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Freemen's Terminology

A question was raised at the Open Forum at the 2012 AGM as to what was the difference between a Freeman and a Burgess. A discussion followed, and various opinions put forward - all perfectly legitimate, but for posterity Alan Shelley, Officer without Portfolio, has offered us this paper.

Thereafter follows a Glossary of Terms used in connection with the freedom for easy reference. This will be added to from time to time as found to be necessary.
We are, once again, indebted to Alan for his contribution.
Burgess or Freeman
Is there a difference?
Some confusion arises out of the use of these two expressions. The terms can be considered as synonymous. Historically a burgess dates back from Saxon times when its meaning referred to a citizen (burgher) free of the borough. In later years he/she may be simply referred to as a freeman.
A burgess was the term given to a recognised citizen usually living in a burgage (tenements normally each of a similar size and facing onto a street). The properties were copyhold and for which the burgess paid his dues and did certain duties. As a citizen he would have given his oath to support the borough and its officers and in return he was a privileged member of the community, enjoying the protection and freedom to work and trade within the town. Hence we will often see the term ‘free-burgess’.
As the years have gone by and populations have increased the tight-knit burgage system has given way to freemen becoming property holders or as tenants outside of the burgages but remaining within the overall town boundaries. Hence, the broader term of ‘freeman’ has become more applicable.
Of course, ‘freeman’ has a wider application, in as much that it may also refer to members made ‘free’ of independent gilds formed within the borough. Such membership is of little value without the freedom of the borough. This is the principal feature. A borough freeman would normally be required to gain membership (freedom) of a trade or craft gild and to whose company an additional oath would have been given. Normally in the past, an apprentice would be entered into a gild register, and on completion (and maturity) the individual would be eligible from the gild to be admitted (after taking the oath) to borough freedom.*
Freedom of London is now, following the amendments resulting from the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act, the only place where it is possible to purchase borough freedom. Freemen take an oath to support the officers of the City and for which they are recognised as citizens.
Liverymen, as citizens, take an oath to support their worshipful company and thereby are privileged with the powers to vote for the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs.
Other than the freedom of the boroughs and the trade and craft companies there are associations such as the ‘free-miners’, freemasons etc. These emanate from fraternal and local customs with social and religious origins.
In Conclusion: if an admission to freedom has been conducted under oath and by a proper borough authority, an individual entitled a freeman or a free burgess should be considered technically in terms as being one and the same. It may be necessary to say that any other term, such as ‘associate freeman’ is irrelevant and has no recognition.
Alan Shelley, Officer Without Portfolio, 4th October 2012
For a complete explanation and history of Freedom, please refer to my papers on the FEW Website –
No. 17) ‘Freedom and Privilege’ and No. 18) ‘The Gilds and the Craft Companies’ at
* Procedures between gilds and towns may vary, but the principal subject is that of Borough Freedom.
Freeman by Any Other Name (Liberi homines)
GLOSSARY of terms associated with Freemen
Freedom (or privilege) is the subject of rights enjoyed by entitlement based upon old precedents, liberties and customs. The word ‘freeman’ was not used before the fourteenth century.
Alderman          Senior freeman, town magistrate, warden of a gild
Bailiff               In late Middle Ages sometimes chief officer of a town (junior officer of Sheriff)
Burgess            Free citizen of the borough/ burgher or MP in Parliament
Burghmote        Synonymous with common council
Chamberlain      Principal financial officer of town; alternatively called steward
Chapman          Trader or dealer in various commodities
Common Council The main consultative and legislation body of a town, elected by the freemen
Commoning       Freedom over land with common rights
Cordwainer        Master craftsman dressing leather after it has been tanned
Corviser            Master Shoemaker
Court Baron       Manorial court attended by tenants of a manor with jurisdiction in civil actions
Court Leet         Manorial court with some criminal jurisdiction. Most importance in towns without charters of incorporation
Engrosser         Someone who buys up a commodity before it is brought to market – a Forestaller or Regrator
Fee farm           Perpetual rent to the Crown or its assigns, usually associated with royal grant of borough status
Freeman           Admitted to freedom of a town and able to exercise political and trading rights
Gildsman          Master of craft and trade – derived from the 12th century origins from religious fraternities
Gild Merchant    Nominally a company of merchants; but in towns before corporation it functioned as a quasi-corporation in control of the town
Incorporation     A royal grant to a borough granting it continuous corporate existence in law
Jurat                 A sworn in jury member/officer of a Court Leet.
