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Records detailing thousands of skilled tradesmen awarded 'freedom' of the City of London can now be explored online for the first time
Genealogists hoping to find out more about the lives of generations of ancestors who worked in skilled trades may be able to uncover fresh leads in their research following the completion of a major digitisation project.
The Freedom of the City Admission Papers, available to explore online for the first time at www.ancestry.co.uk, feature the details of more than 590,000 men and women who made a living in London across more than two centuries from 1681 to 1925. Although the majority of individuals featured in the collection were born in the neighbouring county of Middlesex, the city’s central role in British commerce means that trades born in a range of other areas are also included.
The new collection has been digitised as part of an ongoing partnership with London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), where the original documents are held. The data has been taken from a wide range of documents including apprenticeship records, application forms, certificates and declarations of loyalty to the monarch. All of the entries can be searched by details such as name, date, profession and guild.
Although freedom of a town or city is now largely regarded as a honorary title, it originally referred to the right to trade that was granted to members of guilds and livery companies. The position of ‘freeman’ or ‘free sister’ could be gained by one of three methods: paying a fee, if the individual’s father belonged to the organisation, or through serving an apprenticeship. However, not all apprentices became freemen, with many choosing to continue working for their masters as ‘journeymen’.
“Whether they are a vintner, turner or even a scrivener, these records provide a fascinating history of British trades and a valuable account of the evolution of occupations over the past four centuries,” says Ancestry.co.uk’s global content director, Dan Jones. “Anyone with an ancestor who had a trade from the 17th to the 20th century could well find them in this new database.”
Among the famous names featured in the collection is Rudyard Kipling, best known for his novels and poems celebrating life in the British Empire. His entry notes that he recieved the Freedom of London on 3 July 1925, and lists him as an ‘author’ in the Company of Stationers. However, it’s the chance to find out more about ancestors who worked in a range of trades that promises to be the biggest draw for researchers: as well as professions that are now either obsolete or known under different names, the set also chronicles the growth of more familiar roles, including engineers and members of the armed forces.
“The Freedom records of the City of London are a rich resource for those who are researching ancestors who worked or traded within the Square Mile,” says Dr Deborah Jenkins, heritage services director in the City of London’s Department of Culture, Heritage and Libraries. “They reveal the myriad of trades and occupations of the Citizens and demonstrate how the face of the City has changed over the centuries. The records will be an invaluable research tool for anyone who has an interest in the history of the City of London.”