No man or woman could trade in the city of Canterbury without obtaining the ‘freedom’ of the city and this involved paying an annual fee.
Admissions of freemen were recorded on the Chamberlains’ Accounts, prepared annually on Lady Day (25 March) until 1752. After this the Chamberlain’s Accounts ran from 1 January to 31 December.
The Canterbury Chamberlain accounts for 1392 are incomplete, but after that until 1800 there is a complete series except for the years 1455 to 1457 and the year 1552-3.
Joseph Meadows Cowper, Honorary Librarian to the Corporation, produced an extract of names between 1392 to 1800, and the volume was privately printed in 1903.
In Cowper’s account there are five categories of freemen:
- those who obtained freedom after serving out an apprenticeship to a freeman
- the children of freemen
- those who married a freeman’s daughter
- those who claimed freedom by ‘redemption’ (i. e. by purchase)
- those who were honoured by a gift of the freedom from the Mayor and Court of Aldermen.
William Baldock, bricklayer (1774) falls into the category of ‘freedom by redemption’. This professional status was to form the basis of his future success when he built the barracks at Canterbury and leased them to the government at the rate of 6p a soldier per week. Between the late 1700s and early 1800s, Britain was committed to various campaigns overseas and Baldock probably made handsome profits from the barracks which could house up to 2,500 men. Quite an annual income for William.
The life of the barracks would have also offered many opportunities to make contact with high level officials not only in Canterbury but also London who were the ultimate authority and approved all activities and costs. There were also various trades and professions supplying the barracks with essentials – food, drink, tailoring, domestic services, professional legal services, etc. and these connections would have enabled the Seasalter Smuggling Company to organise their free trade with certainty.
Some of the conclusions about the way in which the Company worked, focus on the Seasalter Parsonage Farm as the hub, but the Canterbury barracks would have also provided crucial intelligence and a perfect front for moving large quantities of goods along the Canterbury London toll road and other routes.