Liveryman         Gildsman linked to crafts and trades and includes Gild of Watermen and Lightermen and a Fraternity of Parish Clerks
Mayor               Principal of a town; sometimes head of a craft company
Mystery            A craft company
Pasture master Freeman appointed to manage common pasture
Pentice court     Held for the admittance of new freemen. May also deal with matters concerning debt or trespass and if not resolved such cases were dealt with by a Passage court
Piepowder Court            Town court with summary jurisdiction over market and trading cases
Port                  Old English term for a town or harbour (Portman = townsman)
Portmote           In some towns synonymous with common council; elsewhere the local court of civil actions
Portreeve          Mayor
Raffman            Dealer in foreign timber
Recorder           Principal legal officer in a town, often a barrister
Reeve               A foreman and a minor legal officer
Scot and lot       Local town taxes
Sheriff               Originally the king’s principal agent in a shire; also an officer of a borough with county status; by the 16th century mainly exercising routine legal or judicious duties. Presiding officer at elections to Parliament
Steward            Judicial, or more often financial officer of a town, generally a senior magistrate
Wardmote         A meeting or court of a city ward usually held by an alderman
Wool chapman Dealer in wool
Free Miner         Born in the hundred of St Briavels in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with rights secured under the Dean Forest Mines Act of 1838.
Free Warrener   Holding a franchise from the Crown, with rights under Forest Law.
At Haverfordwest – Freemen’s rights are secured by the Portfield Enclosure and Allotment Act of 1838.
At Godmanchester/Huntingdon there are Grasshirers, a Pinder concerned with stray animals, and a
                        Hayward in charge of fences and enclosures.
At Newcastle upon Tyne there are Hostmen who acted as middlemen with the supplies of coal. It is a group within the Company of Merchant Adventurers of Newcastle. The Hostmen controlled the ‘keels’ (keelmen) the large boats transporting the coal.
A Franklin         Reference has been made to a social class of ‘freeholder’ in the Middle Ages who was free of duties to any lord or master – possibly ‘freeborn’ (francus or Frank being a reference to a freeman. NB This term is unlikely to be applied to a borough freeman or to a free burgess.
Alan Shelley, Officer Without Portfolio, 8th October 2012
The Ancient Trades and Mysteries
A List of Historical Occupations and Associate Terms
This is a very brief and simple description of the early ‘free’ activities and their applications. It comprehensively covers most occupations but will inevitably have limitations and some activities may be described differently by changes in dialect. Many additional occupational terms (not included) have arisen following the mechanised practices of the Industrial Revolution.
Alnagar             Ulnager an officer who inspected and measured cloth and affixed a seal
Apothecaries     Practitioners of medicine
Armourers         Makers of armour
Bakers              Makers of bread, cakes and confectionery
Barbers             Skilled in the uses of a razor, they let blood, practiced surgery and dentistry
                        Generally known as the Barber-Surgeons from the Middle Ages
Basketmakers   Weavers of baskets and chair seats
Beadle              Officer of the parish to keep order and the town crier
Beagle              Officer of the law (policeman)
Blacksmiths      Makers of objects from ferrous metal – tools, agricultural implements, cooking utensils and weapons (they were also tooth-drawers, anchor-makers, spurriers, clockmakers and gunsmiths
Bladesmith        Sword and knife/weapon maker
Boothman         Corn Merchant
Bowyers            Originally the makers of the ‘Longbow’
Brasiers            Workers in brass
Brewers            Brewers of ale or beer
Broderers          Embroiderers of cloth and clothing
Butchers           Slaughterers, prepares and sellers of meat
Cappers            Capmakers sometimes associated with the Feltmakers
Carmen             Originally the carriers of goods. They were historically responsible for traffic
