Eric Bulmer Chairman of Wardens

I hope you had a relaxing festive break and recovering from the Brexit turmoil. This is the time of year when it is usual to reflect on the previous year’s activities and perhaps measure the progress and development of the Freemen.

One of the objectives of the Wardens was to raise the profile within the City and beyond and I believe we have made strides in this direction, but like all developments it will require constant maintenance.

A number of Wardens and their guests represented the Freemen at the Mayor’s Civic Dinner, where once again the Chairman of the Wardens was invited to provide a toast to the City of Durham. It would be wonderful if the Wardens could be joined by some of our Members at next years function which would once again enhance our presence in the city.

The Wardens recognise the need to maintain a close relationship with the Cathedral. Joe McElwee and myself met with Gaye Kirby Development Officer and Maya Polenze Head of Property to explore how we could work more closely together for the benefit of both our organisations. This initial meeting resulted in a tour of the Cathedral for our guests from the Berwick Guild, when we hosted their visit in July.

The Chairman of the Wardens represented the Freemen at a dinner of the Clothworkers Guild Trustees held in the Clothworkers Hall in the City of London in June. It provided the opportunity to inform other guests of the history and heritage of the Durham City Freemen.

Following our visit to Berwick last year, we hosted a visit of the Berwick Guild in July.

It proved to be a very enjoyable day which helped forge closer links with a neighbouring guild. The day included, a tour of the Town Hall and Guildhall which was followed by guided tours of the Cathedral and River Banks in the afternoon.

The visit concluded with an impromptu opportunity to watch the final stages of England’s quarter-final World Cup match with Sweden, rounding off a most enjoyable visit from our neighbouring guild.

In September the Freemen were represented at the Freeman of England and Wales AGM by 5 Wardens and a lady freeman. The event provides a rare opportunity to meet with other guilds, to share information and raise the profile of our organisation and the development work we are undertaking.

The Freemen were invited to take part in the Centenary Remembrance event and formed part of the civic contingent. Thirteen Freemen, including both Wardens and Members
all wearing gowns, attended the service in the Cathedral and then processed through Durham into the Market Place.

It is intended that this will be a regular feature of the Freemen’s calendar in future years. If any member would like to take part in next year’s event, please contact the Warden of their company in the first instance, so your name can be placed on a list.

The Freemen Charitable Trust continues to reach out into the community, providing support for worthy causes, whilst raising the profile of an element of our work which has been part of our heritage for many years. A more detailed report of their work will be found later in the Yearbook.

The History Group is moving closer to its final project of producing a booklet of a brief history of our 8 remaining guilds. The group has provided a wonderful opportunity for Freemen and the general public to meet and work closely together to create a booklet designed for the general public and visitors to the City that will again raise the profile of our organisation.

In 2018 we welcomed 12 new Members. A most encouraging feature this year, was 8 of them were time served and admitted through servitude.

Sadly 2018 also saw the passing of a number of Freemen.

John Atkinson - Former Warden of the Masons’ Company 

Paul Allison - Drapers’ Company

Harry Robson - Former Warden of the Plumbers’ Company

Lawrence Anderson - Barbers’ Company

Robert Brown - Former Warden of the Joiners’ Company

Eric Brown - Joiners’ Company

In keeping with the introduction of tenure of appointment for Wardens, Stuart Magee, Drapers Company and Alan Dufton, Barbers’ Company completed their term of office
in April 2018. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Stewart and Alan for their contribution during the past three years. As a result Fred Snowdon was elected Warden of the Barbers’ Company.

Unfortunately, we had no nominations from the Drapers’ Company for the vacant post of Warden. John Booth (Plumbers’ Company) who had previously indicated he would be willing to serve as a Warden in any other company, was appointed Warden of the Butchers’ Company allowing Kathleen Vasey, then current Warden of the Butchers’ Company to transfer back to her original Drapers’ Company.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Fred and John for undertaking their new roles. A profile of both Fred and John can be found within the booklet.

In October, we were delighted to have the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor John Lethbridge and his wife Sandra, supporting our Annual Dinner.

Although the numbers attending was down from the previous year by 25%, the dinner was  extremely successful with 63 guests enjoying our annual event in the wonderful setting of the Town Hall.

