History of the Gild


Around AD 92, Lincoln was the Roman Colonia of Lindum.  By AD 941 it was a Danish Borough annexed to King Edmund, and in 1086 it was recorded as a Domesday City.

The exact origins of the system of Freemen have never been discovered.  They are known to have existed in Anglo-Saxon times and it is believed it may have started earlier during the Roman period.  With the Scandinavian influence, the Burgesses (later to be called Freemen) of the Borough were the only inhabitants of the town who were of “free” status.  They usually owned dwellings in these places and were permitted (an in many cases obliged) to bear arms for the defence of their towns.

In the twelfth century, an important clause in a writ of Henry II declared; “I confirm also to them that if any remain in my City of Lincoln for a year and a day without challenge from any claimant and pay the custom of the City and the citizens can show according to the laws and customs of the City that a claimant was living in England and did not challenge him, thence-forward as heretofor, he shall remain peacefully in the City of Lincoln as my citizen”.

This acknowledged a way of acquiring the Freedom of the City, but was later replaced by more strictly defined methods.  As in the majority of other towns, many of Lincoln’s Freemen were originally members of the old trade and craft Gilds that had both an industrial and spiritual role.  They had a monopoly of trade in the City, but their authority was badly shaken by the Civil War and although attempts were made to resume their functions, they never really recovered and by the middle of the eighteenth century, the majority of them had disappeared.

Rights and Privileges

The freedom of the City was considered a very important privilege and indeed essential if an inhabitant was thinking of trading or holding Civic office in the City.  These privileges were protected by various Royal and Local Charters granted to the City over the centuries.  Only Freemen were permitted to vote and trade, and their duties included the administration of civic and criminal justice, supervision of the standard and training apprentices, the maintenance of the quality and the price of goods, the upkeep of the roads, streets, rivers and bridges, the building of schools, the care of the sick and poor, and provide troops for the Monarch when required.  In fact, up to 1835, they were responsible for all civic duties now performed by Central and Local Government.  In return, they were eligible to participate in several privileges and property rights, could be admitted to civic office, obtain leases of corporate property, enjoy rights of pasture and use of common land, and were exempt from tolls.  After the Municipal Corporation Act of 1935, Freemen were no longer part of Local Government.  Until then, the civic constitution still clung to the old medieval concept of a self-regulating and protective community.  This system had definite advantages in a static society, but with the Reform movement of the early 1800’s, their days were numbered.

Changing Times

Over the years the rights of Freemen have been seriously jeopardised.  Illegal encroachments have been made on our lands and estates, and monies which have arisen from the sale of our lands have been withheld.  In 1851, the Great Northern Railway Act and the Midland Railway Extension Act brought about further extinguishment of certain rights of the Freemen of Lincoln by the compulsory purchase of large amounts of common land.  By an Order of the Chancery dated 12th March 1853, a board of Trustees was set up to safeguard and administer our funds and to protect the rights of the Freemen in general.  The first of those funds is known as the Senior Freemans Fund.

The Lincoln City Commons Act of 1870 extinguished rights in respect of Monks Leys Common and in consideration, a perpetual sum of £200 was to be paid.  The Holmes Common was also sold and these monies were invested to set up The Freeman’s Committee Fund, now known as The Junior Freemans Fund.

By virtue of the Lincoln Corporation Act of 1915, the Freemen received further compensation as a consequence of the extinguishment of their remaining rights over common land and a further fund was set up known as The Senior Freemen’s 1915 Fund.  The two senior funds have since amalgamated.

The incomes from these funds are distributed annually to Freemen and Freemen’s widows, who must be resident within the City.  They can only be a recipient of an annuity from one fund.  These funds are administered by eight Trustees, seven of whom must be Freemen and one appointed annually by the City Council.  The Trustees appoint one of their members to be Clerk and that person is responsible to the Charity Commission for the administration of funds.

The Modern Gild

Further responsibility of the Trustees is the admission of new Freemen.  Today in the City of Lincoln, Freemen are only admitted (invested) by being the son or daughter of a Freeman, and as such, they become A Freeman of the City of Lincoln.  The Trustees and the Civic Manager are responsible for organising the Investitures Ceremony, which is carried out by the Mayor of the City.  Applications for admission are made to the Clerk to the Freemen or the Civic Manager, and they arrange with the Mayor to conduct an Investiture Ceremony at the Guildhall.  The Trustees also have a right to propose and invest an Honorary Freemen.  Honorary Freemen are usually persons deemed to have brought credit to the City or have performed beneficial services to the Freemen.  The Civic Manager is responsible for keeping a record of all persons admitted as Freemen of the City.

Having been invested, new Freemen are eligible to join the City of Lincoln Freemen’s Gild.  The first annual report of the City of Lincoln Freemen’s Gild of January 1894 stated that the Gild was revived in 1893, but no earlier records survive.  Unfortunately the Gild ceased to operate within a few years, but it was again revived in 1971 and meetings and social functions were held until 1983, when it again closed in all but name until 1998, when with the interest in the Freedom increasing, the Gild again revived.  With the daughters of Freemen being invested from 1999, the Gild has gone from strength to strength and members currently enjoy various social functions throughout the year, as well as regular Gild meetings.

The Gild today is mainly the social and charitable side of the Lincoln Freemen’s organisation.  The object of the Gild is to do everything possible to enhance the good reputation of the City and to encourage and assist the citizens and Freemen of Lincoln to realise their public and civic responsibilities and to serve their City in any way, individually or collectively.

Freemen have a proud heritage of service to their ancient boroughs and they still have an important part to play in the life of their place of origin.  They have all sworn an oath of allegiance to the Queen and their place of birth, and through personal contact (either in their own town or elsewhere) Freemen can help to maintain the history, law, and customs of our country.