High Sheriffs and the motor car

The Pleasures of being High Sheriff’, 1923 (see below). From the High Sheriffs’ record book, Essex Record Office, S/U 6/1 (reproduced by courtesy of Essex Record Office).

The first time a motor car rather than a horse-drawn carriage was used to meet a judge was in 1915. The High Sheriff, Sir Drummond Cunliffe Smith Bt, recorded:

At the Summer Assize I met Mr Justice Low at the railway station in state and accompanied him to his lodgings… This was the first time a motor car was used instead of a carriage to meet the judges. (The car was supplied by Tillings) The Judge and Lady Low his daughter and son in law motored out to tea at Suttons one day.

Suttons, Stapleford Tawney

Suttons was Sir Drummond’s seat at Stapleford Tawney; Thomas Tilling Ltd was principally a bus operator, established in 1846. The switch from carriage to motor car was presumably a consequence of the First World War and the requisitioning of horses, which also saw the end of Tilling’s horse-drawn buses. On the whole, horses were more reliable than motors:

The Winter Assize was a very short one and ended on the first day at 3.30 pm. My chaplin [sic] and I motored over each day to Chelmsford from Suttons. On one occasion the car broke down twice and we had to complete the journey in an open hawker’s cart. Our arrival causing a good deal of surprise and amusement to the officials.

Unfortunately the make of car is not specified, but hiring it for the judge cost £19 17s in June, £42 10s in October, and £24 in February, the total equivalent to about £8,700 today. The cost of Sir Drummond’s car from Suttons to Chelmsford for the three assizes totalled £30 15s. (about £3,000).

Orsett Hall in 2004. It was gutted by fire in 2007 and has been rebuilt along similar lines.

By 1922, when Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Whitmore was High Sheriff, the reliability of motor cars had not greatly improved. His own car, a Rolls Royce, he sent to Chelmsford ‘at the disposal of the judge throughout the assizes’. Whitmore does not say what car he himself used, but ‘the chaplain and I motored over to Chelmsford’ from Orsett Hall each day of the assize.

A series of misfortunes attended one of the journeys to Chelmsford. The motor refused to convey its somewhat important occupants, except with very undignified jerks and groans and much hesitation along the long stretch of road between Bulvan and Shenfield, with the result that it nearly became imperative to resort to push bicycles which method of transport would in no way coincide with the full dress of a Deputy Lieutenant and his Chaplain in robes. At Shenfield another motor came to the assistance and we arrived at Chelmsford in plenty of time to greet the Judge to the Court.

Alas the artist of the accompanying sketches (see above) has not been identified. The chaplain looks very up-to-date on the scooter he has borrowed from the boy, and the cart may well be similar to that used by the unfortunate Sir Drummond in 1915.

An interesting glimpse of etiquette is provided by this passage from as late as 1954–5, when P. V. Upton was High Sheriff:

The car, which has been used for years for transporting the Judges, is the only one in Chelmsford with seating which allows the High Sheriff to face the Judges and it is rapidly nearing its end. Whether Judges will abide by the Lord Chancellor’s ruling that it is unnecessary to provide a car with this seating I do not know. But I am sure a car with any other type of seating will not pass without comment. The car is unsuitable for long or even moderate journies [sic] and when the Judges dined with us Messrs Andrews provided something more modern and comfortable.

Upton’s successor noted that the car ‘just stood up to the strain’. A. J. Andrew & Son of Duke Street were undertakers, and it seems they were not anxious to renew the contract.

[High Sheriffs’ record book, Essex Record Office, S/U 6/1]

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