Carpenters        Initially responsible for the construction of all buildings
Cartwright          Maker of carts and wagons
Catchpole          Sheriff’s officer or sergeant/bailiff who makes arrests for debt
Clockmakers     Makers of clockworks and watches. Originally a part of the Blacksmiths gild before breaking away into their own trade
Clogger             Maker of wooden shoes - clogs
Clothworkers     Association of craftworkers engaged in clothworking – finishing and dealing in woollen cloth
Coachmakers and Coach-Harness Makers – makers of coaches and their harnesses
Collier               Coal miner and coal merchant
Conner              Inspector and tester of standards
Cooks               Cooks and caterers
Coopers            Makers of casks and wooden containers
Cordwainers      Workers in fine leather – particularly in fine footwear (shoemaker)
Costermonger    Fruit seller
Curriers             Treating and preparing (suede) colouring leather after tanning
Cutlers              Makers of artefacts having a sharp edge including swords and surgical instruments
Daubers            House painters
Distillers            Gild regulating distillers
Drapers             Merchants in woollen cloth
Dubbere            Cloth dubber who raises the nap of cloth
Dyers                Dyers of cloth and leather with expertise in colouring
Faber                Name given to skilled experienced craftsmen (carpenter, wheelwright, shipwright working in wood)
Fan Makers       Makers of ladies fans
Farriers             Shoers of horses and their regulation
Fellmonger        Prepares (and deals) skins for the tanner
Feltmakers        Makers of hats and headwear
Fishmongers     Regulators of the fish trade
Fletchers           Makers of arrows with flights for archery
Founders           Workers in metals, particularly brass and regulators by stamping of weights
Framework Knitters - Workers I the knitting industry
Fruiterers          Regulators of standards within the fruit industry
Fuller                Woollen cloth worker who fulls cloth (shrinks, beats and presses the cloth (Walker)
Furrier               Worker/seller dealer in furs
Gardeners         Gild of garden crafts and horticulture
Girdlers             Makers of girdles or belts, especially those associated with metalwork
Glass Sellers     Specialising in glass and lead crystal
Glaziers and Painters - Making and colouring glass (stained glass windows)
Glovers             Makers of gloves
Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers - Makers of gold and silver braid for uniforms and ceremonial clothes
Goldsmiths        The Company that tests and marks gold, silver and platinum wares in the Assay Office. Annual testing of the nations coinage – known as the “Trial of the Pyx”
Grocers             Importers of spices – developed into wholesale merchant traders dealing “in Gross” (Grossers)
Gunmakers       Makers of guns, testing and awarding proof marks
Haberdashers    Makers/suppliers of the clothing worn beneath armour (a name also given to someone dealing in small wares such as pins, needles thread, linen hats)
Hammermen      Composite title for blacksmiths and whitesmiths and other forge workers
Horners             Workers in horn
Hosier               A dealer or maker of knitted goods (stockings, socks, gloves and night caps)
Hostler              Or Ostler a stableman, groom originally associated with Inns to stable the travellers horses
Innholders         Gild association of owners of inns and hotels
Ironmongers      Iron merchants
Joiners and Ceilers – Craftsmen in joinery and wood carving
Journeyman      Master craftsman (an employee, apprenticeship completed) usually so called before setting up a business on their own
Kedger              Term given to some fishermen
Keeler               Keelman – a bargeman, see also Lighterman and Waterman
Kember/ Kempster (Comber) - Wool comber
Leathersellers    Workers dealing in leather
Loriners             Makers of bits, stirrups, spurs and harnesses
Makers of Playing Cards – A London Livery Company continuing today
Mariners            Company of Master Mariners
Masons             Workers in the craft of stonemasonry
Mercator           Merchant
Mercers            Merchants exporting wool and woollen cloth and importing luxury fabrics
