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Changes to rules of admission as a Burgess of Stafford

Letter sent to as many burgesses as possible to validate the rule changes.

Stafford Freemen’s Guild
An Association of Burgesses of the
Borough of Stafford
with history dating back to 1100

5 Oak Close
Church Eaton
ST20 0AQ

01785 823067

Dear Sir or Madam,

Changes to the Qualifications for Admission as a Burgess of Stafford.

This is to notify you, as a Burgess of Stafford, that, in line with the provisions of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, changes are to be made to the qualifications for the Freedom of the Borough of Stafford. You are requested to give your approval, or otherwise, of the proposed changes. Your vote should be returned by 30th May 2013, as detailed below.

Throughout this document, and generally, the term Burgess is used in preference to the word Freeman. In Stafford, the existence of the right to an allotment equates to the original “Burgess Plot”. As ‘Burgess’ is not gender specific, it avoids inventing terms like ‘freewoman’, as well as removing confusion with Freemasons. The title “Freemen’s Guild” will be retained for the time being, although it is already open for lady burgesses to join.

The current qualifications are:

By Birth:

a)     To be the son or grandson of a burgess.

b)     The father or grandfather must have been sworn in before the candidate was born.

By Servitude:

a)     The candidate must submit documentary evidence of completing an indentured apprenticeship of at least three years. (Note: This was reduced from seven to five years, then to three.)

b)     This apprenticeship must have been undertaken within the Borough of Stafford.

These are to be changed to:

By Birth:

a)     To be the child or grandchild of a burgess.

b)     The parent or grandparent must have been sworn in as a burgess before the date of the candidate’s application.

c)     This applies in the case of legally adopted children.

By Servitude:

a)     The candidate must submit documentary evidence of completing an apprenticeship of at least three years.

b)     This apprenticeship must have been based in the Borough of Stafford.

c)     Evidence of practising the skills obtained during the apprenticeship within the Borough of Stafford for a period of at least two years must be submitted.


These rules will update the traditional methods of obtaining burgess status in the following ways.

By Birth:

·       It allows for females to be treated on an equal basis to male descendants. It allows for maternal succession. This was permitted via maternal grandfathers, but few such claims have ever been made. It also recognises the status of adopted children.

·       It also permits children who were born before their parent became a burgess to apply, recognising that nowadays the freedom has normally been claimed later in life.

By Servitude:

·     Due to the reduction in the number of apprenticeships on offer, in favour of training programmes leading to nationally recognised qualification; NVQ, C&G, Degree, Professional bodies, etc. this aspect needed to be re-phrased. It now allows for some training away from Stafford, e.g. at university or on site. However, to maintain the spirit of the tradition, it is necessary to ensure that the apprenticeship is a full period of training towards a skill or profession. The term ‘apprentice’, currently being used for short training courses, is not acceptable.

·     The other important aspect is the link with Stafford, so this must be established by verifying the subsequent practising, within the Borough, of the skills learnt during the training period.

Where there is any doubt about the acceptability of any credentials being submitted, the matter will be submitted by the Mayor’s Office to the Freemen’s Guild Council for arbitration. This is important if the basis of the qualification is not to be diluted.

Note 1: The existing rules allow for ladies to be admitted via apprenticeships. There have been a number sworn in already, so no changes are necessary for that aspect.

Note 2: There have been some recent situations where qualified people are unable to attend a court in person, typically due to illness or living abroad. Under these circumstances the candidate has been asked to sign a copy of the Oath and to appoint a proxy to attend the Court to collect the certificate. This process is to be validated for such exceptional circumstances if agreed in advance of the ceremony.

Please complete the enclosed slip and either:

·         return it by post to arrive at the above address by 30th May 2013.

·         hand it to a member of the Guild Council, whose names are on the web site.

·         hand it in to the Stafford Borough Council Offices, for the attention of the Mayor’s secretary.

·         send an e-mail to including your name and stating your acceptance or rejection of the proposals.

