Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES OF FREE BURGESSES.
The name burgess is usually deduced from the Saxon burg, signifying a village or fortified town. Consequently, a burgess was an inhabitant charged with the defence of the place in which he lived, and, in return for his military services, was entitled to certain privileges and immunities. Accordingly, all the burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne hold their privileges by military tenure, being to this day charged with a musket for the defence of the town. (fn. 1) And because (as is expressed in Queen Elizabeth's charter) "Newcastle hath in times past been the bulwark of the neighbouring parts, bravely resisting and opposing our rebels," &c. therefore hath the royal munificence been employed, from periods very remote, to reward the loyal men of this town with charters, grants, &c.
The Franchise of Newcastle is claimed either by birth, servitude, marriage, or gift. Of the first are all the sons of burgesses; of the second are the apprentices of burgesses; of the third are the widows of burgesses; and of the fourth are all freemen made so gratis, for the sale of it was never known.
There are three distinct classes of freemen. 1st, Those having fellowship with the Twelve Mysteries or the Fifteen Bye-trades: those belonging to the former enjoy the ancient right of sending two of each Mystery to the election of mayors, &c.; and those belonging to the latter trades the privilege of sending one from each society. 2d, Those in fellowship with the other Companies of the town, who are without this privilege; but they are qualified to sit upon juries, to enfranchise their apprentices, to perambulate the boundaries, &c. 3d, Those in fellowship with the whole body, called the Freedom of the Town, and which may be enjoyed without any connexion with the Company: it entitles a burgess to vote for a representative in parliament, to an exemption from tolls, quay-dues, &c. to two stints on the common pasture, &c. and to transfer the franchise to his sons.
Franchise by Birth.—The sons of freemen claim all equally alike the franchises of the father—the youngest as well as the eldest; but neither daughters nor sons in law, as in some corporations, can inherit or transfer any thing. In case of franchise by birth, should a father die before he is admitted to his freedom, the sons by such neglect lose their claim, even should their grandfather, from whom their father claimed his freedom, be living, and an admitted burgess. Illegitimate sons, as in all other cases, cannot inherit from their father. (fn. 2)
Franchise by Servitude. (fn. 3) —This is by indenture of apprenticeship, for seven years at least, and may be forfeited various ways. 1. By elopement from his master. 2. By compact with his master:—for if any master agree to give up to an apprentice any part of his time, any burgess has a full power to prevent his franchise being obtained. 3. By turning over an apprentice to a non-freemen. 4. By the master not being free of the company. 5. By the removal of the master to a residence without the liberties of the town, during any part of his servitude. 6. By the master not occupying the trade the apprentice is bound to.
Collier informs us, that "exception, in some instances, has been made to the 4th rule, by the common council, when applied to by the master, who have admitted such apprentice to his franchise, even when his master has not been conformable to the company's bye-laws; but whether upon the ground of the company's acts, or its rules being incompatible with the law of England, or the right of the corporation in general; or whether upon their own power being such as to admit without consent of the company, I am not sufficiently informed positively to assert; but observe, that if admitted on either of the two first grounds, I think the council justifiable, but if on the latter, the contrary; as I look upon the acts and rules of the company full as binding on its members, as the acts of the common council are on theirs; and the one has as much right to repel the illegal power of the one, as the one has of the other; for both are equally incorporated by one and the same charter; and the companies, it must be observed, are the very ground-work of the other parts and officers of the corporation, and if taken away, the rest must follow."
Franchise by Marriage.—If a freeman marries a freeman's daughter, prior to his admission, he is admitted for 6s. 8d. less than either by birth or by servitude only. By marriage the resident widow of the burgess is entitled to two stints for cows on the Town Moor; and if she continue the business, not only to enfranchise the apprentices her husband left at his decease, but may also take others, with leave of the company, and enfranchise them also. She is also clear of tolls, quay-dues, &c. the same as her husband was when living.
Franchise by Gift.—The franchise of Newcastle cannot be sold, but may be presented as a gift; when it is usually styled, an honorary or personal freedom. It has been generally supposed, that an honorary freeman can neither transmit his franchise to his sons, nor confer it upon his apprentices: but we must allow, if a person is a burgess, he must have the privileges of one; for an estate given (if the giver has a right to give) is as good a tenure as either a purchase or a patrimony: and what made the first men burgesses, but a gift of the crown? and what made the present burgesses such,—but being their descendants or apprentices? (fn. 4)
By the charter of the 42d of Queen Elizabeth, it was ordered that all burgesses should be admitted by the mayor and burgesses, or common council, whereof the mayor and six aldermen were to be seven: this is now dispensed with, and the oath administered by any one of the magistrates is deemed sufficient. It is usual, on admission, to present the mayor or alderman, who admits, with a silver penny, or the silver coin nearest to it in value. The following is the form of the oath:—