The history of the Freemen of Huntingdon goes back to pre-Norman times. The Domesday Book (1086) records 256 Freemen in the borough but today, there are only eight Freemen left. Back then, they had the right to graze cattle on local land – in 1680, a Freeman could graze three cows, forty sheep and two horses.
In more recent years the Freemen did not keep animals themselves but rented the lands to others. The income from this, and the sale of hay and timber, was shared among the Freemen and their widows. Not a great deal of money – by 1977 it was about £300 a year each.
During the property boom in the 1980s some of the land was sold for development and the funds started to increase dramatically. Part of Spring Common was sold for about £2½ million and the potential for interest made a significant change to the Freemen’s incomes.
In 1993 Lord Justice Morritt ruled that an entirely new charity – The Huntingdon Freemen’s Charity – should be set up, with its assets used for the benefit of all the people of Huntingdon, not just for the Freemen.