Musical South Shields priest awarded Freedom of the City of London

NOT SHEEPISH... Father Chavner with Murray Craig, clerk to the Chamberlain's Court.
NOT SHEEPISH... Father Chavner with Murray Craig, clerk to the Chamberlain's Court.

A musical South Shields-born priest is anything but sheepish after he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London.

Father Robert Chavner, the Vicar of Brighton, was bestowed his freemanship honour at a recent ceremony at the city’s Guidhall.

And among the rights the award gives him is to walk a flock of sheep over London Bridge.

But the 55-year-old, a former pupil at Redwell Comprehensive School in South Shields, has promised to give “plenty of warning” to the authorities in the unlikely event he decides to do so.

Father Chavner, who has enjoyed a glittering operatic singing career, is also a patron of St Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow.

He said: “I was nominated for the freemanship by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and I am very proud and honoured to receive it. It wasn’t something I expected.

“Honours like this help me to support the charities I’m involved with, including St Clare’s. The award does enable me to take a flock of sheep over London Bridge. I have no sheep but I did say that I would give plenty of warning if I decided to take up the option.

“The situation is not entirely unfamiliar. As vicar of Brighton I also have the right to keep sheep in the churchyard.”

Father Chavner, whose family still live in South Shields, won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and subsequently embarked on an a career in music which has spanned three decades.

He added: “My ministry comes first but I still get the voice out of the box from time to time.

“I am very proud of my Tyneside roots and, as I’m fond of saying, ‘you can take the boy out of Shields but you cannot take Shields out of the boy’.

It is believed that the first Freedom was presented in 1237.

The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land.