The clear winner is the Tyrell family, prominent in Essex from soon after the Norman Conquest until the death of Sir John Tyrell in 1877. They were based at Heron Hall, East Horndon, and the church contains a number of their monuments; their house was demolished in 1788 (although some associated buildings remain), and latterly they lived at Boreham House. The first sheriff of the family was Sir John, sheriff of Essex and Herts in 1413–14 and again in 1422–3; he was also sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1426–7. He was one of the Duke of Gloucester’s retainers and fought at the Battle of Agincourt. His son Sir Thomas was sheriff in 1440–1, 1444–5, and 1459–60. Then in 1480–1 comes another Thomas Tyrell, and in 1502–3 and 1508–9 Sir Thomas’s son Humphrey. Edward Tyrell was sheriff in 1512–13, Sir Thomas in 1518, and Edward again (or another) in 1527–8.
Sir Henry Tyrell was sheriff in 1551–2, and after that they are more spread out: Sir Charles Tyrell Bt in 1695–6, Sir John Tyrell Bt in 1750, and John Tyrell of Boreham in 1770-1. The baronetcy had died out in 1766, but a new one was created in 1809 for John Tyrell of Boreham House, High Sheriff in 1827–8. The High Sheriff in 1887–8 was John Lionel Tufnell-Tyrell, also of Boreham House: his mother was a Tyrell, his father a Tufnell, thus joining the Tyrells to a family that, between 1785 and 1931, supplied four High Sheriffs.
That gives (I think) a grand total of sixteen for the combined families, twelve for the Tyrells alone, putting them head and shoulders above the other families in the Essex Top Ten.
[Many of the individuals mentioned here will
be found in Essex Worthies: a biographical companion to the county by William Addison (1973).]
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 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).
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
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]
Above the four five-sheriff families we have, first, the Buxtons, Darcys and Smiths with six apiece. The oldest family in this group bears the well-known Essex name of Darcy, who claimed descent from one of the Norman knights who came over at the Conquest and by the 16th century had split into four main branches, at Danbury, Maldon, Tolleshunt D’Arcy (obviously, although it was also known as Tolleshunt Tregoz after a previous lord of the manor), and St Osyth. The last of these became the dominant one, but died out with death of the 3rd Lord Darcy in 1639. The first member of the family to be sheriff was Sir Robert (1419–20) of Maldon and Danbury, builder of Maldon’s Moot Hall; his son Robert was sheriff in 1458–9, the latter’s grandson Roger in 1505–6. Roger was the father of Sir Thomas, created Baron Darcy of Chich in 1551, to whom St Osyth’s Priory was granted in 1553. At Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Anthony was sheriff in 1511–12 and his grandson Thomas in 1581; the latter’s half-brother Brian (of St Osyth and Tiptree) was sheriff in 1585–6.
Both the Buxtons and the Smiths had been associated with Essex since at least the mid-16th century. The Buxtons were connected by marriage with the Paycockes of Coggeshall, and the first of their sheriffs was Thomas Fowell Buxton of Earls Colne (1789–90), who in 1782 had married into the brewing Hanbury family (which also supplied Osgood Hanbury, of Holfield Grange, Coggeshall, in 1858). We then jump to 1888, and the appointment of Edward North Buxton, of Knighton, Woodford, a distinguished verderer of Epping Forest who was instrumental in its preservation. His grandson, also Edward North Buxton, was also a verderer, and High Sheriff in 1934–5. Meanwhile his brother Sir (Thomas) Fowell Buxton, 3rd Bt, of Woodredon, Waltham Abbey, also a verderer, was High Sheriff in 1905–6, and the 5th Bt, also Sir Thomas Fowell, of Woodredon, Waltham Abbey, was appointed in 1928. Another member of the same family, Wing-Commander Denis Alfred Jex Buxton, of Wilderness House, Ongar, was High Sheriff in 1944–5.
As far as the Smiths are concerned, for present purposes we had better confine ourselves to those associated with Theydon Mount and Hill Hall. Hill Hall was the house built by the most remarkable member of the family, Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577), who was, amongst other things, Queen Elizabeth’s ambassador to France. His nephew Sir William Smith succeeded him, and was High Sheriff in 1615–16 and again in 1619–20; he was responsible for rebuilding the parish church 1611–14. Sir William’s second son, Thomas, was High Sheriff in 1663–4, having been created baronet in 1661. His son the 2nd baronet, Sir Edward Smyth, held the office in 1680–1, and his grandson the 5th baronet, Sir Charles, in 1761–2. By the time of 12th baronet, Sir William, the surname had evolved to Bowyer-Smijth; he was High Sheriff in 1889–90.
Then we have two families with seven and eight sheriffs apiece, the Mildmays and the Goslings respectively. The Mildmay family can be traced back to the middle of the 15th century, and quickly rose to prominence in the 16th. Thomas Mildmay, who was sheriff in 1558–9, owned most of Moulsham and Chelmsford by the time of his death in 1566; in 1540 he had bought the important manor of Moulsham, which had belonged to Westminster Abbey, for £620. He was elected to parliament for various Cornish seats six times between 1547 and 1559. His son Sir Thomas was sheriff in 1572–3, his son, also Sir Thomas, in 1609–10 (elected MP for Maldon in 1593). This Thomas was created baronet in 1611, but the title died with him in 1626. A collateral descendant, William Mildmay, was sheriff in 1765–6, and created baronet in 1765, but he too had no one to inherit his title when he died in 1771. Other branches of the family provided sheriffs in the shape of Humphrey Mildmay of Danbury in 1593–4, Sir Humphrey of Danbury in 1635–6, and Sir Henry Mildmay of Graces, Little Baddow, in 1628–9.
