Anthony Lea moved to Shrewsbury and discovered a connection to the Gild of Freemen of Shrewsbury via his ancestors, which led to him being awarded a Certificate of Admission. Find out if you could also be eligible to join the Gild!
Anthony Lea and his wife moved to Shrewsbury a few years ago, and were surprised to learn from his sister of a connection to The Gild of Freemen of Shrewsbury.
They discovered they had an ancestor who lived near West Felton in the 1600s-1700s, who was a Freeman - with a big of digging, Anthony realised the organisation still exists and was even more surprised to learn that due to his ancestral connection, he was himself eligible for admission!
He was sworn in on October 12, 2018 at Shrewsbury Castle, in front of other Freemen and the Mayor, along with his son, who lives in Hampshire, and his sister; all were awarded Certificate of Admission to The Gild of Freeman of Shrewsbury.
Anthony says: "We were suitably robed and swore the oath agreeing to uphold the constitution of the Gild, to protect the Mayor and the town of Shrewsbury and if called upon, join with other Freemen across the land to protect the Queen."
The Gild of Freeman is small in Shrewsbury but Anthony is sure there must be others who have lived in the environs for generations and may be eligible but are unaware.
"It's not an arduous task," he says. "There are social events throughout the year plus a few ceremonies where we wear robes and carry ancient axes through the streets accompanying the Mayor. We also meet with other Gilds across the country."
Earlier this year, they welcomed a gentleman from the United States of America into the Gild: "He'd researched his ancestry and found, as I had, that his forebears were Freemen. He stayed in Shrewsbury and like me, swore the oath. I'm not sure how quickly he could get back here if the town or even the Queen, needed protecting!"
Pictured: Mayor of Shrewsbury Elisabeth Roberts and Town Clerk Helen Ball at the swearing in of Shrewsbury Freemen at Shrewsbury Castle on July 22, 2022.
To find out more about the history of The Gild, and if you might be eligible to join, visit the website HERE
The Gild website gives an excellent account of how the land-owning Burgesses were a powerful force in Shrewsbury, until the Act of Parliament in the 19th Century did away with so-called 'Rotten Boroughs'. They had onerous duties and responsibilities as well as some privileges and were the principal inhabitants of the town.
The title 'Freemen' was introduced, to differentiate between rate-paying male citizens of the town and the pre-1835 Burgessess. It is granted to the male descendents of Shrewsbury's Burgesses dating back to before the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066. The Gild of Freemen was formed in 1901. Members are entitled to wear a gown bearing the Gild badge, which reads 'Seal of the Free Burgesses of the Town of Shrewsbury instituted in the year 1425'.
The current Patrons are The Hon. Charles G.O Bridgeman, of Leaton Knolls and Sir Michael Leighton Bart of Leighton Hall. In effect, all Shrewsbury Freemen are left with today are Pasturage rights, which pre 1845 Burgesses had been granted by Royal Charter. This entitles them to graze their livestock on the common lands of town (e.g. The Quarry and Kingsland); however, none have livestock!
It is estimated there are 300 sworn Hereditary Freeman, but not all live in Shrewsbury. Some 130 are members of the Gild. Women have been able to become sworn Freemen since 2009. Angela Robinson became the first ever lady to be Chair of the Gild Court in Shrewsbury in 2016.
Successive Mayors, together with the officials of the Town Council, have welcomed the involvement of the Freemen in civic ceremonies and parades. The Gild has also re-established its hereditary position as the Mayor's guardians, escorting him or her armed with ceremonial halberds - a two-handed battle-axe and pike mounted on a handle.