England Freeholders Lists, Jury Lists, Burgess Rolls, Freemen Rolls (National Institute)

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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: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Early Electoral Records[edit | edit source]

Freeholders (Jury) Lists[edit | edit source]

From 1696 rural vestries and urban corporations had to send to their county clerk of the peace lists of those eligible for jury service. These were men aged 21-70 who owned freehold land worth at least 40 shillings, (£2, but always expressed as 40s) per annum. The lists were called Freeholder or Jury Lists and these qualifications were also used as the basis for local and parliamentary enfranchisement. The upper age of eligibility was lowered to 60 in 1825 and the qualification revised to include:

  • Freeholds worth over £10 per annum.
  • Leaseholds for 21 years or more worth £20 or more per annum.
  • Rateability as a householder at £20 (£30 in Middlesex) or more.
  • Occupation of a house with 15 or more windows.

There have always been occupations that were exempt from jury duty, and these were extended in 1825.

Freeholders lists provide at least the names of qualifying persons, and from 1832 their addresses and the qualifying property was specified, as shown below.

Chart: Electors Eligible to Vote for Guardians of the Poor in Halifax Township, Yorkshire 1856 FHL film 1551144

Thos Bland this re a claim see No 14
30 Hopwood Lane, Halifax
Houses, shops and other tenements in Hopwood Lane, Upper and Lower Brunswick Streets, Silver Street, ( Black Swan Passage)
Jas R. Farrar
67 King Cross St., do
Houses, warehouse, shops and land, King Cross Street, Hopwood Lane, Bull Green and Brunswick Street
Saml Waterhouse
Hope Hall, do
House, Land, Warehouses and other tenements, Hope Hall and West Parade
John Waterhouse
Well Head, do
Houses, Warehouses, Land and other tenements Well Head, Love Lane and West Parade
Chas Child
56 King Cross Street, do
Houses, Shops * other tenements King Cross St.

Freeholders Lists are typically found amongst the quarter session papers at the county archives. Other examples of from Essex for 1734, 1759 and 1739-1762 are on FHL film 0543660.

Chart: Freeholders and Freemen

A freeholderwas free to do what he wanted with his freehold land. Most freeholders were in rural areas.

A freemanhad obtained the freedom of a trade guild (livery company), and usually was free to practice his trade in a certain city or borough because he had also been granted its freedom. Other non-tradesmen were granted the freedom of the city or borough as well, especially after 1835.

Burgess (Freemen) Rolls[edit | edit source]

Most cities and corporate towns had been governed since the Middle Ages by a body of men called freemen or burgesses. They had been given the freedom of the city or borough and this gave them certain rights and privileges. The most important were the two exclusive rights of:

  • Practicing their trade there. This exclusive right was abolished in 1835 except in London where it lasted until 1856.
  • Voting for municipal councillors (exclusivity abolished 1867) and MPs (in 1832 all £10 householders in cities and boroughs got the vote whether or not they were freemen).

Other rights were granted specific to the particular charter and customs of the town.

The City of London is unique; since mediaeval times it has been governed by the Corporation of the City of London which included:

  • The Lord Mayor. Elected from amongst the aldermen by Common Hall.
  • The 26 aldermen, one for each City ward, elected for life by the freemen, and of whom one served as Lord Mayor each year.
  • The Common Council consisted of about 230 representatives elected by the freemen in each City ward. The Common Council elected or nominated City officials such as the City Chamberlain, and had extensive legislative and financial powers.
  • Common Hall was originally an assembly of all the freemen but in 1475 was restricted to the senior freemen, called liverymen, of each City livery company. There were about 4,000 of them in 1625 rising to double that number by the 18th century. The liverymen elected the City’s MPs until 1867, and still elect the Lord Mayor from amongst the aldermen.
  • The Freemen who elected the aldermen and the Common Council.

The City of London freedom records are of interest to all family historians as so many people who lived elsewhere, and who were not professionals or craftsmen, (for example mariners, street hawkers, shopkeepers, labourers), gained their freedom here. Few City of London freemen actually lived in the City’s one square mile but mostly in what is now called Greater London and the Home Counties, and indeed anywhere in England.

Obviously registers (or rolls) of freemen were kept by both the trade guild (livery company) and the city or borough, which are dealt with here. With respect to the parliamentary and municipal franchise we are therefore concerned with the freemen of a city or town, not with freemen of a company. Many towns and cities have surviving lists if their freemen, and those for Exeter, King’s Lynn, Norwich, York and perhaps others have been published.