Merchant Taylors – Gild of craft tailors and linen armourers
Miller                Corn miller, cloth miller, saw miller
Milliner              Hat maker and seller
Monger             Term given to dealers
Musicians         Makers and players of musical instruments
Needlemakers   Makers of needles, including surgical needles and sutures (also ‘Nedeller’)
Papping            The process of soaking cloth before bleaching
Painter-Stainers – Stainers on cloth and painters of wood and other materials
Patternmakers   Makers of a style of wooden clog footwear
Paviors             Pavers of roads and highway construction
Pewters            Control over the pewter trade
Pinder               Officer of the parish – impounder of stray beasts
Pinner               Maker of pins
Plaisterers         Workers in the craft of plastering
Plaiter               Plaiter of braid and of straw plaited hats
Plumbers          Workers in lead and the regulation of weights and scales of lead
Poulterers         Traders in poultry, eggs and game
Quarrel Picker   Term sometimes given to a glazier
Quiller               One who used a machine to wind yarn onto spools
Quister              A person who bleached things
Raffman            Dealer in fibre used to make raffia bags etc
Redsmith          Copper smith
Ropemakers      Workers binding hemp into ropes
Saddlers           Makers of saddles, harnesses and bridles
Salters              Dealers in salt
Sawyers            Wood workers associated with the Carpenters
Scriveners         Writers of legal documents
Scutcher           Or Swingler – a beater of flax into bundles
Sheermen         Clothworker/craftsman who shears superfluous nap from cloth
Sempster          Or Sewster – Worker employed sewing cloth or leather
Sexton              Officer of the church caring for its upkeep along with the bells and the graves
Shipwrights       Designers and builders of ships
Skinners           Traders in pelts and treated animal skins for fur dressing
Spinners           Spinsters spinning yarn prior to weaving
Stationers         Paper makers, printers, bookbinders and booksellers
Staymaker        Maker of stays – the reed of a weaver’s loom
Sumpter            Term given to the driver of a pack-horse
Swain               Broad term given to a herdsman
Tallage              A tax levied by the Norman and Angevin kings on their demesne lands and towns, or by a feudal lord on his tenants
Tallow Chandlers – Dealers in tallow (animal fat) candles, sauces, oils and early street lighting
Tanner              Or Tanney – preparing leather
Tapiter              Or Tapicer – Weaver of worsted cloth
Tin Plate and Wire Workers – Workers in plate and wire
Toll                   Tax for liberty/access (charges for passage) These include anchorage (and wharfage) for anchoring, Lastage a toll paid by traders at fairs or markets and Pontage a toll for crossing a bridge.
Tawer               Or Tawyer – Bleacher of skins and maker of white leather
Tozer                Employed to toze or tease cloth
Troner               Weighing official at markets or fairs
Tucker              Wool worker who draws cloth similar to a Fuller
Turners             Makers of bowls, chair-legs and ornaments turned on lathes
Tylers and Bricklayers – Workers with bricks, slates, wall and floor tiles
Upholders          Upholsterers, makers and repairers of soft furnishings
Victualler           Innkeeper and seller of food and drink
Vintners            Importers and regulators of wine and spirits
Wainwright        Builder of wagons
Waitman           Watchman to guard city gates and marking the hours by ringing a bell
Wax Chandlers Producers of beeswax products, candles and wax for sealing documents.
Weavers           Producers of woven fabrics in the textile industry
Webster            Name given to a male weaver
Wharfinger        Manager/overseer of a wharf
Wheelwright      Makers of wheels for all forms of carriage
Whiffler             Herald usher – the leader of a ceremonial procession
Woolman          General term for people involved in the wool trade from keeping sheep to the finished product.
Alan Shelley, Officer Without Portfolio, 8th November 2012
Postscript: For information about the Gilds and the Craft Companies, please refer to my ‘Viewpoint’ Paper No.18.



