Women join historic freemen ceremony for first time

People taking part in the Beating the Bounds ceremony
The Beating the Bounds ceremony dates back to the 14th century [BBC]

Women have been able to play a major part in a town's historic ceremony for the first time in its history.

The Beating the Bounds ceremony in Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, started when longbowmen from the town were granted special privileges for their roles in the Battle of Crecy in France in 1346.

The first freemen had been part of an army of English, Welsh and allied troops led by Edward III who defeated a much larger army of troops led by Philip VI of France.

Traditionally, every seven years the freemen of Llantrisant march around the area's ancient boundaries with the title passed from father to son and son-in-law.

However, since last year, the town trust has allowed women to join and this year they have participated in the ceremony for the first time.

Jen Thomas, whose grandfather Stanley was a freeman, marched in the procession and can now be a freeman herself, describing the event as "very important" for her family.

"It’s fantastic that women can become freemen in their own right – it’s been a long time coming," she said.

Martin Hooker, a freeman who has helped to organise the latest event, said there had been an "enormous response" from women wanting to be admitted.

"Over half of those who have been accepted in the annual ceremony - the court leet - this year are women."

Jen Thomas
Jen Thomas, whose grandfather was a freeman, said allowing women to become freeman themselves had been "a long time coming" [BBC]

Thousands of spectators took part in Saturday's event which includes the practice of "bouncing" young boys on stones marking the ancient boundary - the tradition being that they will then remember the route over the years to come.

"This was an era before maps," says Mr Hooker. "It's deeply historical.

"It's celebrating the privileges granted to freemen and it was very important for them to know where the boundaries were."

The ceremony includes "bouncing" young boys on the boundary stones
The ceremony includes "bouncing" young boys on the boundary stones [ Llantrisant Town Trust]