The City of London freedom records are held by the CLRO (Corporation of London Record Office) formerly at Guildhall and now at London Metropolitan Archives where they are now open to the public (see Aldous The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999), Harvey (A Guide to Genealogical Sources in Guildhall Library. , 1998), and the Corporation’s website. They are not duplicates of company records, but often contain more information, and about different people. About 500,000 men are included from 1681 to 1940, with a few earlier as well. There are six main types of records, the surviving dates reflecting the devastations of the Great Fire (1666) and the Guildhall Fire 1785:

  • Freedom Order Papers 1681-1682, 1688-1775, and 1784-date. These may be by servitude (apprenticeship), redemption (payment), or patrimony (father was in this company)
  • Freedom Minute Books or Declaration Books.
  • Apprenticeship Enrolments and Indentures.
  • Freedom Enrolment Books
  • Wardmote Inquest Returns.
  • Complaints Books.

Information that can be found (but not all for everyone) amongst these records includes:

  • Name
  • Age and place of birth (or whether or not in the City of London), and from 1916 the exact date and place of birth.
  • Father’s name, residence, trade and livery company, and exact date of City of London freedom.
  • Date of admission to freedom of city.
  • Apprenticeship indenture which gives master’s name, trade and livery company, consideration money, dates of binding and completion of apprenticeship.
  • Summonses made against those found trading in the City of London without having taken out their freedoms, including name, address, trade and comments.
  • Complaints of masters against apprentices, and vice versa.

Aldous (The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999) and Medlycott (The City of London Freedom Registers. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 19 #2, page 45-47, 1977) give more details, and Aldous’ 2003 article (Records of King’s Freemen in the City of London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 27 #9, page 415-421) describes another group called King’s Freemen who were discharged soldiers and sailors. Many freeman lists are filmed for example:

  • In the FamilySearch Catalog under ENGLAND - KENT - MAIDSTONE - VOTING REGISTERS The Freeman Lists for Maidstone 1551-1842 can be found on FHL films 1656613-4.
  • On the Thomson-Gale website of old documents City of London liverymen were listed by company and then letter of the alphabet in a Canvassing Book, that is a list of eligible men (see chart below) with their address, trade and company name. Note that even in 1776 not all men were members of the company indicated by their trade.

Chart: City of London Canvassing Book for Elections by the Livery 1776

Townsend, Wm Lime Str. Wine merchant Coopers
Topping, Timothy Chiselhurst, Kent -- Coopers
Totten, Sam Chancery Lane --- Cutlers
Townsend, Jn 7 Gracechurch Str. Bridgemaster Embroiderers
Towers, John Aldgate --- Fishmongers
Towers, Sam Fenchurch Str. Ironmonger Fishmongers
Townley, Hammet Tower Str. Hop merchant Fishmongers
Toplis, John White Lion Str. Apothecary Girdlers
Tomlinson, Joshua Prince's Str, Lambeth Pump maker Girdlers
Townsend, Wm Fleet Str. Goldsmith Glovers
Townsend, Rich. Gracechurch Str. Ironmonger Goldsmiths
Townsend, Wm Charles Str., Grosvenor Sq. Upholder Goldsmiths
Todd, Rob 22 Watling Str. Tea Dealer Grocers

A detailed document survives from the early 1760s for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis which has been published by White (Property Relating to Weymouth and Melcombe Regis for the Purpose of Voting circa 1760s, undated). The occupiers and use of every building in each street is listed with some extra notes in some cases (see chart below).

Chart: Property Relating to Weymouth and Melcombe Regis for the Purpose of Voting circa 1760s [data from White]

No Occupier Descripton

Melcombe Regis St. Thomas Street
East Side

58 Poor Alms House 59
59 Wm White A deal yard goes through into the Market Street.
71 Saml Cosens House, slaughter-house and stables backside
72 J. Johns House and garden
73 Edwd Rickett House and garden
74 ----- Void Spott
75 -- Bridle House and garden
76 Widdow Coffin House
77 Wlm Sadler House
78 Thos Bryer A warehouse
79 Jno Mansell A cellar and school room over tenanted by John Dowle
80 Widow Way A house, workshop and garden
81 Philip Adams Stables and corn-house
82 Geo Shuttleworth House, stables and garden
83 Mrs Reed Meeting House and dwelling
Weymouth Hooker's Dock to Hope
21 Jno Newton A house claims by purchase from Mary the sister and heir of Wm Spragg grandson and heir of Tristram Spragg
22 Jno Sandford A house and garden claims by conveyance from Prudence widow of Richd Morris
23 Wm Speck A moiety of a house claims by purchase from Richd Hardy who purchased of Eliz. Fletcher


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records 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 wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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