Norwich Charitable Trusts

Norwich Freemen’s Charity

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Norwich Freemen’s Charity Information

About Us

The Norwich Freemen’s Charity (Previously known as the Norwich Town Close Estates Charity) is an endowed charity and one of the 4 Registered Charities in the Norwich Charitable Trusts group of Charities. The Charity makes grants to individuals and to other charities mainly for educational purposes but also for general welfare needs.


Our Origins

The endowment derives from a piece of land used and then owned by the Freemen of the City of Norwich since the 16th century. Because of its position, just outside the ancient City wall and on the road to London, it increased very significantly in value over the centuries until Trustees decided it was in the best interests of its beneficiaries to sell the property and to reinvest the proceeds.

The Freedom Of Norwich

The Norwich City Charter of 1406 gave the Freemen of Norwich the power to set up a system of Self-Government. Aldermen and Councillors were all Norwich Freemen, elected by Freemen whose aims at the time were to promote and protect their freedom to trade. At that time, admission to the Freedom was either by being the son of a Freeman or by virtue of being apprenticed to a Freeman for seven years.

The 1835 Municipal Corporation Act effectively removed this system and replaced it with the modern system of Government.

In Norwich, the Freemen still laid claim to the Town Close Estate, which is the triangle of land bounded by Newmarket Road, Ipswich Road and Eaton Road. By 1887 the title was given to the Freemen. In 1892 the Charity Commission established the Norwich Town Close Estate Charity now known as The Norwich Freemen’s Charity.

By the 1920s the Norwich Freemen were actively managing the estate to increase the income to The Norwich Freemen’s Charity for the benefit of the less well off Freemen. In 1979, following the Leasehold Reform Act of 1967, the Trustees sold a number of the properties and invested the return in commercial property, a policy which by the mid-1980s had greatly increased the Charity’s income.

Today the Charity gives financial help in the form of educational grants, relief in need grants and pensions to Freemen, their children and their widows and surplus income beyond these demands goes to registered charities with an educational purpose within a 20-mile radius of the Norwich Guildhall. The Chairman of the Norwich Freemen’s Charity and of the Norwich Freemen’s Committee is Nigel Q Back. Eight Norwich Freemen serve both on the Freemen’s Committee and as Trustees of the Charity.

In 2010 a historic change, through the Local Freedoms Act 2009 (Chapter 5 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009) granted the Freedom of the City to daughters of Norwich Freemen. Friday, 19 March 2010 was the date of the first admission of women Freemen, and it has given the tradition new life. There are currently over 1,000 Norwich Freemen, around 250 of whom are women.

A Common Hall of Freemen is held every 5 years at the City Hall. This is when and where new Committee members and Trustees are confirmed as elected to serve a five-year term of office. Since 2010 the Freemen’s Committee has discussed and agreed a new election process, which has opened up the opportunity to all Norwich Freemen to put themselves forward for election to the Freemen’s Committee and, once a desired 5 year term of office is served, they can put themselves forward for election to the Trustees of the Charity. The next Common Hall will be held in January 2020. The Lord Mayor presides, and confirms the election of the successful candidates. All Norwich Freemen may attend the Common Hall to meet their new Committee and Trustees. Around 100 Freemen attend. The Freemen’s Committee meet within a week or so of the Common Hall to elect a Chairman and then to discuss and take decisions on Freemen’s affairs which include considering and making their views upon applications for grants from other charities that have an educational purpose.

The Committee also arranges an annual outing to a local place of interest. Up to 100 Freemen of all ages join these outings and some travel up to 300 miles to attend.

There is much pride in holding the Freedom of Norwich. It is the pride of belonging to such a fine City and the privilege of being granted the Freedom of the City that has kept the tradition alive.