It is probable that the practice started among the thirteen trade guilds of the Town where the main purpose was both to ensure a good quality of goods produced in the Town, and also to act as a 'closed shop' and keep traders from outside the town from working in Richmond! Each Guild used to appoint 'Searchers' whose equivalent role to-day would be a cross between the British Standards and Weights & Measures Officers.
In recent years it has been given as an honour to recognise particular services given by individuals and groups to the Town.
The Town Council most recently conferred the Honorary Freedom on The Lord Crathorne KCVO (2014), Royal British Legion (2013), Roy and Pamela Cross (2011), Margaret Emmeron (2011), John Blenkiron, JP (2010), the late Lady Sylvia Crathorne (2007), the Baroness Harris of Richmond and Mrs Katherine Mary Carr (2004) at ceremonies attended by friends and civic dignitaries. Previously the freedom had been given to the late Lady Serena James in 1987.
It is interesting to note that the title of honorary freedom is conferred but this does not imply a strictly male preserve indeed the old trade guilds of Richmond at a relatively early stage would admit women normally widows of Freedmen to continue their trade.
Lord Crathorne KVCO receiving the freedom in 2014
(Photo courtesy of Mark Whyman)
Freedom Ceremonies usually take place in the Castle or the Market Place.
In July 2013 Richmond granted the freedom to the Royal British Legion in recognition of their constant support for members of our armed forces and their families. The RBL is unique among armed forces charities in that they support all those who serve or who have served irrespective of their length of service and their branch - Navy, Army and Air Force.
Richmond is the only community in the whole of the United Kingdom to have thus honoured the Royal British Legion.
Because of the close connection that the Town has with the three armed services and the close proximity to Catterick Garrison the Freedon of the town has been bestowed upon the following:
The Yorkshire Regiment (when it was formerly the Green Howards Regiment) for many years was garrisoned in the town and still have the Regimental Headquarters and Museum in the town. The Green Howards became the Yorkshhire Regiment after the amalgamation of 4 famous Yorkshire regiments in 2004:
1) The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment) (19th Foot)
2) The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire (14th/15th Foot)
3) The Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) (33rd/76th Foot)
4) The East and West Riding Regiment.
The Royal Signals Regiment who were garrisoned at Catterick for many years.
HMS Richmond with whom the town keep in contact and whose Captain and ships company visit the Town as their schedule allows. HMS Richmond
The RAF Regiment who were stationed at Catterick Airfield for a long period.
The Royal Military Police for the special local contribution of 150 Provost Company.
1 (Close Support) Battalion Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers. This battalion based at Catterick provide support to 4 Mechanised Brigade (BLack Rats). 1 Battalion REME were awarded the freedom of the town in 2012.
Bestowing the Freedom of the Town allows the regiments to march through the town on ceremonial occasions with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating, bands playing and colours flying.
That this is considered to be a privilege harks back to the days when armies were badly paid and supplied and so towns were always fearful of allowing armed men into their walls for fear of being plundered and looted. It would have been a very trusting town indeed which let in armed men in the C16th or C17th
Below are some photos of some Freedom Parades in recent years.