Kirkcaldy In 50 Objects: The Freedom of Kirkcaldy
It is now 75 years since the Freedom of Kirkcaldy was last awarded.
Following the reorganisation of local government in the mid 1970s, it will never be bestowed again.
When the award was last granted it had become a ceremonial honour without any of the important privileges it once gave to a “Freeman.”
That was a far cry from its original purpose.
Going back into the mists of time, being a freeman or burgess was important on many levels. A burgh was normally a town incorporated by charter which gave it a degree of self autonomy. These burghs were also victims of the 1975 local government reorganisation.
A burgess was an inhabitant of a burgh, normally a craftsman or merchant who owned property. Burgesses had the right to trade in their burgh free of charge.
The right to trade was obtained by birth, apprenticeship, marriage, inheritance, purchase or by a gift from the burgh.
Being a burgess was vitally important from two viewpoints. It allowed the burgess to both earn a living, and have the security of being within the town walls.
As well as privileges, a burgess had responsibilities. The two most important were, firstly, guarding the town gates to ensure no illicit persons entered in an attempt to pilfer trade. Secondly, there was a responsiblity to ensure that no burgess was using underhand tricks to secure business to the detriment of another. To all intents and purposes a burgess was a freeman of his burgh.
Through time the definition changed, and a burgess came to mean an elected or unelected official of his burgh.
The names of the burgesses were recorded in the Kirkcaldy Burgh Roll. It is known that there have been two. One covered the period to 1809 with the other recording from 1810 onwards. Kirkcaldy Town Council adopted the practice of creating every newly elected councillor a burgess.
This explains why Kirkcaldy has such a long list of burgesses/ freemen. The last of these ‘automatic’ burgesses was created in 1900.
With the march of time the freedom became an honour bestowed by the citizens of a municipality upon a valued member of the community or a national figure or dignitary.
Kirkcaldy it is said was very sparing with awarding the Freedom – since 1843 only 13 individuals have been accorded the honour.
The first was Richard Cobden in 1843 – the last, Joseph Westwood and Sir Michael Nairn in 1946. While it cannot be disputed that the Kirkcaldy number is comparatively low, Kirkcaldy has countered by saying that this was a deliberate ploy in order to maintain quality.
There can be no doubt that all the recipients made their mark on the local, national and international stage. Some of the recipients are household names, some reasonably well known and others hardly known.
However, they were important men of their time covering a large number of fields ranging from politics to industry with many other professions in-between.
The website - www.kirkcaldyin50objects.com - carries the story of each award, as well as setting out the background from its inception to its conclusion.