Honorary freemen, aldermen and officers

As a council, we can give a number of honorary titles that do not confer rights or privileges but recognise a person's contribution to the borough. Find out about the history of these and why they are given.

History of Freedom of the Borough

In the past, the Freedom of the Borough of Guildford gave important privileges, for example, only freemen had a parliamentary vote and a tradesman had to be a freeman to set up a business in the town.

To become a freeman, a person had to be either:

  • apprenticed to an existing freeman of the borough for at least seven years

  • the eldest son of a freeman

Another way was by admission into the Corporation, which involved several years' unpaid service as a borough official, or the payment of a fee.

John Aylward, a London clockmaker, was given freedom to trade in Guildford in 1683 by donating the Guildhall clock. 

The benefits enjoyed by freemen were removed by The Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.

Honorary Freemen

The Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885 introduced the concept of awarding the Freedom of a Borough as an honour.  

In 1972, the Local Government Act gave councils power to make 'persons of distinction and persons who have rendered eminent services' Honorary Freemen. The decision had to be made by two-thirds of the councillors passing a resolution at a specially-convened meeting.

In recent years, the Council has conferred the Freedom of the Borough upon:

  • the late Bill Bellerby MBE - past Mayor (twice), and councillor from 1953 to 1995

  • the late Doreen Bellerby MBE - past Mayor, and councillor from 1954 to 1995

  • David Watts - former Chief Executive of the Borough Council from 1984 to 2002

  • Andrew Hodges - past Mayor, former leader of the Council, and councillor from 1976 to 2011

  • Jen Powell - past Mayor, and councillor from 1987 to 2015

Despite the fact that Freedom is the highest honour Guildford can bestow, there was no insignia associated with it until the present blue-trimmed gowns were introduced in 1995.

Freedom of Entry

Freedom of Entry dates from the Middle Ages, when towns would allow specified armed forces inside their boundaries as a mark of mutual trust. Since then it has been granted to military units that have rendered conspicuous service and are closely associated with the town.  

Guildford had its first permanent barracks after the army reforms of 1871 and 1881, when it became home to the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment at Stoughton. The successor regiment - the Queen's Royal Regiment - was granted the Freedom of Guildford in 1945 and exercised its right to march through the town for the first time on 29 September 1945.

When the Queen's and the East Surrey Regiment amalgamated in 1959, the civic honours granted to them were extended to the successor Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment, which marched through Guildford on 28 April 1960, and again in 1966 on the formation of the Queen's Regiment.

It was continued in 1992 following the formation of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (PWRR).

On 22 June 1988, the Women's Royal Army Corps, based at Stoughton, was granted the Freedom of the Borough. The Corps was disbanded four years later.

On 6 March 2017, we granted the Freedom of the Borough to the Army Training Corps (Pirbright) who, like the PWRR, have the right to march through the town with "drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed".

Honorary Aldermen

The title 'alderman' comes from the Old English word ealdorman for 'elder man', who was the chief royal representative and presiding judge of the Anglo-Saxon shires.

Often related to the king, the ealdorman became known as the eorl or earl, and became a title rather than an appointment. As the government of the City of London developed, the Court of Aldermen became the main governing body. Most of its powers were later taken over by the Court of Common Council.  

Local government reform led in 1835 to the Municipal Corporations Act, which adopted the City of London as its model for all English corporations.

Before 1835, Guildford had no aldermen - except for the years 1686-1688. In 1686, James II issued new charters to boroughs, giving them a constitution of mayor, aldermen and councillors - and giving the king the right to dismiss any member who displeased him.

James's borough charters were revoked in 1688, and Guildford went back to its old corporation of Mayor and Approved Men. The scarlet gowns now worn by the Honorary Aldermen are inspired by the 1686 charter. 

The Local Government Act of 1972 did away with aldermen, but Section 249 of the act states that a council may, by a resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the members voting at a specially-convened meeting, confer the title of Honorary Aldermen on persons who have 'rendered eminent services to the council as past members'. While Honorary Aldermen do not have the right to attend meetings of the council, they may take part in civic ceremonies as an acknowledgement of esteem.   

