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The Freemen of England and Wales Annual General Meeting York

6th Oct 2016 by Eric Bulmer
The Freemen of England and Wales Annual General Meeting York
The AGM which was held at the Merchant Adventurers Hall on the 15th - 17th September was attended by Eric Bulmer (Warden of the Plumbers’ Company), Bob Elliott (Warden of the Masons’ Company), Kathleen Vasey (Warden of the Butchers' Company), Joe McElwee (Warden of the Cordwainers’ Company and Doris McElwee (Member of the Cordwainers’ Company), representing the Durham City Freemen.

The venue, the Merchant Adventures Hall is of national importance and is a grade 1 listed building and a scheduled ancient monument. It was built between 1357 and 1361, before most of the craft or trade Guild Halls in Britain, making it one of the largest buildings of its kind in Britain. It is very unusual to be able to see in one building the three rooms serving the functions of a mediaeval guild; Business and social in the Great Hall, charitable in the Undercroft and religious in the Chapel.

The Great Hall is a timber-frame structure and took a number of years to build. It is the largest timber framed building in the UK still standing and used for its original purpose. The roof is of two spans supported by a row of large central timber posts. It includes complex crown posts and is held together by wooden pegs. The Undercroft like the Great Hall is divided in two by its supporting row of timber posts. The Undercroft also provides access to Chapel which was used by the ill and poor in the hospital as well as the members of the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild. It is still used for worship.

There are Georgian additions including windows and lecterns in the Hall and Chapel.

The Hall belongs to and is still regularly used by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York, who, although no longer dedicated to mechantile activities are prominent in York and still exist as a charitable membership group. They have an extensive set of records, with documents dating from the 13th century and accounts dating back to 1432.

The Hall is open as a museum and is well worth visiting when in York.

The weekend was attended by about 80/100 Freemen which is less than in previous years and perhaps is a developing trend that mirrors the inertia that seems to exist within the various Guilds throughout the country.

My attendance at the AGM provided an opportunity to raise the profile of the developments and activities of the Durham City Freemen and also to make contact with the other Guilds and their members. It was particularly useful to meet with our neighbouring Guilds in Berwick, Alnwick and Newcastle which hopefully will bring about closer working relationships for our mutual benefit.

The main events of the weekend were the AGM which was preceded by an open forum session which provided quite a lot of heat but very little light on the issue of dealing with ways of creating and sustaining membership participation. Although one or two were extremely good at engaging with their membership, particularly the Berwick Guild who managed to combine events for Freemen and their friends, that were very well attended.

The weekends proceedings was drawn to a close by a procession of all the freemen from the Merchant Adventurers Hall to the parish church of All Saints Pavement for their traditional service.

The final act the weekend was the ‘ passing of the baton’ from the York Guild, the host of this years AGM to Pembroke who will be organising the event next year.

Eric Bulmer (Chairman of the Wardens)