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Historic ceremony of Norwich Freewomen

PUBLISHED: 09:20 20 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:59 02 July 2010

Proud freewomen and campaigners Susan Howes, left and Constance Adam after receiving their certificates at St Andrews Hall.

Proud freewomen and campaigners Susan Howes, left and Constance Adam after receiving their certificates at St Andrews Hall.

Kim Briscoe

More than 200 women proudly overturned centuries of discrimination yesterday as they were finally admitted as Norwich freewomen.

They had been barred from joining the ranks of their fathers and brothers, but a change in legislation in January meant women descended from Norwich freemen were finally legally entitled to claim to enter the group - which has been an exclusively male honour for 800 years.

More than 200 women proudly overturned centuries of discrimination yesterday as they were finally admitted as Norwich freewomen.

They had been barred from joining the ranks of their fathers and brothers, but a change in legislation in January meant women descended from Norwich freemen were finally legally entitled to claim to enter the group - which has been an exclusively male honour for 800 years.

With 212 women and 54 men applying to become a freewoman or freeman, two ceremonies had to be held at St Andrew's Hall.

Although the event was heralded as a momentous day for women, during the swearing in it become obvious that it was in fact a proud day for entire families.

Campaigner Connie Adam, 82, a Commonwealth veterans fencing champion from The Avenues in Norwich, said she was “over the moon” to have become the first freewoman of Norwich, because of her surname.

She said: “It's 10 years ago that I first stood with my placard outside City Hall. I had worried that I wouldn't live long enough to see this day.

“I'm very excited about it and more excited since I have seen the volume of people here today. I didn't expect such a big turnout.”

Another campaigner, Sue Howes, from North Walsham, said it was a very special day as her father watched her and her son and daughter join the freemen and freewomen.

Mrs Howes, 53, said: “I'm pleased we did it as a family and I'm overwhelmed by the number of people.

“The atmosphere has been brilliant and with a real sense of occasion.

“There were about 40 ladies who were in contact with me by email so I thought perhaps there would be 40 or 50 being sworn in, but the number who have come forward has been a real surprise.

“I would have given up if it hadn't been for Norman Lamb, my MP, because he's the one that kept me going when I nearly gave up.”

The changes come in with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, which states: “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.”

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew, who also attended the event, said: “This is a long-overdue change in legislation, which consigns this piece of discrimination to the dustbin of history.”

Lorna Vera Adcock, 79, from Matishall, was among the first to be sworn in, along with her son, daughter, four grandsons, her sister and niece.

Mrs Adcock, who had the right to become a freewoman through her father George William Mann, said: “It's long overdue. Years ago I went to the civic office to ask about it and the man there said to me: 'Madam, that day will never dawn'.

“I hope he's alive today to see this.”

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