Thank you for your co-operation in this matter, which we hope will safeguard the future of the Stafford freedom for some years to come. This is a right granted under the act, so we hope you will respond. We require a simple majority of those voting and a minimum of 5% of those canvassed must reply for the vote to be valid. Results will be published on the Guild web site


We hope that those who have had little or no involvement with the burgesses since being sworn in will take this opportunity to establish contact. Please inform us if any freeman you know has not received this letter.


Should this communication be sent in error to a deceased burgess, please accept our apologies, but SBC do not update the Freemen’s Roll.


On behalf of the Guild Council,                                                   (Validated 19th March 2013)

John Edwards

Master of Stafford Freemen’s Guild



I, _____________________________, of ______________________________________________,

being a duly sworn Burgess of Stafford, cast my vote on the proposed changes as follows:

I accept the proposed changes


I reject the proposed changes


(Insert X to vote)


Dated: ________________________            Signed ______________________________

Please add e-mail address if available: ______________________________________________


Original submission to the Borough Council

 Text Box: 5 Oak Close
Church Eaton
ST20 0AQ
01785 823067
20th November 2011

Stafford Borough Council

Civic Centre



For the attention of Mr A. Welch

Head of Law and Administration


Alteration of Rules for the Admission as a Burgess of the Borough of Stafford.

In accordance with Chapter 5 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

Dear Sir,

We are required by the above act to bring the rules of admission into line with the sex discrimination act and to update various definitions which have become out of date.

We have had a sub-committee of the Guild Council looking at the implications of this act for the Freedom as it concerns Stafford.

The attached comments and proposals represent our approach to the task and this initial draft will, in due course, form the basis of a “Qualifying Resolution”, which is required to initiate the process of change. If accepted by a ballot of known burgesses the Secretary of State can be asked to approve the changes.

These proposals have been approved by the Stafford Guild Council, but not drafted into a formal resolution; however I thought it courteous to inform you of our intentions.

If you have any comments about the content or the process of effecting these changes, they would be appreciated.


John Edwards

Master of Stafford Freemen’s Guild

Copied to:

Mr I. Thompson, Chief Executive SBC

The Worshipful the Mayor of Stafford

Mr A. Fallows, President of the Freemen of England and Wales.

Stafford Guild Council Members

Alteration of Rules for the Admission as a Burgess of the Borough of Stafford.

In accordance with Chapter 5 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

Stafford Freemen’s Guild, as the representative body of the Burgesses of Stafford, wishes to make a number of proposals for Stafford Borough Council to update the rules for admission as a Burgess of the Borough. The administration and the confirmation of the qualification, as well as the responsibility of arranging the appropriate ceremonies, remain with the Mayor and executives of Stafford Borough Council.

This legislation requires and permits the rules to be changed by local consultation to reflect the current needs and responsibilities of the various locations. This came into force when the act received royal assent in June 2010 and we now believe it is an appropriate time to introduce the changes.


Throughout England and Wales, many towns and cities have varying qualifications for the right to be sworn in as a Freeman, or Burgess. In Stafford there are now only two methods: by Heredity, or by Servitude. Purchased and Gifted freedoms no longer exist here.

The matter of “Honorary Freedoms” granted by the Borough to eminent bodies or individuals is outside the scope of this part of the act. The burgesses have no say in the selection or appointment of such people, although it would be nice to be informed, because many people are unaware of the difference.

In Stafford heredity has been via the father or grandfather of the applicant. Also, it has only been open to sons or grandsons, born after their father or grandfather became a freeman. As dates of swearing in ceremonies are arbitrary and not all sons take up their right to become freemen, this has unjustly disenfranchised a number of people. It also goes against the sex discrimination act in preventing female applicants by heredity.
Female entry by servitude has been available for some time.

In the light of the virtual demise of the traditional “indentured apprentice” schemes it is also necessary to revise the qualifications for entry by servitude.  This must be done without undermining the historical reasons for this method of admission.

Objectives of these proposals.:

¨     To update the spirit and the standard of the qualification via servitude to reflect current circumstances.

¨     To remove the sex discrimination aspects from the hereditary qualification

¨     To remove the injustices caused to descendants by the date of swearing in of a burgess.

