The origins of Freemen in England go back in history to the guilds of the medieval merchants and craftsmen whose influence helped to found and stabilise urban communities. Freemen enjoyed a special status in boroughs which usually included the right to trade and vote at elections for, and sitting on, the Borough Council. The power to vote at parliamentary elections was usually confined to Freemen - the right to become a Freeman being dependent upon birth, purchase or by apprenticeship to a master craftsman who was himself a Freeman. The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 removed these privileges.

The Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885, (now replaced by the Local Government Act of 1972), permitted Councils to give the title of Honorary Freeman to ‘persons of distinction and any persons who have rendered eminent services to the Borough’. This is the authority for the election of such Honorary Freemen today.

Benefits following receipt of title

The title of Honorary Freeman is the highest honour that a Borough can bestow although it carries no privileges and is purely an honour to recognise the significant and valuable services rendered to the Borough by that person. However, those successful will be able to use the title of ‘Freeman’ and receive invitations to major civic events. Their name will also be displayed on a roll of honour in a prominent position in a civic building.


People from all walks of life and all sections of society who have made a difference to the community and Torbay are eligible to be nominated as Honorary Freeman provided that, at the time of nomination, they are living in Torbay. However, in keeping with the special nature of Honorary Freeman, the award should be strictly limited to those who have made a very significant contribution to the community of Torbay and who have demonstrated ‘Service Above Self’.

The maximum number of Freemen, at any one time, is to be restricted to eight in recognition of the important status of this award. Existing councillors are not eligible to be nominated.

Who can make nominations and how

Residents of Torbay who are on the electoral roll are eligible to make a nomination.

Nominations shall be made by completing the nomination form and forwarding it, in a confidential envelope, to Civic Support, Governance Support, Town Hall, Torquay, TQ1 3DR.

The nomination form needs to be completed in full, following the instructions in each section closely. It is important that as much information as possible is provided about the nominee, and an explanation about what their actual contribution in an area has been.

One letter of support may be submitted from a person who has first hand knowledge of, and can endorse, the nominee’s contribution. However, it is imperative that confidentiality is maintained.

All nominations of Honorary Freeman are treated in the strictest confidence. The nominee should not be informed that they have been nominated, as it is not fair to raise expectations in case they are not met.

It is imperative that submissions are not discussed with any other persons (except the one person who may provide a letter in support of the application) or with the individual concerned. Any disclosure will make the application invalid.

An acknowledgement will be sent upon receipt of the nomination form. Correspondence will not be entered into on the merits of a particular nomination whilst it is under consideration.

Additional information may be sent to support the nomination at any time and will be considered with the existing papers where possible. Any important change to the information, such as the home address, should be notified to the Council as soon as possible.

The Civic Committee will meet on an ad-hoc basis to give consideration to nominations received by the Chairman of the Council. Wherever possible the Civic Committee Chairman and members of the Civic Committee should not be changed or substitutions made, to ensure consistency when considering applications. The Civic Committee will meet in private to discuss the nominations received. The details of the nominee will be available only to members of the Civic Committee.

Proposers are not allowed to attend any meeting of the Civic Committee. The Civic Committee may request further information from the proposers if required.

Any recommendation to confer the honour should be a unanimous decision by members of the Committee present. The names of anyone not selected will not be recorded, but the person making the nomination will be notified. The Civic Committee will then make their recommendations.

The Civic Committee will then request the Chief Executive to approach any person that the Committee recommends to award Honorary Freeman status, to ask that person, if he or she were supported by the Council, whether or not he or she would accept.

A special meeting of the Council will then be to be held to consider granting Honorary Freeman to the nominees. This must be agreed by not less than two thirds of the Members present as required by Section 249 of the Local Government Act 1972. The decision will include the reasons for the Council’s decision and the details of the public service provided by the recipient. Each recipient will then be presented with a badge and scroll.

A Civic Reception, hosted by the Civic Mayor, will be held immediately after the special Council meeting to give an opportunity for everyone to offer their congratulations to the newly appointed Honorary Freemen.

If an application is unsuccessful, a further nomination may only be re-submitted after the next ‘all council’ local elections have taken place.