Burgesses are registered members of the Guild Merchant, whose history goes back to 1179
Originally, anybody who wanted to trade in Preston was required to become a member of the Guild Merchant. To become a member, a Guild Court was held to admit people to the Guild. Once admitted, burgesses were given the right to trade in the city. The Guild Court also enabled burgesses to pass their rights down to the next generation.
Over centuries the nature of membership changed. New members could be admitted in a number of ways, such as serving an apprenticeship in a trade or being rewarded for services to the Guild. By paying a substantial fee, people living outside Preston could become ‘out burgesses’. However, as membership was hereditary and there was no restriction on where burgesses lived, the distinction between ‘in’ or ‘out’ burgesses soon became blurred - despite the current Guild Roll still listing them separately.
When Free Trade was introduced in the 18th Century, the need for a Guild and the burgesses rights were abolished. However, by this time the Guild had become such a great social occasion that the people of Preston decided to continue to celebrate their Guild.
In 1992 history was made as daughters of existing burgesses were admitted to the Guild for the first time - numbering 274 out of a total of 808 burgesses.
In 2012, all sons and daughters of the 1992 burgesses were entitled to be admitted, which made the task of tracing all eligible people back to the original family name quite a challenge. Burgesses registered from near and far - many from the Preston area but also from all over the UK and across the globe.
Unlike Guild Burgesses, Honorary Burgesses are admitted at the gift of the mayor at the Formal Adjournment of the Guild Court. These are traditionally people who have been of service to the Guild and to Preston, such as past Mayors and, in 1992, Sir Tom Finney.
In 2012, for the first time, the Council asked members of the public to nominate people to become an Honorary Burgess. This was based on who they thought should be honoured for their contribution to life in Preston and centred criteria relating to the 5 Guild themes:
- People's Guild
- Merchant Guild
- Creative Guild
- International Guild
- Green Guild
In total, 20 people were selected to receive the Honorary Burgesses title. A list of these individuals can be found in the documents section titled ‘Honorary Burgesses 2012’.