After 1835, one quarter of the council were aldermen, elected by the council. They did not represent specific wards and served a six-year term, half of them being elected every third year at the council's annual meeting.

It was thought that the councillors would choose people from outside the council. In practice, aldermen were usually long-serving councillors.

Current Honorary Aldermen

Mrs T Baker MBE, councillor from 1991 to 2007

Mr K Childs, councillor from 1991 to 2007

Mrs C Cobley, councillor from 1979 to 1999

Mrs S Creedy, councillor from 2003 to 2015

Mrs V Johnson, councillor from 1991 to 2007

Mrs J D Marks, councillor from 1986 to 2007     

Mr T Patrick, councillor from 2003 to 2015

Mrs L Strudwick, councillor from 1983 to 2007

Mr N Sutcliffe, councillor from 1999 to 2015

Mr M A H M Williamson, councillor from 1979 to 1995

We have adopted a protocol on the appointment, role, status, rights, and obligations of Icon for word Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen. [64KB]

Honorary Officers

High Steward

High Steward is an honorary title given by the councils or charter trustees of certain towns and cities in England. Originally a judicial position with local powers, by the seventeenth century the role became largely ceremonial.

The title is usually awarded for life, and in some cases has become associated with a particular peerage title. Twenty-four communities in England, including Guildford, have the right to confer the status of High Steward.

The office of High Steward, in Guildford seems to have emerged in the 1570s, though no statute or charter established it. It appears to have been an honorary post given to a courtier to look after the borough's interests at the Royal Court. The only duty of the High Steward is the tradition of presenting a plum cake to any member of the Royal family visiting Guildford.

The current High Steward of Guildford is Rupert Bullard, Eighth Earl of Onslow.

Honorary Recorder

Over many centuries, a Recorder was appointed as the presiding Judge for Guildford Quarter Sessions. Over the years, many notable Queen's/King's Counsel had held the position of Recorder of Guildford, including Sir Edward Marshall Hall, James Cassells and Derek Curtis-Bennett.

Quarter Sessions were abolished in 1972, but the former Borough Council decided to exercise the power under Section 54 of the Courts Act 1971 to appoint an Honorary Recorder of Guildford. 

The office of Honorary Recorder is an honorary role. The post-holder has no specific duties, although they usually attend civic ceremonial events such as the Annual Council meeting, the annual Remembrance Service, and the Service for the Judiciary.

Past Honorary Recorders of Guildford are:

  • His Honour Judge Richard Vick: 1971 - 1997

  • His Honour Judge John Bull QC DL: 1998 - 2010

  • His Honour Judge Christopher Critchlow DL: 2010 - 2017 

The current Honorary Recorder for Guildford is His Honour Judge Robert Fraser MVO. 

Honorary Remembrancer

The appointment of Honorary Remembrancer was created in May 1933 especially for Dr G C Williamson, an antiquarian and local historian, in 'recognition of his services in investigating and recording the town's history'.

At the annual elections of mayors, he read out a 'review of the more important work carried out by the Corporation during the past year'. Rather than an annual report, he began to chronicle events in the town by amassing material in scrapbooks. These included the results of his historical research as well as contemporary matters, and are now kept at the Surrey History Centre.

Following Williamson's death in 1942, it was assumed that, despite being a personal creation for him, the post of Honorary Remembrancer would continue. F W Elsley, the Honorary Curator of Guildford Museum, was appointed. It was Elsley who began the series of annual reports, copies of which were circulated amongst councillors. Until the 1970s, Remembrancers were local historians. It then became the practice to offer the post to a long-serving councillor, usually an Alderman.

The original concept has been reverted to with the appointment of Mr Matthew Alexander in 2010.

Icon for pdf Honorary Remembrancer's Report 2017-18 [865.22KB]