Addendum to Terms Associated with Freemen
The following definitions are taken from a list at Berwick kindly supplied by Jim Evans
Achate & Reechate        Liberty to buy and sell merchandise
Ae                                One
Akhis                            Turkish Guilds of artisans and merchants
Amerce                         To fine
Anker                            Dutch liquid measure of ten gallons
Bawbee                        Scottish coin originally worth six Scots pennies
Baxtar (Baxter)              Baker
Bekenage                      Contribution towards upkeep of beacon/lighthouse
Bodle                            Scottish coin originally valued at one sixth of an English penny
Brieve                           Writ
Canagium                      Liberty to lay or alter conduit pipe through any man’s ground
Cannage                       Custom duty
Cartilage                       Structure
Certiorari                       Appeal to the King’s Bench from a lower Court
Coroner                         Originally a person who brought an accused before the magistrate. Has evolved into an officer conducting a court enquiry of a death
Court of Oyer &Terminer  Court of Common Law
Court of Goal Delivery    Court which could try capital offences
Court of Pie Poudre        Literally dusty feet. Special courts to deal with fairs and markets
Court of Pleas               Court covering civil cases
Crocket                         Seal required to mark goods before export
Cranage                        Toll for loading and unloading
Croft                             Enclosure of pasture or tillable land
Cruives                         Whicker baskets used to catch fish
Customar                      Persons responsible for marking goods for export (normally two, each carrying half the seal). Responsible for collecting export taxes
Dempster                      Court official who pronounced a judge’s sentence. Later Clerk to the Court
Distraint                        Right to seize goods or chattels for rent or service arrears
Escheat                        Forfeited property - for a minor or for lack of ownership or felony
Escheator                     Officer confiscating property on behalf of the Crown
Eyre                             From the Roman iter meaning journey - An itinerant court of justice, replaced by assize in the 13 century
Fang                             Stolen goods found in a thief’s possession
Fealty                           Obligation of fidelity to the monarch or lord
Ferme Fee                    Fixed sum paid annually to the Crown in place of the taxes normally collected by the King’s officers
Ferynemen                    In 12 &13th centuries, the inner council of the Freemen’s Guild, elected annually usually 12, but at Berwick there were 24
Feu                               Tenure of property in perpetuity or annual rent of same
Flesher                         Butcher
Forreyns                       Non resident
Forestalling                   Buying goods before the market sale to avoid toll
Frankpledge                  Surety of behaviour
Gate                             Old term for street
Groundage                    Fee for berthing
Hanaper                        Office in the royal chancery where fees were paid for enrolling charters and letters patent
Infangthef                      Right to try and hang a thief caught on the land
Ius Commune                Common Law
Kain                              Duty paid to landlord in produce, eggs, fowl etc
Kieage                          Toll for unloading goods on a quay
Kieagium                       Discharge from kieage
Lastage                         Payment for carriage of goods
Lastagium                     Discharge from lastage
Leal                              True
Leipers                          Basket makers
Leistering                      Catch of fish with pronged spear
Lese-majesty                 Treason
Liner (Lyner)                  An inspector of demarcations between properties
Lock                             Handful, small quantity, sometimes due as a toll
Lot                                Burgesses requirement to undertake administrative duties of the Guild and Town
Martinmas                     Feast of St Martin, 11th November
Marches                        Boundaries
Merket                          Market
Mercat Cross                 Symbolising centre of the town where a market was held, can be a cross, a stone or a pole
Merk (Mark)                   Money value or weight of silver of 8oz
Michaelmas                   Feast of St Michael, 29th September
Murage                         Tax paid for erection/repair of Town Walls
Muragium                      Discharge from murage
Oyer and Terminer         To hear and determine
Passagium                    Discharge for passage over a causeway or other highway
Pavage                         Toll or tax for paving streets
Pavagium                      Discharge from pavage
Petty Court                    Private court
Picage                          Payment for setting up booths or setting of stakes
Picagium                       Discharge from picage
Plack                            Scottish copper coin, four penny Scots or one third English penny
Plura Curia Plackitorum             Common or local court
Pounders                      Keepers of the town fields
Pressage                      Right to import wine
Quarter Sessions of the Peace  Court to try felonies or other demeanours
Regrate                         Buying to hold and sell at a higher price when supply was short
Render of Coin               Paid in kind or later money
Sac and soc                  Right to the fines from local or private courts of law
Sacca                           To hold plea and correction in the Court
Sack of Wool                Measure of forty stones troy
Scot                             Local tax
Seisin                           Feudal fealty to a lord for lands
Soc (Scot)                     Tax for administration and upkeep of the Town
Socca                           Surety of men for the Court according to custom
Soutar                           Shoemaker or maker of horse leather brogues
Stallanger                      Right of a non-freeman to a market stall
Staple Goods                Goods upon which an export tax has been levied
Staple Port                    Designated port for staple goods
Stents                           Local taxes
Toft                              An area of land
Tollbooth                       Town House /Town Hall
Town Ferme                  Town lands providing income for the town
Tron                              Weighing beam for the sale of wholesale goods
Vinage                          Tax or Custom duties on wines
Vinagium                       Discharge from vinage
Warde                           Watch
Ward Penny                  Discharge from any payment for watching the walls
Watch and Ward            To protect the town from attack
Woolfells                       Skins of sheep with the wool still attached
Yard                             Vegetable garden
Alan Shelley, Officer Without Portfolio, 18th February 2013