The Repository of all Things Historical for the Ancient Welsh Town of Carnarvon

  Castle Square, Carnarvon. Published by Williams & Hughes, Bridge Steet, 1850



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1757 - 1835

The status of Burgess dates back to at least the 14th. Century and beyond, and is linked to the honorary Freedom of the Town or Borough.

I have been unable to find any evidence of how the freedom of the town benefitted individuals in Carnarvon, but usually the freedom of the town and the freedom of the craft guilds were closely linked and it was difficult for a man to set up as a master in his own trade or craft and take apprentices without first being admitted as a freeman. Normally admission to freedom was fourfold:-

1. As the son of a freeman.
2. By serving at least 7 years apprenticeship to a burgess.
3. By marrying the widow or daughter of a freeman.
4. By redemption (paying a sum of money to purchase the privilege).

Many burgesses must have had the right to claim admission in two or more ways, for the sons of freemen would also serve an apprenticeship to their trade. It was common for men to take up freedom shortly after completing their apprenticeship. No-one could become a burgess until he was twenty one.

There was another important and interesting privilege attached to the status of freeman. Until the Reform Act of 1832, Members of Parliament were elected by the votes of the freemen. The importance of this can be seen most clearly in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. By this time, the old restrictions on trade and manufacturers were disappearing, and the commercial value attached to freedom declined in proportion. Many men, therefore, although holding the necessary qualifications, did not trouble to seek admission until an election occurred. Then, in the few weeks preceding a Parliamentary election the Burgess Books show hundreds of men being admitted, the fee no doubt in many cases being paid by the Parliamentary candidates.

A further advantage belonging to the freeman was that the benefits of many charities were reserved for burgesses and their dependents. The newly made burgess was given a 'Burgess Certificate', a parchment document recording the oath which he took on his admission, and bearing the signature of the Mayor and Town Clerk. Amongst other things, the Oath provided that the freeman should know no unlawful Assemblies, Riots or Routs.

The Reform Act of 1832, with alterations in voting qualification, and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which so greatly changed the constitution of boroughs and cities, saw the end of the period when freedom carried with it many practical advantages. From hereon it was a dignity only.

As to the records themselves, sadly the Carnarvon burgess rolls have only survived from 1757 onwards, but the names contained within, and the distances they were prepared travel, are testament to the importance placed on being a burgess.

There are a further two rolls surviving (X/POOLE/5367 & XD1/4), which duplicate the names contained on here, as well as two supplementary lists which date to 1828 and 1830/31 respectively. These two lists contain the names of the Town Burgesses only. The 1828 list (X/POOLE/5397) was a list of those attending the Michaelmas Dinner for that year, while the other (X/POOLE/5513), was drawn up in time for the 1831 election.

1757-1782    1782-1783    1783-1789    1789    1789-1794    1794-1822    1823-1835    1828    1830/31
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