The History of High Sheriffs of Shropshire
The office of High Sheriff is the oldest, still in existence, royal appointment, being able to trace the roots of the role to the 7th Century when a ruler called Ine of a small kingdom based around Winchester, provided in his laws for a “scir man” to resolve disputes. The better-known King Alfred (yes, he of the burning of the cakes story) thought so well of these laws that he had a copy of them bound into his personal copy of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.
High Sheriffs were a vital third party to the shire courts of the Saxons, and in 928 Aethelstan, who was one of the first kings of All England, required his Reeves/Sheriffs to provide at their expense for one destitute Englishman compromising of a quantity of meat, a shank of bacon and an annual suit of clothing and to make free one man who had been reduced to penal slavery.
The fine if the Reeve/Sheriff did not do this was 30 shillings – interestingly the same amount that High Sheriffs of Shropshire must pay to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company annually following a decree from Henry II in the mid-12th Century. He decreed that each year the High Sheriff of Shropshire was to give to the Hospital of St. Giles a fine of 30 shillings plus a handful of 2 hands of every sack of corn and a handful of one hand of every sack of wheat from all sacks sold at Shrewsbury market! Thank goodness the requirement was not indexed linked as that would be over £4000 in today’s prices!
Sheriffs continued to administer the shires, a task that continued through to the 19th Century where the costs of undertaking the role – with its requirement to host, entertain and protect judges on their circuits to administer justice – became so onerous that many did not want to take the office as High Sheriff in fear it would ruin them!
These days the role of High Sheriff has changed considerably; sheriffs no longer being required to collected taxes or administer justice. The modern High Sheriff’s role is non-political and is discharged without any payment or cost to the public purse.
It is a huge honour to be nominated and to have the opportunity to serve one’s county through supporting the work of the Judiciary, the Police and other law-enforcement agencies, the emergency services, local authorities and all recognised church and faith groups. More than anything it is an opportunity to shine a spotlight and as one recent High Sheriff of Shropshire said, “to sprinkle the fairy dust” on the many community and voluntary organisations that work hard to make our county such a great place to live and work.
My focus for my Shrieval Year is to celebrate those Unsung Heroes we have across our beautiful county – those individuals, community groups and businesses that go the extra mile whether through volunteering or through enabling their staff to make a difference through corporate social responsibility programmes. As a rural county we have to celebrate our community assets such as churches, pubs, village and community halls and ensure that rural areas are vibrant with opportunity for all. We have some great examples of groups and individuals who reach out to their communities to support those less fortunate and I really want to continue the great work of my predecessor, Selina Graham who has done so much to encourage volunteering in her year of office.