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Sheriff's Diary

PUBLISHED: 14:19 07 January 2011

Archant © 2010

Sheriff of Norwich Derek James reports on another week of engagements around the city.

OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ! It is time for all those men, and now women, who think they are entitled to the Freedom of the City of Norwich to step forward.

It has been fascinating for me, as Sheriff, to be part of several special Courts of Mayoralty, during the last few months when various people, including some from Australia, have been made Freemen and Freewomen.

You get a real sense of history at these ancient ceremonies and it is wonderful to think how much this still means to people – and to the city. This is part of our rich and colourful heritage.

Today Lord Mayor, Tom Dylan, has appointed Friday, March 18, Friday, July 22 and Friday October 28 to be the days when men and women will be admitted to the Freedom of the City. The history of the admission and rights of Freeman is enshrined in law and has its roots in medieval times.

Qualification to became a Freeman of the City is either by right of birth, that is the son or daughter of a Freeman, or by virtue of apprenticeship to a Freeman. Centuries of discrimination were overturned last year when more than 200 women were admitted as Norwich Freewoman in a historic version of colourful annual ceremony.

A change in legislation a year ago meant women descended from Norwich Freeman are now legally entitled to claim to enter the group – an exclusively male honour for almost 800 years.

Chairman of Norwich Freemen, Mike Quinton, said he was proud and pleased to be associated with this historic occasion and city council leader Steve Morphew said this was a long overdue change in legislation which consigned this piece of discrimination to the dustbin of history.

Qualification to become a Freeman of the City is either by right of birth, that is the son or daughter of a Freeman, or by virtue of apprenticeship to a Freeman. While most of the ancient rights and privileges have gone there are still some education and pension benefits linked to being a Freeman.

And you wouldn’t want some of the privileges re-introduced.

If you go back long enough Freeman could claim to be hanged, if their conduct warranted the death penalty, with a silken rope.

Further details and applications forms are available from Linda Lindores, the Civic Office, Norwich City Council, City Hall, Norwich, NR2 1NH. Tel 01603 212078 or email civicoffice@norwich.gov.uk. Applications should be made by people qualified for admittance before Friday, February 18, together with the admission fee of £50 per person.

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