There have been ten Presidents of the Association since it was founded, as the Freemen of England, in 1966, and this page will give you a short biography on each one.
Sadly, five out of the ten are deceased so their obituaries, where applicable, as they appeared in the Newsletter/Journal, have been reproduced here instead.
Pictures are captioned, just hold your mouse over them to read.
Harry Ward, Founder President, in office 1966 to 1981 (deceased)
Please see separate page for full details of our Founder President.
Col John F Kenyon OBE MC, (1921 ~ 2006), in office 1981 to 1990 (deceased)
These articles appeared in Journal 147, Hillary 2007
The view of a personal colleague and friend
I have known Colonel John since the early eighties – over twenty years. When we first met, I did not know what to expect of this ex-army Colonel, who was President of the Freemen of England. He had a formidable reputation for getting things done, for being less than patient with fools, and yet endearing himself to his team.
I discovered a charming and urbane gentleman, who had the knack of being able to see through the outward appearance right to the inner core. As are many army officers, he could judge colleagues and acquaintances alike with accuracy but with a benevolence unusual.
It was Colonel John who invited the first Court Leet of Freemen Burgesses – the Altrincham Court Leet – to join the Freemen of England as full members, because he recognised a similarity of purpose and an affinity of goals. He was also convinced, as was his great friend Charles Sparrow, the Association’s Honorary Counsellor, of the strength which comes of unity and a larger membership.
Colonel John followed our Founder President, Harry Ward, and added to the lustre and growing reputation of what is now known as the Freemen of England and Wales and is recognised by both Central and Local Government. It was Colonel John who was the motivating force in the Association’s fight for the preservation of the York Strays, taking the legal battle through the Courts, the House of Commons and eventually the House of Lords. The judgement in favour of the Freemen of England and the Gild of Freemen of the City of York prevented the York City Council from the compulsory purchase of the Gild’s lands and, perhaps, just as important, dashed the acquisitive aspirations of other avaricious councils who cast envious eyes upon Freemen’s property.
Without John Kenyon, both as President and Past President, FEW would have been toothless and without a soul; it would have lacked an approachable and benevolent leader and father-figure. As with so many others, I shall miss him and his counsel deeply. I count myself not only fortunate but also immensely honoured to have been able to call him my friend.
Richard Bishop, Past President
From the Daily Telegraph
Colonel John Kenyon, who has died aged 84, won an immediate MC as a mountain gunner in the Burma campaign during the critical battle of Kohima; some 35 years later he waged a successful campaign to restore his county council’s name to Shropshire instead of the government-approved Salop.
In 1944 Kenyon, a lieutenant, was serving with 5 (Bombay) Indian Mountain Battery, part of 25th Indian Mountain Regiment. On June 12th he was forward observation officer with a company of the 2nd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, which was mounting an attack near the village of Jessami, east of Kohima.
Advancing in thick mist to within 40 yards of the Japanese, they suddenly came under heavy machine-gun, rifle and grenade-discharger fire from enemy entrenched in well-protected bunkers. Kenyon quickly brought down neutralising fire, which allowed the leading infantry to consolidate without further casualties.
He then called down close supporting fire from two mountain batteries, which allowed his men to get within 20 yards of the bunkers before and led directly to their capture.
Pouring rain, thick mist and the jungle terrain severely limited observation but his coolness, determination, accuracy and prompt action during nine hours under continuous heavy fire provided valuable assistance to the infantry and saved many lives. He was awarded the MC.
John Frederick Kenyon was born on December 20th 1921 on the Pradoe estate near Oswestry, Shropshire. He was educated at Marlborough, and joined the Royal Artillery in 1941.
Kenyon was posted to 5 (Bombay) Indian Mountain Battery, part of 25th Indian Mountain Regiment in India. His unit, as part of the 7th Indian Division, was involved in intense fighting in Burma from 1943 to the end of the campaign. Within a month of going into action, Kenyon’s legs had swollen with ulcers, but a parcel from home containing a medication normally prescribed for pregnancy cured him.
He developed a lasting affection for his mules. One night during close quarter fighting in the Arakan, a mule was badly wounded close to his trench. He got out to dispatch it, then returned to find that the trench had been destroyed by a shell.
Having inflicted the first defeat on the Japanese in the Arakan, the 5th and 7th Indian Divisions – men, mules and guns – were then flown straight to Kohima without any rest. On operations, the 3.7-in pack howitzer (Kipling’s screw gun) was transported in eight rapidly assembled mule-borne loads. The ability of the mules to operate in conditions inaccessible to vehicle-transported guns was a war-winning factor.
