Freemen (Hanasters) of Oxford
Oxford freemen were known as Hanasters. Before the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, being a freeman of Oxford was very significant, as only a freeman could enter into business as a master or journeyman within the boundaries of the City (unless he was a privileged tradesman matriculated by the University). Only freemen had the vote in council elections.
There were three ways of becoming a freeman and entering their guild:
- By purchasing their freedom. The official price set down in 1551 was at least £5, but in fact people were admitted for less. People who purchased their freedom were supposed to be recommended by the craft that they wished to join, but this was not always observed
- By being the son of a freeman. The eldest son was admitted free of charge, and all other sons could claim to be admitted for a fee of 9s 6d. A son born before his father became a freeman had no claim, however.
- By serving a seven-year apprenticeship. About half the freemen entered by this method
Most citizens were sworn free after serving a seven-year apprenticeship from the age of 14; and some were made free by an act of Council. Various payments were required on being admitted free.
Even after the 1835 Act, anyone who wanted to set up a business in the city of Oxford who was not a freeman had to pay a fine. In 1845 Benjamin Harris Blackwell (along with five other shopkeepers) set up his business at 46 St Clement’s Street (outside the city boundary) in protest against this fine, even though the trade in books might have been better west of Magdalen Bridge. (It was his son Benjamin Henry who moved into Broad Street in 1879.)
Since 1900 the title of Freeman has been simply honorary, and the Freedom of the City of Oxford is now granted to persons of distinction, and those who have, in the opinion of the council, rendered eminent services to the city. In October 2008 the Privy Council at Westminster changed the law to permit the daughters of Freemen to become Freemen of Oxford.
Charities for Freemen
Sir Thomas White Loan
In his will of 1566 Sir Thomas White gave property to the city of Bristol, from which 24 corporations (including Oxford) were to receive £104 every 24 years. Oxford was to provide four interest-free loans of £25 to young freemen (preferably clothiers), the remaining £4 to cover the administrative costs. By 1822 Oxford had received ten payments of £104. By 1884 the charity comprised £850 stock, and the last payment was made in 1953.
Dame Margaret Northern’s chest
Dame Margaret Northern, widow of the Mayor William Northern, bequeathed £40 to found a loan-chest for freemen, who could borrow up to £3. This loan system was in operation by 1420, and in 1581 Margaret, her husband William, and father Simon were placed on the benefactors’ role by the city. It appears that by the mid-seventeenth century, however, that the coffer was empty. (See also William Northern)
Payments by Freemen in 1590
Hit is agreed that everie one that cometh in to be free of this cytie , beinge an apprentice within this cytie with a freeman, shall fynde and provide at his owne charges one leather buckett for to carrie water, when mysfortune of fyre shall heppen within this cytie or suburbes thereof; and that everie one that cometh in free as a forriner shall fynde and provide one leather buckett or more as this howsse shall thincke goode; and the same bucketts to be brought in to the use of this cytie, to be safelie kepte and to be in a readenes when nede shall require frome tyme to tyme; and the said bucketts to be brought in by the parties aforesaid before they shall use any trade within this cytie.
- All people awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City since 1900
- Website of the present Freemen of the City of Oxford
- The Mayor and Corporation of Oxford v. Farriday
PDF of a report of the Oxford Assizes in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 4 August 1827, showing how carefully the exclusive rights of Freemen to trade in Oxford were guarded.