A WOMAN thought to be one the oldest people in Britain to be sworn-in as a “freeman”, is celebrating another milestone, having become a centenarian.

Connie Hotchkiss was just months short of her 93rd birthday when she was welcomed into the ranks of the Durham City Freemen, which for nearly 700 years had been an all-male preserve, in 2014.

National changes to equality laws paved the way, in 2012, for the city freemen to admit its first 14 women, who qualified by having served apprenticeships in Durham, or were the daughters of existing freemen.

Mrs Hotchkiss’s son, Ian, discovered the rule change after seeing an online story in The Northern Echo, providing the motivation for his mother to maintain the family link, following her father, Frederick Elliott, brother Fred and his son Michael into the city’s Masons’ Company.

The family connection also included her paternal grandfather, Joseph Elliott (1841-1893), a master mason of Gilesgate, Durham St Giles.

He was the younger brother of John Elliott (1837-1873), who was the great grandfather of the current Warden of the Masons’ Company, Robert “Bob” Elliott.

Mrs Hotchkiss first met her husband Ken during a holiday in the Isle of Man before he left his home on the island to go to university in Liverpool.

She returned to the North East, where she worked with the Red Cross during the Second World War.

After marrying they lived in Newcastle, Mr Hotchkiss teaching in Washington before ending his career as head of science at Don Valley High School in Doncaster.

They had four children, Susan, Stuart, both Durham University graduates, Ian and Paul.

When Mr Hotchkiss retired, they moved back to Mr Hotchkiss’s childhood home, on the Isle of Man, where Mrs Hotchkiss still lives, in the same village as son Paul.

Stuart, now living in France, said: “My mother always felt she would like to be able to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps”.

In 2014, Mrs Hotchkiss’s admission ceremony in Durham was celebrated by the whole family and on September 9 this year she celebrated her 100 years with four generations of her family, some of whom may follow in her footsteps and apply for admission to the Mason’s Company.

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