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London Metropolitan Archives



Reference code(s): COL/CHD/FR

Held at: London Metropolitan Archives


Date(s): 1433-2004

Level of description: Collection

Extent: 245.3 linear metres

Name of creator(s): Corporation of London


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Chamber of a city is the place where the funds of the corporation are kept and where moneys due are received - a kind of treasury. The Chamber is run by the Chamberlain, an officer who receives the rents and revenues owed to the corporation. The origin of the Chamber of London is obscure, but as soon as the citizens were sufficiently united to hold lands and tenements in common an officer must have been appointed to collect rents and disburse income for public welfare. The Chamber is first mentioned in 1275 and in the following year Stephen de Mundene is named as City Chamberlain. At first the Chamberlain was chosen by the Mayor and Aldermen, but by 1319 elections were introduced and the officer was chosen by the liverymen in Common Hall.

The Chamberlain's duties combined municipal finance with public banking. His main duty was as treasurer or banker of the City of London with custody of the monies of the Corporation, called the City's Cash, and other funds. Former Chamberlains were able to keep for themselves profits derived from interest on the cash! The Chamberlain also collects the rents of all Corporation properties and makes payments on behalf of the Corporation including salaries and pensions. He also invests money, is responsible for insurance, the preparation of tax returns and production of reports and statistics.

The privileges of the Freedom of the City of London were sought by anyone who wished to prosper in London and was essential to anyone who desired to practice a trade or craft within the City. The privileges of admission included immunity from toll at markets and fairs throughout England, freedom from being conscripted into the armed forces, exclusive right to wholesale and retail trade within the City and the right to vote at Ward and Parliamentary elections. The admission of freedmen has always been one of the duties of the Chamberlain. The earliest extant admission of a freeman is dated 1282 but as the municipal structure of London is based on the status of freemen it is likely that admissions go back much further. Admission is by 'servitude' (serving as an apprentice to a freeman), 'patrimony' (being the child of a freeman born after he obtained his freedom) or 'redemption' (a resident of the City with support from two Alderman or two Common Councilmen or two liverymen may purchase his freedom). Since 1740 the Corporation also presents the freedom as an honour and mark of distinction to those who have offered exceptional service to the City or the nation, including William Pitt, MP; Lord Nelson; Lord Kitchener of Khartoum; Florence Nightingale; Lord Lister; David Lloyd George, MP; FM Sir Douglas Haig; Lord Baden-Powell; Neville Chamberlain, MP; Winston Churchill, MP; Gen Dwight Eisenhower; Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, and Theodore Roosevelt. Women who are admitted to the Freedom are called 'free sisters'.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Chamberlain's Department relating to Freedom admissions, including early Freedom admissions registers, 1551-1669 (fragmentary and fragile due to the Chamber fire of 1786); Freedom admissions papers, 1681-2004; index to Freedoms arranged alphabetically by surname, 1681-1940; lists of freemen in date order of admission, 1681-1844; Freedom declaration books, 1784-2003; letter books, 1901-1981 (closed from 1977 onwards); accounts on money received on admissions by redemption, 1694-1841; papers concerning the admission of aliens (non-Londoners), 1433-1844; numbers of freemen, 1901-1960; rejected applications, 1781-1989 (closed from 1900 onwards); register of Freedoms granted to the City of London Police Reserve, 1920; articles about the history of the Freedom, 1957-1995; various orders, extracts and reports, 1554-1722; ceremony on the admission of the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Harold Macmillan, MP, 25 Feb 1957; illuminated addresses, principally comprising resolutions of thanks of the Corporation to distinguished persons and conferring on them the Freedom of the City, 1792-1856, including Dr Edward Jenner, Commodore Sir Charles Napier, the Right Hon Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington, Admiral George Elphinstone and Rear Admiral Alexander Hood; the Roll of Fame, list of all honorary admissions to the Freedom, 1740-present; articles and photographs regarding 'Freedom Boxes', specially made caskets in which the honorary Freedom certificates are presented, and ceremonial presentation swords, 1933-1997; extracts re presentation of honorary freedom to members of Royal family, 1736-1761 and 1840; City Freedom Certificates, returned by executors or relatives of deceased Freemen, 1596-1979; monthly account books, 1675-1832; stamp books, 1786-1856; admissions to freedom account books, 1786-1981; fees for freedoms, 1808-1831 and 1901-1983 (closed from 1976 onwards); cash cheque accounts, 1822-1870; City accounts, 1831-1901; fees for freemen, 1833-1901; day books, 1840-1901.

Also papers relating to non-freemen, including wardmote inquest returns of non-freemen, 1821-1853; lists of King's freedmen for part of 18th and 19th centuries; licenses to non-freedmen to be employed within the City, 1750-1845; returns of non-freemen carrying on business in the wards, 1809-1810, Acts of the Common Council regarding non-freemen, 1606-1839; summonses to appear before the Chamberlain to show why they should not be prosecuted, and notes on prosecutions in the Mayor's Court, 1809-1810 and various similar legal papers relating to the prosecution of non-freemen and the disenfranchisement of those fraudulently claiming to be freedmen.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

In sections according to catalogue.

Conditions governing access:

These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 1998.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright: City of London.

Physical characteristics:

Generally fit although some of the earliest, fire damaged records are too fragile to be produced.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Corporation of London Records Office.


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

See also COL/CC/FDC: Freedom Committee (19th century) and COL/CC/FAC: Freedom Applications Committee.

Publication note:

See City Freedom Archives at the Corporation of London Records Office, by Vivienne Aldous (CLRO Research Guide No. 1, 1990, revised 1996); and 'The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915', by Vivienne Aldous in the Genealogists' Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec 1989).



Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: February 2009

Financial records | Documents | Information sources
Freedom admissions | Documents | Information sources
Freedom of a city | Rights and privileges | Administration of justice
Municipal government | Local government | Public administration | Government

Personal names
Elphinstone | George Keith | 1746-1823 | 1st Viscount Keith | Admiral
Hood | Alexander | 1726-1814 | Viscount Bridport | naval officer and politician
Jenner | Edward | 1749-1823 | surgeon and pioneer of smallpox vaccination
Macmillan | Maurice Harold Macmillan | 1894-1986 | 1st Earl of Stockton | statesman x Stockton | 1st Earl of
Napier | Sir | Charles | 1786-1860 | Knight | naval officer and politician
Peel | Sir | Robert | 1788-1850 | 2nd Baronet | statesman
Wellesley | Arthur | 1769-1852 | 1st Duke of Wellington | Field Marshal and statesman x Wellington | 1st Duke of

Corporate names
City Chamberlain | Corporation of London
City of London Police Reserve

City of London | London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe