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County History

The High Sheriff of Greater London 
The office of High Sheriff goes back so far that its vast length of history is every bit as interesting as the office today. In the seventh century the Saxons divided their kingdoms into more practical administrative regions they named shires. A reeve was a community leader and each shire soon had its reeve, shire-reeve or sheriff. He was a royal appointment with the duties of collecting revenues from the shire; raising armed forces; and administering justice in the shire court.

The sheriff was the trusted government figure in the shire. Bishops were important in civil disputes in Saxon times and sat with the sheriff in the twice yearly shire court. The Saxon administration was robustly organised and its great institutions of Monarchy, Burghal District and Shire remain strong today. The boundaries of the shires and the supremacy of the law of the crown (later through parliament) remained in essence unaltered until the Heath government in the 1970s. But the duties of the sheriff have changed through those centuries.

The Normans kept the office of sheriff, but in 1072 church courts were created for ecclesiastical disputes. This left the High Sheriff supreme in each county. Meanwhile, cities were becoming more important. In 1130 London bought its right to elect its own sheriff and the City of London does so to this day. But in contrast to the alderman sheriff, the crown appointment is the High Sheriff. They knew how to have a good party: the expense claim of the sheriff of London in 1157 after beating the Welsh was 20 tuns of wine, 60 pounds of pepper, 100 wooden cups, 1000 pounds of wax, cooks and scullions.
The Exchequer was rather less generous towards High Sheriffs, requiring them to account for their revenues minutely. This led to abuses, the first commission of enquiry under Archbishop Lanfranc in 1076 and, in 1215, clauses in Magna Carta to contain the abuses. King John’s trusted sheriffs might secure the revenues and knights from several shires. One of the most forceful was Sheriff Faulks, who at the height of his powers with the control of six shires, built Faulks Hall just south of the Thames, known to Londoners today as Vauxhall.

In 1388 Conservators (later Justices) of the Peace were created. The hard pressed High Sheriffs might have been pleased to have less pressure from minor court cases. In 1551 each shire’s military leadership was given to a new creation, the Lord-Lieutenant. 

Today the High Sheriff is still a royal appointment and every March The Queen pricks the name of each High Sheriff on parchment, just as Elizabeth I did centuries before. The role remains unpaid and without expense claims. Greater London was created out of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent in 1965. It comprises all 32 boroughs but not the City of London. 

The High Sheriff of Greater London is interested in justice in a wide sense: police, courts, prisons and the voluntary sector in its support for victims and offenders. The High Sheriff supported by his wife, Under Sheriff and Chaplain visits the police, courts, prisons, charities and those who work with them for Londoners. The role is completely non-political. We are there to recognise those who have done exceptional work; to bring people together; and to facilitate things which need to be done. 


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