History for Pauline in Newcastle-under-Lyme
History is being made in Newcastle-under-Lyme as Pauline Dawson becomes one of the first women to be admitted to the Staffordshire town’s Burgesses – resulting in a break with centuries-old tradition as the town marks its 850th year of borough status.
In celebration, the 86-year-old’s home, Belong care village, is hosting a special popup exhibition within its integrated Belong Heritage Gallery, documenting the Burgesses history, with exhibits including photographs, certificates and maps from bygone eras, a reproduction of its common seal, and items of clothing worn by its members.
Burgesses, also known as freemen, were given the right to use common land surrounding the town, having been selected by King Henry II following the granting of Royal Charter of Incorporation status in 1173, making Newcastle-under-Lyme a borough.
Over the years, they have accumulated numerous rights via successive grants and Royal Charters, including voting, trade capabilities and governance participation.
Today, the Burgesses continue without being involved in the town’s running and, until now, entry has been limited to men. Rules stipulate that admission via hereditary rights is only applicable to sons of members, thereby making Pauline ineligible despite her grandfather and father, as well as her brother, all being Burgesses.
Her campaign which began over 20 years ago recently culminated in success as the charity voted in favour of permitting women and accepted her application to join, with her initiation ceremony taking place this month – befitting of the council’s year-long 850th borough anniversary celebrations, with September dedicated to the theme of rights and protests.
Speaking of her accomplishment, Pauline Dawson said: “Ever since my dad first told me the story of the Burgesses, it’s been important to me and my life. Becoming a Burgess means the legacy can carry on through my own family, and I’m very excited and looking forward to loved ones coming from all over the country for my initiation – it will be a memorable occasion for all of us.”
Based on archives at the Brampton Museum, records show Pauline is amongst the first official female Newcastle Burgesses in living memory. Research by volunteers also shows she may have had a pioneering medieval predecessor who has previously been washed from history.
In recognition of Pauline’s achievement, Newcastle-under-Lyme’s oldest building dating back to the 17th century, now transformed into a gallery documenting the town’s history, arts, and culture, has curated an exhibition featuring a wealth of Burgess memorabilia.
Taking pride of place at the Belong Heritage Gallery display is the robe and freeman tie of former Newcastle Burgesses chairman, the late Brian Simpson, also a former schoolfriend of Pauline and care village resident.
Open to the public, guests can enjoy other exhibits, such as its big top circus experience chronicling the area’s links to the performing arts discipline, and Samuel Bell’s Tea Room, themed around the building’s past as the town’s only pottery, whose owner and namesake was also a Burgess in the 18th century.
(Main image Newcastle-under-Lyme Mayor, Councillor Simon White admitting Pauline Dawson to the Newcastle Burgesses.)