In the borough of Doncaster before the reforms of 1835 (as in many other ancient boroughs), the freemen were those who were entitled to enjoy the full privileges of the borough. They alone had the right to choose the members of the council, and be chosen councillors, to send their sons to the grammar school and to graze their cattle on the town's common lands at Crimpsall and Low Pasture. They may also have had a monopoly on retailing, except on market days, although this right appears to have been abandoned by the mid-eighteenth century.
There were four ways of becoming a freeman. The eldest son of a freeman inherited the right from his father. An apprentice to a freeman acquired the right on completing his apprenticeship. An outsider could purchase the right, and the council could make a presentation of it.
In 1835, freemen ceased to have control of borough government although there was still a stream of men (only one woman is known to have been admitted to the body) wishing to become freemen. From 1885, it was possible for a borough to create honorary freemen as a mark of local esteem. The most substantial number so created were the servicemen (over a hundred of them) who served in the Boer War, each receiving a medal and a certificate of freedom from the borough of Doncaster on their return.
For the names and other details of the 2,415 Doncaster freemen, see Pamela Lindley, Freemen of the Borough of Doncaster 1558-1974, published by Doncaster and District Family History Society in 1998. The work is based on the records of freemen held at Doncaster Archives amongst the records of the borough of Doncaster. See also the webpage on Borough Councils.
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