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County History

History of Sheriffs in Bristol
The first known reference to Sheriffs or “Shire Reeves” is in 992 A.D. when the king ordered them to collect the hated Danegeld tax being the ransom required by the Danes after they defeated the Saxons at the Battle of Maldon. Thereafter, they became royal appointees in the shires to look after royal interests, in particular the collection of revenues and the enforcement of law and order. 

In 1373, Edward III granted Bristol the status of a county and the first Sheriff of Bristol, John Viell, was appointed Sheriff. The names of all the Sheriffs since then are known and recorded and they include merchants, landowners and pirates. From 1500 the burden of the shrieval office was such that it was shared by two Sheriffs. In 1836, the first election under the Municipal Reform Act was held and the office reverted to a single holder.

In 1974, 600 years after Edward III’s grant, the County of Bristol was subsumed in the County of Avon. In 1996, when Bristol became a unitary authority, it regained its county status. George Ferguson, gazetted High Sheriff of Avon in March 1996, became High Sheriff of the County of the City of Bristol.

A list of High Sheriffs for the County of City of Bristol.
2001 - 2002 Dr Malcolm Campbell
2002 - 2003 Dr John Savage
2003 - 2004 Mrs Helen Thornhill JP
2004 - 2005 Valerie, Lady Kingman
2005 - 2006 Mr Roger Baird
2006 - 2007 Mr Richard Lee (deceased)
2007 - 2008 Professor Richard Hodder - Williams
2008 - 2009 Mr Bob Durie
2009 - 2010 Dr Timothy Chambers OBE JP
2010 - 2011 Mrs Peaches Golding OBE
2011 - 2012 Dr John Cottrell
2012 - 2013 Mr Andrew Nisbet
2013 - 2014 Dr Shaheen Chaudhry JP
2014 - 2015 Mr Michael Bothamley
2015 - 2016 Dr Rosalind Kennedy

From 1974 to 1996, there were High Sheriffs for the County of Avon (covering the four authorities currently known as the City of Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, and Bath and Northeast Somerset).

Prior to 1974, there were no High Sheriffs extant.

George Ferguson was appointed to Avon (London Gazette 14 March 1996) and transferred to the new bailiwick of the City of Bristol.

Role of High Sheriffs
Over the centuries many of the shrieval functions have passed to statutory bodies or have become the responsibility of the Lord-Lieutenant.

In modern times the principal functions of the High Sheriff are:
• Attendance at royal visits in support of the Lord-Lieutenant
• Providing hospitality and looking after the well-being of visiting High Court judges
• To support and encourage voluntary and statutory organizations engaged in all aspects of law and order
• To work with organizations involved with young people (see Voluntary Sector page)
• To make awards to those involved in the apprehension of offenders
• To participate in Citizenship ceremonies when new citizens make their oath of allegiance to the Queen

High Sheriffs are appointed for one year which normally starts in March following a two-year period of being in nomination.

The office is a royal appointment, made in the Privy Council by the Queen. It is non-political and unpaid. None of the High Sheriff’s expenses falls on the public purse.


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