The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History

Click here to return to the Home page      Click here for more information about this website       Click here to go to the A - Z Contents page       Click here to go to the Links page       Click here to go to the Disclaimer page       Click here to link to the Can you help? page


Updated:  28 April 2012 

Doctor James Yonge died in Plymouth in 1721 and left, in his manuscript of memoirs, an account of the days upon which the Mayor and Aldermen of Plymouth were to wear their scarlet coats.  One of those was Freedom Day, alias Liberty Day.  [1]

Between Lambert's Day, September 17th, when the new Mayor of Plymouth was chosen, and the Feast of Michaelmas and All Angels, September 29th, the day upon which the new Mayor was sworn in, the newly elected Mayor and the outgoing Mayor would select a day to become Freedom Day.  [1]

On this day the boys of the Town were at liberty 'to take what they meet that is eatable' and in a body they walked around the boundary of the Borough along with the Mayor and any other inhabitants who wished to join them.  Doctor Yonge called it "riding the freedom".  They would then all meet up at a place called Freedom Field, where beer, wine, apples, cakes, etc., were distributed.  [1]

The boys then went to the Barbican to meet the boys from Cattedown, who were brought across by boat.  The gathering would then go to the home of the outgoing Mayor, where they (referred to in Yonge's manuscript as 'ye Rable') were again entertained with cakes and apples thrown out of a window into the street.  While the boys were scrambling around for their shares, the adults were given wine and buns in the house.  They then all went around to the new Mayor's house, where they did the same again before making their ways home.  [1]

The use of the term "riding the freedom", along with the fact that the day involved beating the bounds, as it was later known, suggests that the freedom that was being celebrated was freedom from the control of the Prior of Plympton that was gained when the Borough received its first Charter of Incorporation in 1439.  This is pure speculation at present.  [1]

One of the spectacles was a fight between the boys of Old Town, inside the Martyn’s Gate, and the those of Breton or Burton Side, outside the Gate.  A porter by the name of Nickey Glubb, who died in 1809 blind, was the last chief of the Burton Boys.  The fight was stopped for good in 1782 after many of the boys suffered broken collar bones.  [2]

A report of that year's event on Wednesday September 25th 1833 gives a slightly different, more sedate, version of the events of the Day so it is worth quoting it  [3]:

After partaking of an elegant breakfast at his residence in Princess Square, the Mayor Elect (Mr W H Evens) accompanied by the Mayor and about 40 gentlemen on horseback, rode round the bounds of the Borough, and from thence to Freedom Field.  On their return they dismounted on the Parade, and walked to the Barbican and Fisher’s Nose, for the purpose of receiving the two head Freedom Boys (who had, in the meantime, inspected the boundary by water), giving each a cuff in the head by way of a remembrance, saying, “Remember this and be a sober citizen”, and afterwards bestowing a piece of silver to cure the blow.  They then proceeded to the Hoe to inspect the stones erected on the decision of its being the property of the corporation, vulgarly called “Bellamy’s Stones”.  Buns and wine were then handed round to a select posse; after which the populace were regaled with a scramble for apples and tough cakes.’


[1]  Yonge, Doctor James FRS, "Plymouth Memoirs", Plymouth Institution and Devon & Cornwall Natural History Society, Plymouth, 1951, page 79.

[2]  Worth, R N, "History of Plymouth from the Earliest Period to the Present Time",  William Brendon & Son, Plymouth, 1890 (second edition).

[3]  “Freedom Day, alias Liberty Day”,  Plymouth & Devonport Weekly Journal, Plymouth, September 26th 1833.]

©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

Any problems viewing this webpage should be notified to the webmaster at plymouthdata dot info