After the war, Kenyon attended the Staff College at Camberley, then was posted to the Suez Canal Zone, Germany, London, and the Far East, where he was military adviser in the Far East Land Forces under General Sir Nigel Poett. In 1966 he was appointed to the Joint War Staff as GS01 at Headquarters, 1st British Corps, in Germany and appointed OBE. His last appointment was as defence attaché at the British Embassy in Brussels.
After retiring from the Army in 1973, to run the family estate at Pradoe, he was a keen supporter of the Animals in War Memorial in Park Lane which celebrates the great contribution made by Mountain Artillery mules.
A chairman of Freemen of England for some years, he was also a dogged letter-writer to The Daily Telegraph, picking up lapses in public figures and ticking off the Chancellor, Norman Lamont, for referring to “pees” (rather than pence) in his budget speech. In addition to his year-long campaign to save the good name of Shropshire county council, he was quick to rebut those who considered it inevitable that miles would be replaced by kilometres. He also recalled that his great-great grandfather was known as the greatest amateur coachman in the county after driving the 153 miles to London in 15 hours in 1825.
John Kenyon was married and divorced three times. His first marriage, in 1947, was to Jean Godfrey, with whom he had two sons. The second was to Margaret Franks (née Remington) and the third to Janet Jackson (née Maddicott).
William F Healey, (1929 ~ 2015), in office 1990 to 1996 (deceased)
Bill has very kindly provided this biography:
Bill was born in 1929 in Chester, within the city walls, and therefore a true Cestrian. The family were master printers for over a hundred years, and all freemen of the city.
He was educated at Chester City Grammar School, and on leaving joined the L.M.S and G.W. Railway as a trainee Goods Agent. Promotion was slow and National Service looming, so he volunteered and joined the Royal Horse Guards in 1947. Due to contacting Meningitis active service was limited, and he transferred to R.H.Q. and became clerk to the O.C. On his 21st birthday he took special leave, and at a Pentice Court in Chester became a Freeman of the City and a member of the Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers and Stationers Company.
He always considered his Freedom a great honour, and after six years colour service returned to Chester and worked for the prudential for five years before entering the banking world. His return gave him many opportunities to be involved with the Freemen and Guilds, and becoming Assistant Secretary. It was during this time he organised the Annual Dinner and first met Harry Ward who, in the early fifties, was talking about forming the Association, and so the seed was sown.
The Freedom has been his lifelong interest. In 1983 he became President of Chester Freemen and Guilds, in 1987 Deputy President of F.E.W. and, in 1990, President until 1996.
In 1984 he became Senior Alderman of the Company, a post he held for 24 years. This post is usually held for life but, recalling a conversation he had had with his father many years before, when his father asked “What do you think of the Guilds”? he replied “It’s all right, but all the old people are running it”. That was a conversation that was never forgotten and so, in 2008, he retired in favour of a younger person. It also prompted him over fifty-three years to constantly contribute to the Freemen and Guilds, and to encourage the involvement of the younger generation.
He has always believed in "Service not Self", to contribute, and scorns the social climbing. Freedom is unique, and an honour. During his Presidency he did much to promote the Association, and was pleased to introduce Coventry and Stafford which have both proved to be assets to the Association. He also spent much time with Stephen White in restructuring the finances, which needed attention following the costly legal actions taken during the 1980's, and day to day administration which had left much to be desired.
He travelled England and Wales extensively with his wife Rita, and made friends in many Guilds. His only regret is that age and health now prevent more active involvement, but he continues to keep contact with many of his old colleagues in the interests of the Freedom, wherever that may be.
It has been proved many times that where Guilds, and other organisations, become lazy and fragmented they herald the demise of those organisations, both local and national.
He believes that the Freemen of England and Wales are of paramount importance in the protection of our heritage and he sums it up in the words of The Guards Regimental motto, in which he was proud to serve;
“United we stand, divided we fall”
Richard J M Bishop BEd DACE, in office 1996 to 1999
Richard has very kindly provided this biography:
I was born in India in 1936. My father, and indeed to a large extent my mother, were working as Christian Missionaries for the Church Missionary Society in Hyderabad State. Dad felt the call to this during the Great War on the Western Front while in the trenches of the front line.
The family returned home in 1939 when he became Rector of Christ Church, Didsbury, and we all lived in West Didsbury, South Manchester.
After leaving school at 17, I continued at Manchester University and Didsbury College for teachers, before being called up for National Service. Having applied for almost all foreign postings, the army, in its infinite wisdom, sent me to the Royal Engineers in Ripon and Harrogate.
