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Decade-long battle for 'freewoman of Norwich' almost over

PUBLISHED: 15:00 27 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:45 02 July 2010

Campaigner and fencing champion Connie Adams.

Campaigner and fencing champion Connie Adams.

Kim Briscoe

A decade ago she started the fight to allow women to take on a historic title and now a Norwich grandmother has spoken of her joy at learning it will finally be over in March.

A decade ago she started the fight to allow women to take on a historic title and now a Norwich grandmother has spoken of her joy at learning it will finally be over in March.

A ceremony is planned to be held on Friday, March 19, to admit men and, for the first time, women to become a Freeman or Freewoman of the city.

An outdated and historic rule only allowed the ancient honour to pass down from father to son, but now new legislation means that women are now eligible for admission to the City of Norwich Freemen.

Connie Adams started the campaign 10 years ago this month, when she stood on the steps of City Hall waving a placard and protesting against the inequality.

The 82-year-old Commonwealth vets fencing champion, from The Avenues, Norwich, is hoping to be among the women at ceremony and said: “I think it's fantastic. I started to protest because they said women can't do it and it was like waving a red flag to a bull. I'm a fencer so I thought I would take up the sword and fight them.”

The grandmother-of-four can lay claim to the title through her father Walter Burrowes. She said: “I was an only child so I knew it couldn't be passed on unless it could come to me.”

Although Mrs Adams started the fight, she became disillusioned when it failed to get through Parliament because the Iraq war took precedence and there was not enough time for it to be discussed before the summer recess.

She handed over the baton to Sue Howes, who campaigned with the help of North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

New legislation finally came into effect this month, stating that “where the son of a freeman of a city or town may claim to be admitted as a freeman of the place the daughter of a freeman may likewise claim to be so admitted”.

The Norwich Freemen - not to be confused with the granting of Honorary Freedom of the City - comprise an institution dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries and were originally connected with the development of the city government.

It continues today with eligibility for admission based on either a son of an existing Freeman or by service of apprenticeship with a Freeman.

Mike Quinton, chairman of the City of Norwich Freemen's Committee, said members would be meeting in the next few days to decide whether to refer to new female members as “freewomen” or “lady freemen” or something else.

He said: “We have no idea how many applications we will get, but I would imagine there would be a quite a lot and we may even have to stagger the ceremonies.”

Application forms are available from The Civic Office, Norwich City Council, City Hall, Norwich NR2 1NH. The phone number is 01603 212078, or the office can be emailed at civicoffice@norwich.gov.uk.

Forms should be submitted not later than Friday, March 5, with the admission fee of £50.

Are you battling against inequality? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk.

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