Story behind Freemen of the Borough

Eccleston's Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins
Eccleston's Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins
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In recent months there has been great discussion about the achievements of Eccleston-based cyclist Bradley Wiggins.

Having become the first Briton to win the Tour-de-France, and fresh from winning Olympic gold at the London Games, he may also be presented with the Freedom of Chorley.

However, while around the country being conferred the honour of Freeman is well known about, the details and status of the honour, and particularly what it means in Chorley, has been somewhat shrouded in mystery.

Local historian Stuart Clewlow has been able to shed some light on the history of the honour and offers his findings in two parts, which will 
conclude next week.

To understand the meaning of the honour, it is necessary to examine the history of Chorley.

Since at least the 13th century, Chorley was governed by a Manorial Court, in essence the Lord of the Manor ran the show.

In those days, the Lord had the right to bestow the title of Freeman (or Yeoman) on anyone they saw fit or anyone who could afford to 
purchase the title.

Through a representative, the Lord exacted rents and fees over citizens within his lands and was head of a Court Leet for judgement of 
criminals and minor legal issues.

The control over the Court Leet by the Lord of the Manor had lapsed by 1828.

In 1853, the existing town authorities began the process of electing 20 commissioners who would be given the authority to develop the public services of the town.

At the time, these services consisted of adequate sewerage, street lighting, paving, and dealing with dangerous buildings and public nuisances.

The last manorial family of Chorley was the Gillibrand family, from whom the Chorley commissioners purchased the lordship of Chorley, the market place and all manorial rights in 1874.

Almost as if symbolic of the transfer of authority, the current town hall is built on the site of the aptly named Gillibrand Arms.

Following a petition to Queen Victoria and completing the required applications, Chorley received its formal charter which incorporated the town as a borough dated June 17, 1881.

Following the elections held in November that same year, all the property, rights and powers of the Chorley commissioners passed over to the newly-elected council.

Members of this newly-established council would become its first Freemen of modern times.

To end part one it is very fitting to look at what the very name Chorley means. After years of debate over a couple of theories, one has become widely accepted.

It is believed the place name Chorley is formed from two Saxon words, ceorl and leah. Leah has evolved from meaning a ‘woodland glade’ to ‘a clearing amongst woodland’.

A ceorl evolved into something similar to the medieval Yeoman.

And what was a ceorl? A Freeman.

So, appropriately for this Flashback, Chorley is ceorl-leah – a clearing in the woodland made by a Freeman.