Two time-served Durham craftsmen have been sworn in as freemen of the city – more than 100 years after they first became eligible to join.
Eighty-five-year-old Norman Johnston – known to his family and friends as “Syd” - started work as an apprentice bricklayer with Durham Rural District Council in 1952, while miner’s son Anthony Pritchard, aged 64, was employed as a trainee joiner with a private company after leaving school at 15.
It was only recently both men were told by friends that having completed recognised apprenticeships within the city they qualified for membership of the centuries-old craft guilds.
At the age of twenty-one Syd joined the Royal Military Police to complete National Service and after four months of basic training was despatched first to Japan and then on to Korea shortly after hostilities had concluded.
His duties, however, took him on foot patrol into North Korean villages and he witnessed the repatriation of hundreds of British prisoners of war after their release from captivity.
After two years in the Army he returned to his home city and his job with the rural council before marrying his wife Jean. The couple’s daughter Angela works for the BBC in Newcastle across radio and television.
“A couple of friends who have long been freemen, one of them plasterer Norman Dent who I served my apprenticeship with, told me recently I was eligible to join. I know more than sixty years have passed but it’s better late than never and provides an opportunity for my daughter to follow in my footsteps into the Mason’s Company,” said Syd, who retired from work 20 years ago.
For Anthony, a member of the Institute of Certified Carpenters, it is a similar story. He could have joined more than 40 years ago but “never gave it a second thought” until a recent conversation with one of the members.
After completing his apprenticeship he switched to the city council’s workshops where he spent a decade before joining Durham University’s estates unit where he stayed for more than 20 years, retiring six years ago.
“I have always been in work and consider I have been very lucky in life. It is quite an honour to become a freeman,” he said.
Anthony, a former member of the St John Ambulance Brigade who stays fit by swimming three times a week with his Gloria, has joined the Joiner’s Company.