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A Glimpse Of The World Of The Freemen

They used to be able to graze cows on Hearsall Common, and their secret world below St Mary’s Guildhall will be revealed this weekend.

The City of Coventry’s Freemen’s Guild continues a tradition of freemen stretching back 700 years.

The direct successors of the members of the ancient powerful guilds meet in a room under St Mary’s Guildhall, and it will be opened up this Saturday as part of Heritage Open Days.

The room, and the north end of the undercroft of the hall, has been the headquarters of the modern Guild since 1956.

It contains many artefacts, a 17th century sideboard, the Master’s chair and old deeds of apprenticeship.

Although the guild harkens back to medieval days, the rules for qualification for entry were updated 20 years ago.

People who now serve a five-year apprenticeship in the city, or a shorter period followed by a qualifying period of employment, can join up, and the types of trade permitted has been made more general.

As the city has grown over the years the qualifying area has been extended to the city’s boundaries, or four-and-a-half miles from St Mary’s Hall, whichever is the greater.

Grazing rights no longer exit for freemen, but they and their families still get favourable treatment from city charities such as the Sir Thomas White’s Education Foundation and Sir Thomas White’s Pension Fund.

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CWN / Heritage / Heritage Open Days / 11 Sep 00

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