¨     To maintain the close relationship of the burgesses with the Borough of Stafford.

¨     To comply with the law and spirit of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.



The term “Burgess” shall be used in preference to “Freeman”, when referring to people sworn in at a court. This has the advantage of being non gender specific and avoids such unpleasant terms as “Freewomen”. It also removes the unfortunate confusion with Freemasons.

The term Freeman will still be used in connection with existing and historical aspects such as the Freeman’s Oath, the Freemen’s Allotments and the Freemen’s Guild.

The existing title of the “Burgesses Sergeant” shall remain as at present, however the appointment should be made, or approved by the Freemen’s Guild as the Burgesses’ representatives.


1.             That the terms son and grandson be replaced respectively with the words child and grandchild.

2.             That the terms father and grandfather be replaced respectively with the words parent and grandparent. 

3.             That the application for burgess status should relate to the status of the parent or grandparent at the time of application, not at the time of the birth of the applicant. 

4.             That there should be no retrospective claims for female heredity before the current act. (This would mean that daughters or granddaughters of current, or deceased, burgesses would be eligible, but not claims that “if the act had existed earlier a mother or grandmother could have been sworn in”.)

The definitions of parent and grandparent shall apply equally to legally adopted children and to natural progeny.

Whether the applicant has to be born in Stafford Borough has never been specified and it is not suggested that that situation should change.

The requirement for a burgess to carry out his trade entirely within  the borough has long disappeared and will be ignored.


This qualification has always been, and should remain, linked to the demonstration of a commitment to a trade or profession, undertaken to a high level of competence and based principally within the Borough of Stafford.

This will include anyone who has undertaken an indentured apprenticeship of three years or more based within the borough. It is accepted that some of the training may be outside the borough, but the bulk of the practical activity should be undertaken in Stafford.

For example: someone undertaking a graduate apprenticeship, spent mainly away from the town, would be expected to show that at least three years had been spent within the borough applying the knowledge gained.

The qualification level for the majority of skills would be based on the N.V.Q level 3 scheme or its successors.  This would be followed by a minimum of two years implementing the knowledge gained within the Borough.

Specialised qualifications leading to corporate membership of an appropriate professional body would also qualify, provided the applicant can show evidence of practical working in Stafford.

As examples:

¨     Someone training as a Farrier would be working under instruction for at least three years to achieve membership of the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

¨     An Engineer receiving training in Stafford would qualify on attaining corporate membership of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, after the required period of practical work.

¨     A Plummer or Electrician would be required to show the implementation of the necessary training within the borough for at least three years.

An academic qualification alone is not sufficient qualification.

The actual levels of attainment must be under constant review, as nowadays the systems are constantly changing. However, the qualification attained is unlikely to take less than three years.

Because many current certificates give little information about the actual subjects studied, or the depth and content of the modules that make up the course; supplementary evidence would normally be required. This would take the form of a letter from an employer detailing the work undertaken, or in the case of someone self employed, evidence of work done.

It is proposed that, in the initial stages of this process, as the rules are no longer clear cut, the burgesses’ representatives would be involved in the assessment of an applicant’s evidence for entry by servitude.

The heredity rules are clearly defined and can be administered by clerical staff subject to the necessary evidence.


These proposals will be submitted as a formal “Qualifying Resolution”, as required by the Act, when they have been approved by the Guild Council of the Stafford Freemen’s Guild and vetted by legal authorities of the Freemen of England and Wales. After that, the Borough Council is required to conduct a ballot of known burgesses.

As the Stafford Burgesses Roll is not kept up to date, the Freemen’s Guild will happily co-operate in providing what information we have on current contact details. Neither we, nor presumably the Council, wish to cause distress by sending papers to deceased burgesses.

We suggest that we have initial discussions with the Council’s Legal Department and possibly hold an Open Meeting for any burgesses we may have missed to be apprised of the situation.

We hope to make some progress in this in time for our AGM in October in case constitutional changes are required.

We will be in touch shortly to discuss the way forward and assure you of our co-operation in amending these rules.

20th November 2011


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