Gild of Freemen

Gild of Freemen

One of the earliest known Charters of Haverfordwest, of about 1213, decreed that a man who dwelt in the town of Haverford ‘for a year and a day without challenge, shall be free’.

A burgess of Haverfordwest enjoyed the rare privilege of being able to sell his burgage, the standard unit of land, without the Lord’s consent, or he could hand it on to his heir.

As time went by Freemen of Haverfordwest were admitted by birth or by servitude, that is, having served an apprenticeship with the Freemen for 7 years. Amongst the privileges of the Freemen was a right to graze the Common Land at Portfield – which extended to some 600 acres or thereabouts.

Under the Portfield Inclosure Act of 1838 174 acres of land, including the town Racecourse, were allocated to the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses for a place of recreation and exercise for the neighbouring population, and 251 acres were given to Trustees for the benefit of the Freemen of the Town – the annual income therefrom being distributed between the Freemen.

As time continued the opportunities for admission by servitude declined although Freemen continued to be admitted under the Hereditary principal i.e. the Son or Grandson of a Freeman could apply to be admitted as a Freeman once he reached the age of 18.

Following various changes in statutes relating to Local Government, candidates for admission can now be either male or female. They must have achieved the age of 18 and must be sons or daughters, or grandsons or granddaughters of enrolled Freemen.

Although the Haverfordwest Freemen Trust exists for the benefit of the Freemen of the town, it is not the Trust which appoints new Freemen but the Chairman of Local Authority – Pembrokeshire County Council. All enquiries relating to such appointments should be made directly to the Secretary to the Chairman, County Hall Haverfordwest.

In 1973 the Gild of Freemen of Haverfordwest was established as it was felt that the Freemen of the Borough might lose their identity with the abolition of the Haverfordwest Borough Council by the Local Government Act of 1972 and the transfer of responsibility for keeping the Freemen’s role and for admitting new Freemen, to the District Council of the day.

The day to day affairs of the Gild are managed by a Court of Wardens but the ultimate authority rests with the body of Freemen at their Annual General Meeting. The Annual General Meeting of the Gild of Freemen of Haverfordwest takes place on the first Saturday of October. This is followed by an evening banquet and a Sunday Service at St Martins Church which is the only one of the 3 main Town Churches built within the old Town walls.

The Gild appoints a small number of Burgesses from ‘Persons of repute who have rendered outstanding service to the Town’. The Burgesses do not receive any financial benefit or reward although they do help to promote the interests of the Freemen and partake in meaningful local discussions for the benefit of the Town itself.

The badge of the Gild depicts a trading ship, indicating the maritime association of the town, its sail bearing the Prince of Wales Feathers to commemorate the granting of a Charter of Incorporation to the Town by Edward Prince of Wales in 1479.

The Gild of Freemen of Haverfordwest is an affiliate member of the Freemen of England and Wales.

Past Masters of the Gild
Col J H V Higgon OBE, DL, JP
Col J F Green OBE, TD
G M Green

Present Master
C W D Davies

Chairman of the Trustees of the Haverfordwest Freemen Estate
M V H Thomas

Clerks to the Gild of the Estate
R K Lucas & Son, 9 Victoria Place, Haverfordwest