The ceremony to confer the Freedom of the City status is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies that dates back to 1237, which originally referred to a right to trade in the square mile. Today it is a title usually bestowed upon people who have lived or worked in the City of London.
Marilyn Wilkes was admitted to the Freedom following a nomination by the school Treasurer – (an Officer of the City of London Corporation) – as a reward for 25 years’ service at King Edward’s, which retains close links with the City. King Edward’s School was originally sited in London in the Bridewell Palace, on the banks of the river Fleet. In 1553 Bishop Ridley asked the boy King, Edward VI, for the use of the palace for the poor of London. The charter to administer Bridewell Royal Hospital was given to the City Corporation in 1553, providing a place where poor children were taken to learn trades, to be reformed, disciplined and to become useful citizens. The palace was destroyed during the Great Fire of London but was subsequently rebuilt in St George’s Fields Southwark. The new site had a stronger emphasis on education rather than reform and children aged eight to 18 were accepted from the City, County of Middlesex and Borough of Southwark. In 1867 the now named King Edward’s School moved to Witley.
Mrs Wilkes follows in the footsteps of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, Nelson Mandela and the author JK Rowling, in addition to a number of high profile celebrities, some of which were awarded ‘Honorary Freedom of the City’, these include the actors Morgan Freeman and Sir Michael Caine. After joining the School as a history teacher in 1989, she went on to act as a housemistress at one of the School’s senior girls boarding houses for a period of five years. In the latter years of teaching at King Edward’s Witley, Mrs Wilkes became actively involved in delving into the School’s history and was the pioneering force behind the creation of King Edward’s small museum. Although Mrs Wilkes officially retired in 2007, she still retains an active link with the School working as a part-time archivist and is currently heavily involved in creating a digital archive to sit alongside the traditional displays in the museum.
Commenting on receiving the Freedom of the City award, Mrs Wilkes says: “Attending the formal ceremony which is held in the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall, London marked the perfect end to a wonderful career at King Edward’s Witley. I remain fascinated by the historic traditions of the city and feel privileged to have been formally acknowledged as a ‘freeman’ of the City of London.”