The High Sheriff is appointed when The Queen pricks his or her name in a meeting of the Privy Council – in my case, on 13 March. But he does not actually assume office until he makes his Declaration. The only stipulation is that this must be before a High Court judge or a magistrate. It can be done anywhere and no one else need be present, so it would be perfectly possible to do it in your kitchen at home, but for those who enjoy a bit of ceremonial that would be missing a good opportunity.
In the distant past the Declaration no doubt was made in the incoming High Sheriff’s residence. In the 20th century the ceremony seems to have normally taken place at the Under-Sheriff’s office, when it must have been a relatively modest occasion. More recently, one or other of the courts in Chelmsford has been used, but since 2015, when Vincent Thompson made his Declaration, the venue has been the Council Chamber at County Hall.
The Council Chamber provides a very fitting setting for a County event. It was opened in 1938, part of extensions to County Hall designed by the County Architect, John Stuart, with the national expert for such buildings, E. Vincent Harris, brought in to design the important ceremonial rooms. What makes the Council Chamber special are the decorations, paid for by Councillor W. J. Courtauld (High Sheriff 1921–22). These include two large maps of the county (in 1576 and 1938), and portraits of famous Essex men and women, all painted by Henry Rushbury. Others commemorated on the walls and in stained glass include former High Sheriffs Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall (1544–45), Edward North Buxton (1888–89), and Andrew Johnston (1880–81, and first chairman of Essex County Council 1889–1916).
The Order of the Ceremony is that that the Lord-Lieutenant opens the proceedings and orders the reading of the Royal Warrant appointing the incoming High Sheriff. This is done by the Under-Sheriff. The incoming High Sheriff makes his Declaration, and the outgoing High Sheriff reports on his year of Office. He then presents the Staff of Office to his successor (who is by now no longer incoming, but in office), who appoints his Under-Sheriff. The High Sheriff may of course appoint whomsoever he wishes to the post, but it would be a brave High Sheriff who did not re-appoint the existing Under-Sheriff, whose knowledge and experience is invaluable. The Under-Sheriff in turn makes his Declaration, which is very similar to the High Sheriff’s. The High Sheriff appoints his Chaplain, who reads a prayer. The Lord-Lieutenant then closes the ceremony.
On Monday 8 April I did of course re-appoint Roger Brice as my Under-Sheriff, and as my Chaplain I appointed the Revd Faye Bailey, who until recently was Assistant Curate at The Ascension with All Saints, Chelmsford, but on 28 March was installed as Team Rector of the parish of Becontree South. The attesting magistrate was my colleague Martin Stuchfield, and the line-up on the bench included four circuit judges: Their Honours Charles Gratwicke (Honorary Recorder of Chelmsford), John Lodge, Jonathan Seely, and Samantha Leigh. The meat of the ceremony is the outgoing High Sheriff’s report, and Bryan Burrough delivered a well-balanced reminder to those present of all the good things that are being done in the County to improve the lot of its residents, and of the things that still need to be done. Without those who work in the public service, whether paid or as volunteers, society as we know it and perhaps take for granted simply could not continue to function, and it is one of the High Sheriff’s most important roles to see that they receive recognition and our gratitude.