Civic sexism rumpus after lady Aldermen in Preston refuse to be called Alderwomen

A civic sexism rumpus has erupted after two former Mayors accused Preston Council of "political correctness gone mad" for changing their titles of Honorary Aldermen to Alderwomen without telling them.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 3:45 pm

Long-serving ex-councillors Christine Abram and Bobby Cartwright were stunned when they were introduced by the new term at a civic ceremony at the Town Hall recently.

Now they are refusing to adopt the female version saying it is the latest example of the city council "trying to expunge history and tradition."

"It's insulting," stormed Christine, who served as Preston Mayor in 2007/08. "It's not just PC gone mad, it's PC gone too PC.

Proud Aldermen Bobby Cartwright (left) and Christine Abram with the then Mayor Coun Trevor Hart at their investiture as Honorary Aldermen in 2018.

"We don't want to be called Alderwomen just on the whim of somebody trying to appear politically correct. What's so wrong with history and tradition? The council should be embracing it, not sweeping it away."

Christine and Bobby (full name Roberta) were made Honorary Aldermen at the same ceremony in the council chamber in December 2018. They became the 35th and 36th former councillors to receive the accolade.

Bobby, who was Mayor in 2011/12 and whose husband Neil is also an Honorary Alderman, said: "I couldn't believe my ears when they introduced us as Honorary Alderwomen.

"The gasp I came out with was heard all around the chamber. Why were we never told they were going to change the title?

Christine Abram with her Honorary Alderman certificate.

"I take offence at being called Alderwoman - it sounds like 'older woman.' I know I'm no spring chicken, but how dare they?"

Both ladies stood down as councillors in 2018 after around 20 years service each and were nominated as Honorary Aldermen later that year.

Preston Council took a decision to introduce the term Alderwomen at a meeting in January 2020, although Christine and Bobby claim they were never consulted or told about the change.

Earlier this month two more former councillors - Carl Crompton and Stuart Greenhalgh - were also granted Honorary Alderman status for long service to the authority and it was at that civic ceremony in the Town Hall that the word Alderwoman was first used in introductions.

Bobby Cartwright is determined to remain an Honorary Alderman.

"We all thought we'd misheard," said Christine. "Then someone else said it, followed by someone else. It was the first time any of us had heard it and none of us were impressed, I can tell you.

"It was a complete shock. They hadn't even had the courtesy to tell us what they'd done.

"Since then I've looked at the council website and they now have Freeman and Freewoman titles too. How absurd.

"We aren't going to put up with it. We're all proud to be called Honorary Aldermen and that is what we will continue to be."

Preston Town Hall where members decided to introduce the post of Honorary Alderwoman.

Bobby added: "It just seems that, regardless of tradition, if one person complains about anything then it has to be changed.

"I've tried to find out who came up with this whizzo idea, but I've not had a reply.

"When Christine and I were Mayor we were both happy to be referred to as Mr Mayor. That was the title dating back centuries and that's how it should stay."

At their investiture in 2018, the then Mayor Coun Trevor Hart presented the two women with commemorative certificates stating they were Honorary Aldermen. Both proudly display them in their homes.

Coun Hart, who temporarily left the council between 2019 and May this year, said: "There's something about the term Honorary Alderwoman which doesn't have a good ring to it. It feels wrong if I'm being honest.

"I wasn't party to it at the time it came in because I wasn't on the council for two years, but maybe there could have been a more sensitive way of doing it.

"There have been one or two other changes that have come through the council in terms of gender questions. I presume we are making sure we are moving with the times.

"It's the same as the term chairman becoming chair. We don't call people chairwoman - that sounds like char-woman."

A spokesman for the city council explained: “Procedures were reviewed back in January 2020 and, following a consultation with many other local authorities, Alderwoman was included, as was Freewoman.

“It is only when speeches are made by the Mayor, or those moving and seconding the nominees, that the Freewoman and Alderwoman titles would be referred to and only if requested.

"Individuals can be addressed whichever way is their preference.”

The title alderman dates back centuries. Under legislation in 1835 to reform local government councils appointed aldermen, while councillors were elected by the public.

The post was abolished in 1974 and replaced by the non-voting position of Honorary Alderman for long-serving councillors as a reward for "eminent service" to the authority.

Preston has given out the honour just 38 times in the past 47 years - 12 of those to women.