Freedom For The Few

By Jim Dyer
First published in the South Wales Argus, September 1986

© Jim Dyer 2012

Details of people who became Freemen of the Borough of Newport.

No Nelson Mandella's or Margaret Thatcher's in Newport South Wales but quite a few who gained national applause. There are now a couple of local army battallions and Councillor Aubrey Hames, a former Council leader who was made a Honourary Alderman in the late 80s, but no individual has recently achieved the honour.

Although the practice in Newport has lapsed it is only right that a city with fine traditions should guard these powers jealously if the honour is not to fall into disrepute.

By 1986 there had only been 15 Freedoms granted and two (or three) of these have been to the military with local connections. The others have been former councillors and officials, a member of Parliament, an industrialist a local benefactor and a world-renowned soldier.

Having said that Newport has been sparing in granting freedoms the same cannot be said of the style and dignity in which they celebrated such occasions. No expense was spared and the grand affairs included much rejoicing, parades and silver gifts to the lucky persons.

Lord Tredegar

It was fitting that the first freeman was the Rt Hon Viscount Tredegar, Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire, in June 1909.

As the Monmouthshire Weekly Post reported : 'He was the most notable of townsmen, most generous landlord most popular of peers.' Newport would not be Newport without him and even his old residence is still here for people to enjoy. His exploits at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 are well documented as is his intense interest in the town and parliament.’

It was a magnificent occasion that day, and before the ceremony at the Central Hall, thousands lined the streets to cheer the procession. 'It was a red letter day. From public buildings and tradesmen's premises, flags were flying and the vessels in the docks gay with bunting.'

John Moses

It was in 1909 too, in October, the second freedom was conferred - this time to Alderman John Moses JP, known as the Father of the Corporation. The paper announced 'Octogenarian Alderman - 'Fine Record of Public Service' and went on to describe in glowing terms his 44 years of service stretching back to 1865.

A Newport man born and bred, a former Mayor, shipbroking firm owner, and a vivid memory of the Chartist Riots equipped him for the honour.

Albert Newman

A few years passed before the next freeman was installed in 1927. Appropriately it was Albert Newman, retiring Town Clerk after forty years - a great and exceptional honour for a council official.

Jimmy Thomas

He was followed by an old Pill boy in 1924, the Rt Hon James 'Jimmy’ Thomas, MP for Derby for many years, a privy councillor and a Cabinet minister in the Ramsey McDonald and Baldwin governments.

Thomas Parry

It was in 1927 when Alderman Thomas Parry was elevated to the elite group for his outstanding services to civic life over 33 years. It was he who inaugurated the Talybont water scheme, the reservoir built in mid-Wales for the town.

The 1930's

The 1930s brought no less than five new freemen led by Horace Lyne MBE in 1934, another council official, retiring from command of Newport Fire Brigade after fifty years.

The following year another councillor, Alderman John Moxon OBE, was made-up at the old Town Hall for civic service on many committees.

An unusual step was taken in in September 1936 when freedom was given to three 'worthy citizens' at Newport Athletic club. These were William Royce Lysaught OBE JP, the famous industrialist and a further two aldermen - Fred Phillips and Dr . Lloyd Davies, both JPs.

In proposing the motion it was said ' They have met ungrudgingly the incessant demands on their energy. They have sacrificed uncomplainingly their private ease and leisure.'

Bernard Montgomery

The end of the Second World War brought the first and only distinguished man with no links to Newport to be honoured with the freedom. In September 1945 crowds from all over Gwent flocked into the town to see the great soldier who led the victorious British armies from El Alamein to Berlin - Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, Knight Cross of the Order of the Bath, DSO.

A legend in miltitary history, Monty arrived at Newport station to be greeted by tremendous cheers and after lunch at the Kings Head, he was duly enrolled as a freeman at the Great Central Hall. This was a most popular gesture supported by the whole town and his inauguration ceremony portrait still hangs in the Civic Centre.

The oil painting showing Field Marshal Montgomery receiving the freedom of the borough from Alderman George Armstead. Looking on is Town Clerk Mr SMT Burpitt.
The oil painting showing Field Marshal Montgomery receiving the freedom of the borough from Alderman George Armstead. Looking on is Town Clerk Mr SMT Burpitt.

Mary Hart

The last person to be given the freedom was the popular local figure Mrs Mary Hart OBE JP, who received her award in 1954. She was first in a number of things for a woman - mayor, councillor, magistrate, alderman, and of course - lady freeman. A woman of many talents she was given an honorary degree and a Bardic title at the 1938 National Eisteddfod in Cardiff.

Other Freedoms

There were two other freedoms granted, or three depending on how you look at it.

In 1947 the Corps of the South Wales Borderers (24th/41st Foot) for their long association with the borough. This gave them the right 'in perpetuity to parade through the streets on all ceremonial occasions with drums beating, band playing, colours flying and bayonets fixed.' Addressing a packed audience at the Athletic Club grounds the Mayor referred to the glorious history of the Gallant Twenty-Fourth and traced their long campaign details from Blenheim to South Africa and the Great War.

The corps were eventually amalgamated with the Royal Regiment of Wales in 1969, and the freedom was duly passed to them at a magnificent ceremony at Shaftesbury Park.

The last freedom fell to another military force in 1978 : the 104th Air Defence Regiment Royal Artillery (Volunteers). Every so often this group exercises their 'right to parade' to the delight of the townsfolk. They too have a long history, back to 1860 when it was the 1st Monmouthshire Volunteer Artillery under Captain Charles Lyne another former Mayor, and they were based at Ruperra Street.

Receiving the Freedom of Newport is an honour rightly to be proud of as it is not conferred lightly or without thought. It represents the epitome of recognition in public life, irrespective of occupation sex or race. A freeman is held in high esteem. There are now no living Newport Freemen. It still remains to be seen when the next will be granted and to whom the honour will fall.


1. First published in South Wales Argus on 10th September 1986.

2. There was one other Freedom granted in late 80s to HMS  Battleaxe a destroyer which was twinned with Newport.

3. Newport was granted city status in the late 1990s.