I know many masonic members will have attended Freedom ‘ceremonies’ but for those that haven’t, I thought I’d tell you about my experience of this on 30th July.
If you wish to proceed within a Livery Company, you need to be admitted a Freeman of the City of London, mine is one of the most ancient, the Worshipful Company of Butchers, the seventh oldest City Livery Company, dating back to about 1314 a.d.
Once you have received the Freedom of the Company, you need to obtain the Freedom of the City of London. This involves two visits to the Chamberlain’s Court in Guildhall about a month apart, the first of which is an application for the freedom in which you present your livery freedom document, birth certificate, marriage certificate and a cheque for £100. Once your application is approved by the Court of Aldermen you get a letter inviting you to book the second appointment, which is for your ceremony of freedom admission.
I booked mine in for Noon on a Thursday because I wanted to have a celebration lunch afterwards with my wife and one of my daughters. On the day we arrived early as requested and spent a delightful half hour in the office next to the Chamberlain’s court talking to the Beadle, reading the declarations, looking at the artefacts on show and taking pictures with the sheep sculptures (yes, mention the Freedom to people and you’ll always be asked if that means you can drive sheep across London Bridge. The origin of this half-myth is that the12th Century stone London Bridge was paid for by a tax on wool and as a freeman gained exemption from tolls he would have this right)
We were then called in to meet Murray Craig, Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court and he ran us through what was to happen – basically you read aloud a declaration and sign the Declaration book and are then offered the ‘right hand of fellowship’ by him. The ceremony dates back to medieval times and the original craft guilds which trained the young and looked after the old – and later became liveries. Murray was very entertaining and
told us some interesting stories about previous freemen (including Morgan Freeman, Bob Geldorf, Fiona Bruce and some ordinary people with fascinating stories).
As well as my splendidly framed certificate I was given a red book called ‘The rules for life’ which includes 36 of them – most about doing your duty, doing good works, living by the right principles and letting your light shine, which chime well with the Worshipful Company of Butchers values! We had a chance to look at many more wonderful articles on display and read all about the origins of the ceremony and then it was time for the next person to be called so we headed off to CafeBelow, based in the atmospheric thousand year old crypt of St Mary le Bow in the City, it is a family business offering simple, high quality cooking throughout the day and just right for a great meal and a glass of champagne and a toast (Official Toast ‘to the Youngest Freeman’ – meaning newest) . Another myth you will be told about is the right of a freeman to be ‘drunk and disorderly in the City without fear of arrest’ but we did not try this out either!
However, I have booked my place to drive sheep over London Bridge later in the year.