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Guilds, Freedoms & Freemen's or Burgess Rolls (Including Scotland)

Nature of Source

Records from organisations established to regulate craft trades and to control imports, set wages and conditions and train apprentices. The records consist of annual lists of those permitted to trade within the city as a merchant or craftsman. Many guilds operated as religious fraternities drawing members from a variety of occupations with admittance strictly controlled.

The local business trade was organised and controlled by officials from the city or town corporation who also played an active part in the running of the guild system of commerce. There were generally two types of guilds, the merchant guild and the craft guild with both playing an important role in the running of the local economy, especially between the 11th and 16th centuries as they controlled the quality and prices of goods available. Only those admitted to a guild could trade as merchants or as craftsmen. Membership was much sought after as it conferred on a person the right to trade within the town and excluded others from doing so.

City of London guilds which were incorporated by royal charter later became known as livery companies. Some trades groups such as the Watermen and Lightermen resembled livery companies but were never officially recognised as a livery. After the early 18th century many people joined livery companies who had no connection to the trade. Most members were granted freedom of the city with some livery company members coming from outside of the City.

In Scotland it was necessary to join a guild of craftsmen or merchants and then gain a burgess ticket as a freeman of the burgh. The rolls listed those admitted as a burgess and entitled to vote in local elections. After reforms in 1884, burgess rolls and electoral rolls became indistinct from each other. The burgess system came to an end in 1975.

Apprenticeship, membership (freedom) records and admission registers are the most useful records and date from the 17th century and may be found in the Guild minutes and accounts. The status of a freeman could be gained in a number of ways, firstly by inheritance from a father, husband or mother, secondly by completing an apprenticeship and thirdly by invite from an existing member and then accepted by the ruling body. Women had the right to pass on their fathers' membership to their husband and a widow could pass her husbands' membership to her sons. By the 18th century membership of a guild became possible upon payment of a fee (redemption) or through the father's membership (patrimony). Guilds also operated outside of London. Also consider looking for the women and juvenile branches of a friendly society. The name of the organisation did not necessarily indicate the occupation of its members.

An apprenticeship lasted about seven years after which the person would be admitted to the guild and attain the status of a freeman. As the power of the guilds declined in the late 17th century, they were replaced by friendly societies with some evolving into secret societies along the lines of Freemasons. Many societies operated along purely fraternal social lines and as charitable institutions such as Freemasons and the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes.

Also look for the records of the King's Freemen which relate to discharged servicemen given special privileges to trade in towns and cities across Britain. Those given the right to trade were not officially Freemen but merely granted the right by the Crown. The rights also extended to the man's wife and children. The records contain the man's discharge papers and marriage and baptism certificates for the wives and children. The records begin around 1749 and extend to 1816. The London Metropolitan Archives holds about 4,000 sets of discharge papers of servicemen permitted to trade in the City of London with a name index. For more information see the online leaflet 'King's Freemen' and their Records in the CLRO'.  

By law, society rulebooks had to be submitted to the Registrar and these are held by The National Archives. Earlier rulebooks were submitted to the Quarter Sessions. The annual reports produced by the Registrar from 1852 are found in the Parliamentary Papers.

See also
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Jurors' Lists/Freeholders' Lists

Where Found

County Record Offices
Guildhall Library
Society of Genealogists (The Crisp and Clench Collection of bound original apprentice indentures indexed by Colonel F Wall; City Livery Companies)
British Library
Corporation of London/London Metropolitan Archives (City Freedom Admission Papers as recorded by the City of London Chamberlain's Court, 1681-1923)
Borthwick Institute for Archives
(Guild and company records)
ScotlandsPeople Centre (Records covering various trades and crafts. See the research guide for the full coverage. Burgh records are also a useful sources for information on crafts and trades Also check with the National Library of Scotland, local archives, libraries and museums for their holdings of craft records. The ScotlandsPeople Centre is the official government resource for family history research. ScotlandsPeople Centre is a partnership between the National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland and General Register Office for Scotland)
Guild/Company Archives

Period Covered

1155 - 1900

Genealogical Value

Name, occupation, address and father's name of freeman. Name and trade of master if status gained by apprenticeship. Date and method of admission.

