A NONAGENARIAN grandmother has become the country’s oldest ever new freeman.
It’s taken 92 years, but today (Monday, May 12) Connie Hotchkiss was finally admitted to the City of Durham Freeman, in a grand and historic ceremony staged in Durham Town Hall.
For most of her life, Mrs Hotchkiss, who has four children and nine grandchildren, was prevented from following her father Frederick Elliott into membership of the ancient order, as it was an exclusively male organisation.
Opposition to the creation of “freewomen”, or women freemen, persisted for decades, with one leading freeman reportedly declaring it would happen “over my dead body”.
But in 2012, the 700-year-old institution relented and Durham-trained female apprentices, along with the female relatives of existing freemen, are now entitled to join.
However, Mrs Hotchkiss only learned she was eligible after her son, who was researching the family history, found a story in The Northern Echo online.
Mrs Hotchkiss travelled from her home on the Isle of Man to be admitted by Councillor Jan Blakey, the Deputy Mayor of Durham, who was standing in for Mayor Pauline Charlton, who was unwell.
Afterwards, she said: “I wanted to keep the family tradition going.
“My brother was already a freeman and I felt we ought to keep the link going.”
Mrs Hotchkiss, who was surrounded by supportive relatives, joins the masons’ guild, whose leader, or warden, Bob Elliott, is believed to be a distant relative.
John Heslop, chairman of the wardens of the guilds of the City of Durham Freemen, said the group believes Mrs Hotchkiss to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, new freeman in history.
As such, Gordon Varndell, president of the Freemen of England and Wales, attended today’s (Monday, May 12) ceremony.
Mr Heslop said: “I’m absolutely thrilled. I don’t think she (Mrs Hotchkiss) realises how special she is.
“We’re delighted that she had the wit to realise she could be a freeman and at her age was prepared to travel from the Isle of Man to take part in the ceremony.”
Membership of the City of Durham Freemen now stands at 215, a post-war record, and more aspiring members are due to be admitted soon.