On demobilisation I started a career in education teaching ages 11 to 18 in a variety of schools in the North West and South Wales. One of my fondest memories is teaching adults in Altrincham the art of wine-making. Many a Thursday evening saw a procession of very cheerful folk wending their ways homeward clutching demi-johns and a variety of bottles.
As a result of years spent both professionally and vocationally in Altrincham, I became a founder member of the newly re-formed Altrincham Court Leet. Whilst serving the second of two terms as Provost (mayor in modern terms), I was invited by the President of the Freemen of England, Colonel John Kenyon, to join the Association. In FEW, under the tutelage and with the friendship of Colonel John and the Association Legal Counsel, Charles Sparrow, I served as Membership Secretary and then deputy President. After the election in 1996, I was privileged to be the FEW President until 1999.
Whilst on the Executive Committee, my wife Anne and I (mostly Anne I must admit) designed the FEW robe. It was based upon the gowns worn at the Court of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester in 1070 sitting with his Barons and Abbots. The print was discovered in an antique book purchased at Bonhams in London. At first the robes for FEW Freemen were tailored by a small company, specialising in ceremonial regalia in Stockport.
Two highlights stand out in my memories of years spent in the Association of FEW. Firstly, being invited to become a Freeman of London, and secondly, even more pleasurable, being invited to become an Honorary Member of the Gild of Freemen of the City of York. Both of these came as a result of working with Colonel John and Charles Sparrow on “The York Bill”, which successfully retained The Strays for the Freemen of York.
As an elderly father, grandfather and very recently a great-grandfather, I enjoy learning about the activities of the Freemen of England and Wales and keeping in touch with old friends.
Richard J. M. Bishop
Past President; 1996 - 1999
Alan Robson, in office 1999 to 2002
Alan has very kindly provided this biography:
I was born a Geordie Sagittarian in 1933 and educated during the war in the school of a mining village overlooking the River Tyne.
On leaving school at fifteen I resisted a big financial temptation of the time to go down a coal mine, and instead served an engineering apprenticeship with a large engineering company on the infamous Scotswood Road. My academic achievements at night school were such that I was plucked out of my greasy overalls and propelled (complete with my slide rule) into the company’s Drawing Office - just prior to my National Service in the Royal Air Force.
At that point in time I had paperwork to prove that I had learned to pilot gliders and light aircraft. Thus the RAF, in their infinite wisdom deemed it prudent to train me as an Armourer (specialising in bombs) and to drop me into their Bomb Disposal Squadron. This cured my constipation and spawned my warped sense of humour.
When my RAF demob calendar was fully crossed out, I returned to my engineering employer. There I was identified by their senior management as a “high flyer” and progressed through various managerial rolls culminating in being made a Director in 1980 when I was headhunted back into the same company. During my time away in the 70s I was the UK Engineering Sales Agent for several French and German companies.
My varied career included such adventures as managing an engineering company in Japan and overseeing the building of a large factory in India.
For the last ten years of my working life I was self-employed as a Specialist Engineering Design and Marketing Consultant
As a Newcastle upon Tyne Freeman I was deeply involved for a considerable number of years in the running of the old Gild of Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne as their Treasurer, Newsletter Editor and at one time Master. Currently, I am not as active as I used to be in local Freemen affairs, although I am still a Steward of the local Bakers and Brewers Company.
My introduction to the Freemen of England (as it was then) was through two of its Founder Members, Robin Walker and Alan Alderson. Eventually my enthusiasm had me catapulted into the office of FEW Membership Secretary and thus onto the Executive Committee. From 1999 to 2002 I was President of our Association.
Probably my main claim to fame, as an Executive Officer, was my long and relentless pursuit of updated local freelage information for the proposed reprint of Harry Ward’s book. I did however have a hand in other things; such as the design of the Freemen of England and Wales badge, arranging for the update of the President’s medallion and producing job descriptions for all the Executive Officers and the Wardens.
For many years I have also been a Freemason. I mention this because my Lodge is called “The Lodge of Free Burgesses”. It was founded in 1923, and right up to the year 2000 its membership was primarily restricted to Freemen of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne.
In recent years, prostate cancer and gout have been instrumental in somewhat curbing my activities and testing to the limit my sense of humour.
Gwen', my loving wife for over 60 years, recently lost her protracted battle with stomach cancer and died peacefully at home. Gwen' would have told you that I was a workaholic and that she had to constantly chase me to and from my hobbies, which included compulsory gardening and involuntary DIY. Today, with three children, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren, there is still plenty encouragement for my DIY skills and little time for my favourite pastime - long afternoon naps induced by the relentless TV adverts for funeral plans and monetary offers.
To summarise, a self made man of many parts - some now defunct and some still unidentified among the IKEA packaging.
Updated June 2016