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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Freedom of the City of London

Aldous (My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London. Society of Genealogists, 1999) estimates that in the past 300 years about 300,000 mostly ordinary working people received the freedom of the city of London. Records survive from 1681-1940 and if a person worked or lived within the ‘square mile’ of the city, or had links with it, especially before the 1850s he (and sometimes she) probably had the freedom. Before 1835 they would have first needed to be a freeman of a city company. Background on the city itself and its governance is given concisely by Aldous, who also has the best account of the whole subject of freedom of the city and an excellent list of useful publications. Records of freedom of the city, which act as an overall index to London company records, are in the Corporation of London Record Office (CLRO), which is a separate unit at the Guildhall. Indexes, or alphabets, exist for 1681-1682, 1688-Oct 1776, and 1784-1915. Aldous gives clear instructions on making a search at the Guildhall for City of London freemen.

A City of London freeman had the right to vote in parliamentary and civic elections, was free from the navy press gang and had certain privileges respecting imprisonment and trial, and exempt from tolls payable on animals brought into the city for sale. (The latter provoked the legend about driving one’s sheep over London Bridge). The various liberties and extra-parochial precincts situated around the city of London were exempt from its restrictions and hence attracted numerous foreigners and others who were not citizens of London.

The city common serjeant presided over the court of orphans which administered the personal estate of deceased freemen. His records include over 2,000 orphans’ inventories from 1662-1742 and 1764-1774 with indexes and are most useful. King’s Freemen were discharged servicemen and their families, who did not have to be free in order to carry on a trade in any town in England and Wales provided they had obtained a certificate of entitlement to do so. They were issued from 1784-1873 (although 1815-1854 records are missing) and include soldier’s discharge documents and much else. About 4,000 of these records exist for London at CLRO and have been indexed (Aldous). Cook (Some London Research Thoughts [on King’s Freemen]. Kent Family History Society Journal Vol 8 #7, page 307, 1997) has a short article about them, with examples.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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