Stoke & Staffordshire

Robbie Williams' freedom: The honour not just for humans

Robbie Williams at the London Palladium Image copyright PA
Image caption Robbie Williams grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, which has held a number of events to mark his 40th birthday

It is an honour that has been bestowed on authors, actors and athletes, and now Robbie Williams is the latest star to become a Freeman. But the title is not reserved only for celebrities, or even humans.

Stoke-on-Trent's council held a vote to award the Freedom of the City to Williams on Thursday, which was unanimously backed.

Historically, Freeman status gave bearers the right to herd sheep over London Bridge, exemption from tolls and charges and the "privilege" of being hanged with a silken rope if sentenced to death.

But, in recent times the title has become a symbolic one, conferred on those considered to have made a notable civic contribution.

Notable recipients include author JK Rowling, tenor Placido Domingo and Olympian Jessica Ennis-Hill.

But organisations and even objects can have the status conferred upon them. Here, the BBC looks at some of the UK's more surprising candidates.


Image caption Oxfam was founded in Oxford more than 70 years ago before it became a global organisation

Charity Oxfam was given the Freedom of the City of Oxford in 2012 in recognition for its efforts to combat poverty around the world. The first meeting of Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, as it was originally known, took place at the city's St Mary's Church in 1942. Then-Lord Mayor Alan Armitage said Oxford was "very proud" of its strong links with the organisation.

HMS Diamond

Image copyright AP
Image caption HMS Diamond

Coventry granted Freeman status to Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond. Despite being landlocked the city has strong manufacturing links with the Royal Navy, and workers from Jaguar Land Rover built the ship's captain's table. But it is not the first naval vessel to be given the Freedom of Coventry. Ill-fated HMS Coventry, sunk during the Falklands War in 1982, also received the honour.

Norfolk Constabulary

The police force was handed the Freedom of the City of Norwich in recognition of "historic ties" between the two. Officers sport a lion - the city's symbol - on their uniform, and the county was among the first boroughs to introduce a dedicated police force in 1836. The award was marked with a parade in December 2009 when officers marched from Bethel Street police station to City Hall.

Stoke City FC

Image copyright Stoke on Trent City Council

Noted Port Vale fan Williams might not be too thrilled at one inclusion, his home city's list of Freemen includes the club's arch-rivals Stoke City FC. The club, which makes up the other side of the fierce "Potteries derby", was given Freedom of the City in a half-time ceremony during its game against Cardiff City in December. The Queen's Royal Lancers were also made Freemen at the same time, as part of the city's 150th anniversary celebrations.

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