About The Freemen of Newcastle Upon Tyne

The Freemen

The Freemen of the City of Newcastle upon Tyne can trace their origins back to Anglo-Saxon times where the free men were a middle class, comprised of those who were permitted to carry arms for the defence of the city.

The organisation survives into modern times as a conservation body, primarily aimed at protecting the many of the parksTown Moors and green spaces for the benefit of the City’s residents. The organisation is also a charitable trust to give means-tested financial assistance to Freemen, their spouse, sons and daughters.

The Stewards Committee (2017-2018)

The Stewards Committee is responsible for the business affairs of the Freemen as under the Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988. This involves the day to day administration of land, properties, grazing rights, investments and charities. Nominations for election may be submitted by any of the 84 Stewards representing the individual Companies of Freemen. A minimum of 9 and a maximum of 12 Stewards are elected by those in attendance at the Michaelmas Guild. Elections take place annually.

Both full and Sub-Committee meetings are held each month.

The Stewards Committee (2017-2018)

Top row: (Left to right)  H.Alder, NB Atkinson, P. Anderson, A. Bainbridge, S. Pashley, P.Powell, F.H.Alder  

Bottom Row: (Left to right)  C.G. Atkinson, H.D. Wilson, Sir L. R. Fenwick, J. Johnson, K. Hall

The Freemen's Finances

It is a popular misconception that the Freemen are a very rich body who divide untold wealth secretly amongst themselves! This is quite untrue. Income derived from use of the Moor is used only for administration, maintenance and improvement.

The income from the grazing rights, known as stints, is paid to a Freeman or his widow residing within the Newcastle upon Tyne boundary who have assigned their right to graze. This is £20 per head of cattle (2009).

Rental from Intakes is distributed to beneficiaries of the Town Moor Money Charity which operates under the authority of the Charities (Town Moor Money Charity Newcastle upon Tyne) Order 1970-685.

The Intake system has been in effect since the 1774 Town Moor Act although that name was not adopted until 1970. The Stewards Committee is empowered by Section 9 of the Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 to designate any area of the Town Moor (apart from the Town Moor Festival site) as intakes. The intake land can be used for purposes other than grazing (such as allotments or playing fields) in order to provide the rental income for the Town Moor Money Charity to distribute. The area designated must not exceed 40.5 hectares (100 acres). The leases are on the basis of terms determined by the Stewards Committee but they may not exceed 99 years and if they exceed 21 years the consent of the Charity Commissioners is required. The leases are publicised and open to public bid at auction.

There is no obligation to use all 100 acres and Intakes do not necessarily remain on the same piece of Town Moor. If required, an Intake area can be removed from the system and put back to grazing or moved from its present site to somewhere more convenient to the management of grazing. This happened recently when the whole of Hunters Moor was able to be returned to grazing. In this case it has brought about an improved view and perception of Town Moor land. It is vital, therefore, for the long term benefit of the Town Moor and to the income of the Charity that the Intake system is closely monitored and the land put to best possible use at all times.

Disposal of the former Fenham Barracks site, which was the Royal Artillery Hospital in the early 1800’s and had been used by the military as barracks for over a century, saw a change in the Freemen’s finances. It was not possible to return the area to Moor when the military left the site. In the early 1980’s negotiations began to enable developments to take place and amongst the first occupants of the site were the BBC and the National Blood Transfusion Service followed by small industrial units. It took over a decade to complete and in 1996 the final lease was completed. The capital receipts were divided equally between the City Council and the Freemen in accordance with the Town Moor Act. The Freemen had to gain the approval of the Charity Commissioners for each of the developments. The capital received is kept in a separate fund and the income generated applied to the maintenance of the Town Moor. The capital received by the City Council has to be used to finance improvements to the Town Moor. The capital received by the Freemen was invested and the income generated from these investments has obviously given the Freemen much greater security and the ability to maintain the Town Moor to a higher standard than was possible in the past. The Freemen are registered as a charity.

The Moor

History

The Freemen have exercised their right to graze cows on the Moor from time immemorial, the right to do so having originated prior to the Norman Conquest. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 states that the Stewards Committee shall decide the number of cows, not exceeding 800, which may be grazed. This number is dependant on the conditions and capacity of the areas available for grazing from year to year. In 2018 circa 600 cattle were grazed on the Town Moors.

Statistics

Town Moor areas, as near as can be determined, are as below:

In many respects the prime value of the Freemen’s rights is that they protect the open space, a wonderful asset for the City and its residents. This has been their main consideration over the last 250 years. Had there not been dual control over the Moors there can be no doubt, as highlighted by the schemes mentioned earlier, that the land would have been developed. It is an underlying principle of the Town Moor Act 1988 that the public of Newcastle should have the right of “air and exercise” on the Moor.

There have been some encroachments on the Moor by mutual agreement with the City Council. These have only taken place when the Freemen were satisfied that it was for the benefit of the public and the City. These include the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the former Fenham Barracks, various Parks, the University Halls of Residence, plantations and roads. Land exchange was taken in some instances, however, it must be said that this would be very unlikely to be the case today. Outlying areas are very difficult to manage and their identity lost to the public. (The largest area of ‘exchange land’, 30 acres at Little Benton, allowed the building of the University Halls of Residence on Leazes Moor.) The total taken out of Town Moor land since 1770 is approximately 210 acres leaving just under 1,000 acres. This is a fine record of preservation bearing in mind the pressures on open space, especially during the post war years.

