Henry Grapnel’s tiring week

Red Sands Fort, in the Thames Estuary, seen from Essex Police’s launch Alert IV.

I’m now well into my fourth month as High Sheriff, and have just finished what was probably my busiest week so far. After a late night at the High Sheriff of Norfolk’s circus party, Lucy and I were up early on Monday to spend a day with the Essex Police Marine Support Unit, during which we cruised from their base at Burnham-on-Crouch down to the Thames Estuary, where we were able to get up close to the Second-World-War Maunsell Forts. On Tuesday I visited Harlow Council in the morning, which included going to St Paul’s Church to hear about the foodbank that they have there, to the Playhouse to learn about their engagement with the community as well as their role as a J9 venue, and to Bromley Cottages, 19th-century farm cottages restored as a hostel for homeless people by Streets2Homes in partnership with the Council. I spent the afternoon with Rainbow Services learning about some of the excellent work they do, and then went straight to Wivenhoe House Hotel for a University of Essex Graduation Dinner.

Walking between meetings on Wednesday: Central Park, Chelmsford.

Wednesday took me to Chelmsford, first to visit The AIM Group Foundation, which helps young people find apprenticeships, and then for a meeting of the Fabric Advisory Committee of Chelmsford Cathedral. I’m taking a break from various committees this year, but this is one I particularly want to keep up with. In the evening we went to Skreens Park for the AGM of the Essex County Scout Council, and were treated to a rousing address by the new County Commissioner, Richard Pattison. Thursday evening brought another AGM, of Maldon & District Citizens Advice, where I gave a talk about being High Sheriff in the familiar surroundings of the Blackwater Sailing Club. Earlier in the day I had visited the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford, and admired the progress that is being made (largely by volunteers) on conserving and cataloguing the large archive of Essex’s principal 19th-century architect, Frederic Chancellor – a project funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and the Essex Heritage Trust.

With Diane Taylor, conservator, and volunteers at Essex Record Office.

On Friday I had another council visit, this time to Southend-on-Sea, and heard about some of the challenges and opportunities peculiar to a densely populated unitary authority that welcomes up to 8 million visitors a year. After meetings in the Civic Centre I was taken round the new ‘Prittlewell Princely Burial’ exhibition in Southend Museum, which displays artefacts from one of the richest Anglo-Saxon burials ever uncovered in the country. This too had been partly supported by the Essex Heritage Trust, as had my next destination, the new galleries of Chelmsford Museum at Oaklands Park, which were formally opened by the Mayor of Chelmsford in the afternoon. In the evening Lucy and I attended the County Council Chairman’s Annual Reception at Chelmsford City Racecourse.

In one of Chelmsford Museum’s new galleries: Philip Reinagle’s 1794 painting of the then new Shire Hall, and the Coade stone font from St Mary’s Church (now Chelmsford Cathedral).

Saturday was theoretically a free day, and provided the opportunity to get into the garden for the first time in over a week, and change a light bulb that has been out for even longer; but was largely devoted to catching up on emails and the diary. On Sunday morning we attended the Mayor of Colchester’s Civic Service in Christ Church, Colchester.

It may have been a busy week, but it had no ill effects as far as one can judge. Henry Grapnel or Grapinel, sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1290–91, who lived at Tiled (now Tyle) Hall, Latchingdon, did not have such an easy time of it. He was summoned to Westminster to account for his misconduct in leaving court while a plea was being heard, and gave as his excuse ‘sheer weariness of body’. He had had a very tiring week, he told the justices, during which he had taken the queen mother’s lands into the king’s hand; had presided for a full day over the shire court; had spent the whole of the following day collecting fines and amercements and receiving judicial writs; had ridden to London on the following day with a prisoner destined for the Tower and had also delivered supplies of grain for the royal household. Apparently no record survives of the outcome of the case, but it is highly likely that he would have been fined.

[Irene Gladwin, The Sheriff: the man and his office (1974), pp. 154–5.]

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