Tyne & Wear

Women to be accepted as freemen of Durham

Women are to be accepted as freemen of the City of Durham, it has been announced.

Barriers which excluded women from the guilds for nearly 700 years have been lifted after a lengthy legal wrangle.

Privileges reserved for the freemen of the city include the right to graze livestock within the city.

Membership in Durham was limited to men who served a craft apprenticeship in a trade or to the son of a freeman or the husband of a daughter of a freeman.

But specialists argued new laws set aside former bars on membership, granting women equal rights with men.

John Heslop, chairman of the freeman's guilds, said: "We are delighted the new criteria will give women the same entitlement as men to access the freedom.

Legal hitch

"In future we will be happy to examine submissions from the son or daughter of a freeman; from a man or woman who served an apprenticeship within the city's administrative boundaries; or from a man or woman who served an apprenticeship under a city freeman."

Guild members were once pivotal in the election of city councillors.

Freemen's guilds survive in about 40 towns and cities across England and Wales but Durham and Northampton are the only two where the right to membership was governed by statute.

Members of the City of Durham Freemen had backed proposals to amend criteria that would hand equal rights to women.

But the move ran into a potential legal hitch because of restrictions imposed by the Durham City Council Act of 1985.

The freemen were then advised by specialists at the Department for Communities and Local Government that new legislation set aside the obstacles on membership for women.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites