The historic origins of freemen or burgesses can be traced back many centuries to the former municipal corporations in the twelfth and thirteenth century. At that time, freemen enjoyed considerable privileges, including the ability to elect officers of the corporation and its Parliamentary representatives.
For the municipal boroughs to appoint men of national importance, was not merely an act of recognition, as these individuals could possibly secure economic or political benefit of the borough.
However, major changes to the role and influence of freemen were swept away by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 that led, among other things, to the creation of an elected local government, as we know it today.
Legislation enables Councils to admit as Honorary Freemen and Honorary Freewomen, ‘persons of distinction and persons who have, in the opinion of the City Council, rendered eminent services to the City’.
Associated with Freedom of the City is ‘Freedom of Entry’ and this has enabled the City Council to grant such an honour on a number of regiments and RAF Tangmere who have rendered conspicuous service to, and are closely associated with, the City. This particular ‘Freedom’ enables the service units to march through the streets with ‘bayonets fixed, drums beating and Colours flying’.
In recent years, Chichester City Council conferred Honorary Freeman status upon the men and women of the West Sussex Fire Brigade (2000), 47th Regiment Royal Artillery (2008), the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (2008) and The Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling, Dean of Chichester (2013).
A list of Honorary Freemen of the City admitted since 1901 is on display on a board in the Assembly Room Ante Room at the Council House.