholarships and prizes for students in the trade. It also has a strong charitable focus, with strong ties to the Royal Anglian Regiment and the 36th Eastern Signals Regiment.

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