Our guests this year included, Jim Evans, President of the Freemen of England and Wales (FEW), Alex Nelson of the Clothworkers Guild of London and Members from the York Guild, as well as Durham City Freemen, their guests and friends from within the city and beyond.

Our guest speaker on this occasion was George Patterson who gave an extremely interesting and humorous talk on his early years as a craft apprentice printer in Glasgow and his route through Further and Higher Education to become Master of Van MildertCollege at Durham University.

My thanks once again to the Wardens and particularly Kathleen Vasey and John Booth
for their support in organizing a successful event. May I also take this opportunity to thank Geoff Kitson for the major contribution he makes in providing a valued professional photographic service to our organization.

I am sure you will all be aware of the proposals to move the headquarters of Durham County Council from Ackley Heads to the Sands where we have an historical interest. Trustees of the Freemen, who have a direct responsibility for the assets of our organization, have been working closely with the Wardens to establish our position, details of which can be found in the Chairman of the Trustees report later in the Yearbook.

Finally, I must thank our 3 retiring trustees, Norman Hart, Alan Ribchester and George Oliver for their expertise and support over many years, especially through these recent and challenging times. I am extremely delighted that they have all accepted an invitation from the Wardens to become Gentlemen Freemen and will be awarded their Freedom at the Candlemas Guild Day on the 4th February 2019.

Chairman of the Trustees Report

My first year as Chair of the Tustees has been eventful, but first I must pay tribute to my predecessor Norman Hart, who guided the Freemen with his wise and measured counsel. Norman had also served as trustee for many years and in the period under review continued to provide sound advice.

As 2018 came to an end Norman decided to retire as a trustee, though I know he will continue to maintain his interest in the Freemen of Durham.

That same affection on for the Freemen applies to Alan Ribchester and George Oliver who have decided to retire formally as Trustees. Alan played a major part in the development of the charitable arm of the Freemen, while George has done sterling work with our public relations and media profile.

We welcomed Richard Scothon at the beginning of the year as a new Trustee who brings legal, financial and business expertise as well as some craft experience from earlier in his life. In 2019, the Trustees will be looking to further strengthen their numbers.

Without doubt the most pressing matter considered during 2018 was the planning application submitted by Keir Developments for the construction of a new civic headquarters on the Sands. This application, at the time of writing, has yet to be considered but has aroused considerable public interest and comment. The Freemen of Durham have an historic interest in the Sands and though no longer the landowners retain a legal interest in its use.

Following consideration of the application, presentations by County Council officers to the Trustees and Wardens and further discussion with the applicants, Durham City Freemen formally objected to the erection of office headquarters and associated car parking on the Sands. We await further information on the planning process.

Less contentious is the ongoing work of the Freemen as we continue to support apprenticeships, provide financial assistance to local organizations and promote the study and interpretation of the City’s history.

In particular, our work with the University including the sponsorship of an apprentice in their heritage programs continues to prosper. We are anxious to provide practical support to the County Council in their ambitious plans for the development of the Town Hall as a heritage destinaton for visitors. The guilds is inextricably linked to the guild hall and the wider building.

The Freemen were again able to provide financial support to the 2018 Remembrance Day Parade, a particularly poignant occasion, given the centenary of the armistice. Awards were also made to Durham Pointers without whom the city’s tourism offer would be the poorer; Durham Area Disability Leisure Group; and St Nicholas Church Recovery Group, whose work in supporting alcohol or drug users is highly valued.

Finally, on the social side it was a pleasure to host a visit from Berwick Freemen, while the Annual Dinner in October was its usual convivial affair, enlightened by an entertaining speech from George Patterson, whose working life in craft and academia was appreciatively received.

I expect 2019 to be no less eventful.

Patrick Conway

Treasurers Report

Managing finances in 2018 has been a roller coaster experience. The first 6 months saw stock markets maintaining their earlier gains. However, uncertainty over US interest rates, trade tariffs and Brexit saw most markets end the year 10% lower. It was decided in November to take some profits and reposition part of the portfolio with a balance between income and growth.

Income levels for the Freemen’s investments have held above 4%. Cash reserves are healthy, but the continued uncertainties both home and abroad have led me to recommend a defensive approach to investments.

The Freemen continue to support local charitable and skill-based initiatives through the charitable trust, and all returns and reports to the Charity Commission are up to date.

Stewart Atkin