Women become freemen

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A MODERN-DAY membership record has been established by a group which dates back almost 700 years.

Leaders of the City of Durham Freemen have welcomed 11 new members into their eight surviving craft guilds, boosting numbers to a new high.

The newcomers – seven of them women – were sworn in at a ceremony at the city’s town hall yesterday.

Two years ago the freemen, whose guilds and companies date back to 1327, backed proposals to amend legal admissions criteria and give equal entry rights to women.

In February, after changes in equality legislation swept away restrictive laws, the first women were sworn in, ending centuries of all-male domination.

Among the latest members are Kathleen Vasey and Barry Joicey, from Durham, and Judith Nightingale from Hetton.

John Heslop, chairman of the guild of wardens, said: “The present-day freemen are custodians of a legacy left by the legions of skilled people whose hard work across the centuries was vital in helping make this wonderful city what it is today.

“Over the past eight years we have been able to give £80,000 to local causes and charities, and as our membership grows, providing a firm platform for the future, we look forward to continuing to build on those good works.”