The City of Coventry in medieval times was a very close knit community and held a concentration of craft-skills unparalleled in the Midlands. The first known apprentice in Coventry, who served his “time” (seven years) as a merchant signed his indentures in 1317.
A heavy concentration of such apprentices appeared in the reign of Richard II (1377-1399 ). Trades ranged from weaving to soap making and included skilled craft trades and merchant trades.
In 1449 the City’s trades numbered twenty five with a total of 603 people engaged in them; this was over 10% of the population which illustrates the importance of the City as craft centre at the time. Then as now, all apprentices who learnt their trade by servitude became Freemen of Coventry. This unique tradition has been retained in Coventry and we are the only Guild left in the country to admit new Freemen solely on the basis of “Admission by Servitude”.
Most freemen in the early days served periods as “Journeymen ” after their apprenticeships and then often set themselves up in business. Money was a made available, free of interest, in order to help them do this and this facility still exists today.
In those days Freemen had the right to graze their animals on the common grounds or common meadows known as Lammas Lands. There were also arable fields known as Michaelmas Lands which formed part of the common grounds. However, during the 19th Century these areas were enclosed and converted into freehold, but the Freemen of Coventry received the main share. To this day valuable estates are owned by them and the income from these estates is used to award pensions to Senior Freemen or provide relief for those in need.
The original Guilds were formed into the very powerful “Holy Trinity Guild” but this was eventually dissolved by Henry VIII for its religious affiliations. The Guild was reformed in 1946 as The City of Coventry Freemen’s Guild.
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