The Royal Commission on Common land 1955-58 made several favourable references to the condition and management of the Moor in its Report. Describing the Moor as “an interesting example of a large area on the margin of a populous city centre where agricultural and recreational interests have been carefully married”. They also stressed the necessity for proper grazing, without which land soon deteriorates and becomes derelict.

This very much agrees with the view of the Freemen as to the future of the Moor. To ensure that this remains a grazed open space it is vital that the ‘dual control’ system remains in place. The City Council is an elected body and a future Council may view matters in a different light. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 protects the rights of the Freemen to this end and the Freemen are now in a stronger position to protect the open space from development. Various schemes are still proposed from time to time and the Freemen will remain vigilant in protecting the Moors. Changes to the pattern of use of the Intakes have been made, and will continue to be made as people’s needs and interests change, but there is a strong determination that the acreage of the Moors will be strenuously defended. There can be little doubt that without their vigilance in the past and their courage to challenge authority there would be no Moors as we know them today. The commitment of the Freemen to protect the Moors, not just for future generations of Freemen, but for the City and citizens of Newcastle is paramount.

Is there another City with such an asset, often referred to as the ‘lungs of the City’ so close to its centre? It must be one of the finest urban open spaces in the United Kingdom.

Aerial Views of the Moor

South-East Aspect

Southern Aspect

Southern-Western Aspect

Northern-Western Aspect

Grazing and Land Management

Grazing is kept below the ‘environmentally friendly’ recommended level to support indigenous species of birds and wildlife. However it must be noted that the Town Moor is grazing pasture and without grazing there would be no open space.

The optimum pH level for grazing pasture is 6.5 and the natural grazing cycle keeps the balance within acceptable levels. However, soil tests are regularly taken to assess potash, potassium and nitrogen levels. Weather conditions can affect the treatment required. The pattern has been that none of the Moor requires annual treatment, over the last 10 years it has only been required, in varying levels, every third year. Pasture topping is kept to the very minimum and usually only carried out towards the end of the grazing season. (Due to Foot and Mouth Disease the pattern had to be adjusted in 2001.) The cow grazing the Town Moor is possibly the most efficient environmentally friendly recycling beast known to man. It mows the sward and returns the waste to the land in an easily absorbed material, sustaining the optimum pH level to support future crops of grass.

Occasionally top soil is imported to repair areas damaged by the holding of an event, these areas are re-seeded using a long term lay mixture containing, early, intermediate and late perennial ryegrasses, providing a balanced growth throughout the season. Also included are timothy, to give extra palatability and white clover to enrich the soil.

The open nature of Town Moor land supports many species not otherwise found in the normal urban City landscape. The Town Moor has a high skylark population and staff have observed a total of 46 species of birds over recent years.

During the grazing season a 24-hour emergency-only call-out is in operation. Contact Mr K. Batey, Town Moor Superintendent on 0779 877 1323.

Other Uses of The Town Moors

The Town Moors are utilised by many who enjoy the right “air of exercise” aswell as those utilising their fantastic open spaces and proximity to Newcastle City Centre. Events including…

The Northern Pride:  http://www.northern-pride.com/

The Newcastle Mela:  http://newcastlemela.co.uk/about-2/

The Moscow State Circus

Park Run

Cancer Research UK’s Race For Life:

The Town Moors are also utilised by The Great North Air Ambulance to safely land their helicopter when transporting emergency patients to The Royal Victoria Infirmary. We work closely The Great North Air Ambulance and other Emergency Services operating a 24hr call out facility to assist wherever possible.

The Freemen Charities

The Town Moor Money Charity

The Town Moor Money Charity (no. 227620-1) offers means-tested assistance to Freemen and their surviving spouse, and extends to assistance towards mobility aids, and to their children in full time further education aged 18 to 20 years. When a son or daughter reaches the age of 20 they need to take up his Freelage to enable them to make an application as a Freeman.

St Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Trust

After nearly two and half years, an audacious rebuilding scheme on the St Mary Magdalene & Holy Jesus site on Claremont Road, Newcastle, is nearing completion.

At a cost well in excess of £5,000,000 the original Holy Jesus bungalows, built in the 1930’s, primarily intended for occupation by Freemen, have been demolished and are being replaced with the construction of forty nine new “state of the art” units, to go alongside the existing seventy nine St Mary Magdalene residences.  

 

The Thomas Davison and Sir Thomas White Charities

The Thomas Davison the Younger Charity, under a declaration of trust dated 19th August 1755, is for making gifts to young Newcastle residents in need of assistance in setting up business in the City and preference is given to Freemen. 

The Town Moor

Redeveloped St. Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Bungalows

Address Details:

  • Freemen of Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Moor Bank Lodge
  • Claremont Road
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • NE2 4NL
  • United Kingdom
  • Tel: 0191 2615970
  • Email: admin@freemenofnewcastle.org
  • Registered Charity Number: 227620