The Gild of Freemen of the City of York


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Freemen controlled the city until 1835 when the Municipal reform Act was passed. Freemen alone might vote in Parliamentary elections, be councillors, aldermen, Sheriffs or Lord Mayor. This Act preserved the rights and lands of the freemen but the city Council was in future to be elected from a wider body of voters. (Since then, two other pieces of legislation (the 1972 Local Government Act and the York City Bill of 1985) have sought to limit the rights of Freemen still further.)

It became necessary to found Gilds of Freemen in many cities. Berwick-upon-Tweed, Chester, Coventry, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Oxford are among many other cities where freemen still have rights and perform their duties. (The quite unnecessary 'u' in the word guild first appeared only two hundred and fifty years ago.)

The main objectives of the York Gild inaugurated in 1953 are:

(a) To do everything possible to enhance the good reputation of the City of York.

(b) To encourage and assist the Citizens and Freemen of York, to realise their public and civic responsibilities and to serve their City in every way which, individually and collectively, is open to them.

(c) With proper regard to the general public interest and without infringing the rights, duties and powers of the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, the City Council, the Magistrates and other Governing Authorities of York, to maintain and develop the rights and privileges of the Admitted Citizens and Freemen of York.

There are up to twenty-one members of the Court of the Gild of whom the seven junior officers and three of the assistants are nominated prior to the AGM where their election takes place. Officers serve for one year only, but may seek re-election, and assistants for three years.

They organise social functions connected with the history and life of York and liaise with the Gilds in other towns and on special occasions members of the Court wear their robes and insignia. They also have their own badge and tie or scarf.

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