Lots of our new Freemen, not just those who aspire to the Livery, go on to Guildhall, after their freedom ceremonies here at the Hall, to apply for Freedom of the City which is an essential step on the way to becoming a Liveryman. Murray Craig is Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court and he, and his Deputy, Laura Miller (a Freeman of the Company) will be familiar to all those who are made Free of the City. But what does the Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court do? We asked Murray who is seen in the photo with one of his more famous new Freemen!
Q What does the Chamberlain’s Court do and how does it fit into the City of London Corporation?
A We are a small cog in the large wheel of the mighty Chamberlain’s Department but while most of our colleagues are bean counters and number crunchers (accountants) we carry out a niche role of admitting people to the Freedom of the City of London and have done since the early thirteenth century. It seems odd that the financial department should be responsible for this ceremony when we have a High Officer called the Remembrancer who does all the pomp and ceremony of the Lord Mayor’s show, State Banquets, election of the Lord Mayor etc. but the reason for this is very simple, filthy lucre! This is because in the Middle Ages the freedom fee was proportionally much higher than today and then the fees would swell our coffers directly rather than going to the Freeman’s School for the Foundation Scholarships as they have done since 1850. The freedom fee was, therefore, a sizeable chunk of the Corporation’s income.
Q As Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court what does your role involve?
A I conduct the ceremony whereby the freemen are admitted, I am the main point of contact between the Livery and the Court of aldermen so if a Company applies for a royal Charter or a supplemental one, a new guild wants to be recognised or a company wishes to update or change its ordinances, constitution or by-laws then I am the filter. There is some historical research as we receive many enquiries about why ancestors were freemen and so we can tailor ceremonies if a dignitary attends we can draw relevant artefacts from our archive to show the recipient. For example when King Michael of Romania was admitted I dug out a menu card for a luncheon held in honour of his father when he was last at Guildhall in 1938. I fulfil an ambassadorial role for the Corporation in that I carry out lectures, guided tours of Guildhall and speak at various Livery Company and Ward Club lunches and dinners.
Q What career path did you follow to bring you to the position of Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court?
A I fell into the job. After graduating I worked in housing management for some years for housing associations and local authorities. I ended up working on the Barbican Estate which is part of the corporation’s mighty empire. Technically it was a council estate but not really and while the residents did not swear at me they were all very articulate and demanding and wrote difficult letters about the service charges and lift maintenance. Accordingly I became rather disenchanted with housing and the Corporation offered lots of other opportunities. The "blue sheets" or internal vacancies (long before the internet) offered the usual local authority jobs such as lawyers, accountants, and bin lorry drivers but occasionally Verderer at Epping Forest, Bridge Master at Tower Bridge and one day Deputy Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court admitting people to the Freedom, working with Livery Companies and Historical research. As I had read history at London University at what is now Queen Mary College I was still interested and applied and was appointed. My predecessor retired in 2001 and I succeeded him.
Q Has anyone famous ever undertaken the role?
A No we are not in the territory of the City Surveyor who included Robert Hooke and the City Architect who included Horace Jones. However, one interesting fact is that I am only the 37th Clerk since 1294!
Q As a Company we are keen to see our Freemen go on to become Free of the City so that they can progress to the Livery but what does the City get from its Freemen?
A Nothing tangible but our new Freemen (around 1,800 a year) are Ambassadors for the City and can explain what we do and how we have a wider brief than a normal London Borough.
Q Beyond being able to progress to the Livery within their specific Livery Companies with what other activities can Freemen of the City become involved?
A They could consider joining the Guild of Freemen, a body which is mainly for Freemen who are not members of Livery Companies but in fact includes a substantial number of Liverymen as the Guild lays on a wide ranging number of events throughout the year.
Q Beyond the Freedom ceremonies do you personally get involved in a lot of City ceremonial and if so which is your favourite occasion?
A I am writing a book about this (very slowly!) so I have a keen interest in the various ceremonies, commemorations and customs of the City and the Guilds so for example the Trial and Verdict of the Pyx at Goldsmiths’; Knollys Rose ceremony; the Inter-Livery Pancake Race in Guildhall Yard; Doggett’s Coat and Badge race; the Quit Rents Ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice and of course Cakes and Ale!
Q A lot of history, tradition and British culture is evident in the process of becoming a Freeman of the City. Are you aware of any major changes at all over the centuries?
A I understand that the ceremony used to be fairly short and sharp, reading, signing and a handshake so I am proud that my predecessor Ian Roberton and I have made it much more of an occasion where the history of the ceremony is explained together with the privileges and recipients and their guests are shown some of the wonderful artefacts relating to the freedom that are on display in the Court Room including Florence Nightingale’s Freedom Casket and the sword of the defeated French Admiral at the Battle of the Nile which a grateful Lord Nelson presented to the Lord Mayor as a thank you gesture for his honorary freedom in 1797.
Q Can you see this tradition lasting another 800 years?
A I hope so, my mortgage is not paid off yet! Seriously I am optimistic, it is a very long standing tradition and the numbers admitted annually remain high and indeed are increasing because of new Guilds appearing (currently we have Nurses, Entrepreneurs, Human Resources Professionals and Public Relations Practitioners serving their apprenticeship before becoming a fully-fledged Livery Company).