Further References

Aldous, Vivienne. My Ancestors Were Freemen of the City of London: Society of Genealogists, 1999

Boog Watson, Charles. Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild-Brethren, 1761-1841: J. Skinner & Company for the Scottish Record Society, 1930

Bromley, John & Child, Heather. The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London: A Record of the Heraldry of the Surviving Companies with Historical Notes: Frederick Warne, 1960


Emm, Adele. Tracing Your Trade and Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians; Pen & Sword Books, 2015

Guide to the archives of City livery companies and Related Organisations in Guildhall Library: The Guildhall Library, 1982


Melling, John Kennedy. Discovering London's Guilds and Liveries: Shire, 2003



A number of published burgess rolls are available to download from the Internet Archive.

Websites (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section Guide: Searching for Members or those Apprenticed to Members of City of London Livery Companies) (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Livery Company Membership Guide) (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: List of livery companies) (British History Online: History of guilds covering City of London and English counties from primary and secondary sources including county histories) (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet Number 14: City Freedom Archives) (The City Livery Companies)
Corporation of London Records Office (City of London Freedom Archives) (Livery Company, Wikipedia entry) (City Livery Companies) (Fermilab Science Education Office: The Development of Craft Guilds) (About London Livery Companies) (The Welsh Livery Guild) (Medieval London Guilds) guide to livery company records held at the London Metropolitan Archives) (The History of Livery Companies)
(Latin/Archaic Occupations and Latin/Archaic Forenames) (National Records of Scotland: Research Guides: Crafts and Trades) (National Records of Scotland: Research Guides: Burgh Records)

Online Databases (London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850. The record set comprises ancestors who were apprenticed to various livery companies in London. The records may reveal the trade your ancestor was learning, when he was apprenticed, his master’s name and where he was born. The abstraction and indexing of these records has been undertaken by Cliff Webb, with the exception of the Apothecaries' Society, which was undertaken by Patrick Wallis. The original records can be accessed from the Guildhall Library) (Northamptonshire Freeholders 1795-1797. Lists of freeholders were produced annually and recorded the names of those who qualified for jury service. To be a juror, one had to be between the age of 21 and 70 and own a freehold property worth at least 40 shillings) (Devon, Plymouth Borough Records 1519-1905. Various records from the borough’s administration including Freedom papers and Freemen's papers) (Freemen of Ipswich, 1320-1996) (London Apprentices from Dorset, 1605-1799; London Apprentices from Somerset, 1575-1800) (City of London, Gunmakers' Company Freedoms and Admissions, 1656-1936; City of London, Ironmongers, Apprentices and Freemen 1511-1939) (London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925: The database contains papers associated with application for 'Freemen' status compiled in association with the London Metropolitan Archives)
(Perth Burgh inhabitants, 1766 and 1773 and other Rolls and Registers of Burgesses and Guild Brethren) (Lancashire, Extracted Parish Records: Lancashire & Cheshire Freeholders in Cheshire, 1578) (Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire: Warwickshire freeholder and voter lists and Coventry heads of households) (Lancashire Archives: Red Rose Collections: Preston Guild. Details of over 45,000 people listed in the 27 surviving Preston Guild Rolls from 1397 to 1992. The Guild in Preston controlled those able to trade or to have businesses in this profitable market town) (Worcestershire Archive Online Indexes: Worcester City Freemen) (The Records of London's Livery Companies Online: Records of Apprentices and Freemen in the City of London Livery Companies between 1400 and 1900 including Clothworkers', 1545-1908 and the Drapers' ,c.1400-1900) (Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Freemen's Apprentices, 1706-1776)
(Hull History Centre: Persons bound apprentice to freemen, 1651-1886) (Freemen of Norwich 1317-1603; Borough of Bedford List of Burgesses, 1875; Freemen of Canterbury 1392-1800; Freemen of Chester 1392-1805; Freemen of Leicester; 1770-1930; Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne; Freemen of York)
(Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service: Freemen of Chester, 1747-1925. This database is taken from an index to the rolls and registers of freemen of the City of Chester) (Scottish Genealogical Services: Burgess rolls transcriptions and indexes) (Cork City and County Archives: List of Freemen of Cork City, 1710-1841) (Livery Companies' Database maintained by the Fishmongers' Company)
(The Aldermen of the City of London, Temp. Henry III-1912)
(Liverymen of London, 1776)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (The Freemen of Chester 1392-1805; Freemen of Norwich 1317-1603; The Freemen of York 1272-1759)
Anguline Research Archives (The Aldermen of the City of London, Temp. Henry III-1912)
Gloucestershire Family History Society (Freemen of the City of Gloucester 1838-2013. This CD contains a surname index of the Freemen of the City of Gloucester images from the register showing residence, occupation and name of father)