The Goslings, on the other hand, do not appear in Essex until the 18th century. The family had been bankers since 1742 (the firm, known as Goslings & Sharpe, was one of the twenty banks that joined together in 1896 to form Barclay & Co.), and in 1773 purchased the Hassobury estate at Farnham, which they had leased since 1746. They rebuilt the parish church in 1858–9, and the house in 1866–70: just in time for Robert Gosling to be sheriff in 1871. In 1902, his son Robert Cunliffe Gosling was High Sheriff; he is better remembered as a footballer who played for England and captained the team on at least one occasion. He was described then as ‘the richest man who ever played football for England’, a distinction that probably no longer applies. His younger brother William Sullivan Gosling, High Sheriff in 1927, was also a footballer, and played for Upton Park, winning a gold medal in the 1900 Olympic Games (only three teams competed, and only two matches were played). More recent Gosling sheriffs were Lt-Col William Douglas Gosling (1958–9), Col Richard Bennett Gosling (1982–3), Christopher Spencer Gosling (1993–4), Sarah Francesca Courage (née Gosling, 2008–9) and Rupert Seymour Gosling (2009–10).
[Many of the individuals mentioned here will be found in Essex Worthies: a biographical companion to the county by William Addison (1973).]
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.
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.
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.
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.]
Sheriffs in the Middle Ages had many duties to perform besides collecting fines and taxes, and the costs they incurred could be deducted from the sums due to the Exchequer. For example, in 1257 the sheriff of Essex was ordered to provide bridges and hurdles for the equipment of a hundred ships for the passage of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, from Yarmouth to Germany. In 1262, his successor received a mandate to have the ways leading to London watched and guarded, as robberies and murders had been committed on men going to the dedication of the church of St Paul. In September 1264 the sheriffs of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex were commanded to guard the seashore in defence of the realm against aliens. For this purpose they were allowed to levy additional money if they did not have sufficient funds in hand.
The story of the task placed upon the shoulders of Richard de Southchurch, sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire in 1265–7, has found its way into many history books. The reign of Henry III was a time of successive rebellions and disputes between supporters of the king. The leader of one such dispute was Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who had been a supporter of Simon de Montfort before changing decides and playing a crucial part in his defeat at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. But differences remained.
In April 1267 the baronial forces under Gilbert de
Clare entered London, which rose in their support, and the king’s army,
abandoning the siege of Ely, marched south and lay at Stratford, then just outside
London in Essex, for seven weeks. During this period provisions ran short and
the sheriffs of both Kent and Essex scoured the countryside for military
stores. Richard de Southchurch, according to the villagers of Chafford hundred,
took ‘for the sustenance of the king’s host’ wheat, oats, cheese, bacon, pease,
and beef, as well as ropes for making cords for the arbalests and catapults;
picks, calthrops and spades to lay low the walls of London; tow and eggs for
dressings, linen for bandages, chickens to feed the wounded, and finally cocks,
forty of them, which he proposed to use as incendiary bombs, by tying fire to
their feet and sending them flying into London to burn it down.
Stories of using birds in this way are found in many sagas and poems of the early Middle Ages. Success would depend upon the homing instincts of birds that nested in the town and ventured out by day; they could be caught, loaded with flammable material, and then released to return home as incendiaries. Cirencester was supposed to have been captured in this way in 879. It is less likely that Richard de Southchurch’s cocks would have chosen to fly into London, which was not their home, and it seems that the sheriff was having a laugh at the expense at the good folk of Chafford hundred; they declared on oath that the supplies were taken to his own manor of Southchurch – now part of Southend – in the opposite direction from London. He was allowed 200 marks (about £172,000) at the Exchequer for all the things he had taken for the king’s use, and never paid a penny for them.
Richard de Southchurch’s later misdemeanours, which included being present at the theft of a hart at the king’s forest of Chelmsford (fined 100 shillings, but pardoned) and perjury (fined 1000 pounds, but acquitted in return for surrendering the manor of Hatfield Peverel), support the suggestion that his exploit with the forty cocks was an act of deliberate dishonesty.
[The story of Richard de Southchurch and the siege was told by Helen Cam in The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls (1930), pp. 101–2; in 1916 she had published a detailed article on the Legend of the Incendiary Birds (English Historical Review, vol. 31, pp. 98–101). A more recent scholar, Michael Prestwich, is in no doubt that Richard de Southchurch ‘succeeded in a confidence trick’ by obtaining the supplies for his own use at others’ expense (Edward I (1988), pp. 58–9). For the other examples of sheriff’s obligations, see Cam, p. 100, and W. A. Morris, The Medieval English Sheriff to 1300 (1927), pp. 225, 236–7, & 271.]
Looking down the list of past Essex High Sheriffs, it soon becomes apparent that names crop up repeatedly, sometimes in clusters, sometimes spread over many centuries. At least eight families provided four sheriffs, too many to make it into the Top Ten, which starts with those who came up with five.
The earliest of these is the Wiseman family, who appear only briefly on the shrieval stage between 1591 and 1660. They came to prominence in the reign of Henry VIII: John Wiseman was knighted at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513 and was one of Henry’s Auditors. His son John bought an estate at Great Canfield, which the family held until 1733; this branch of the family supplied William Wiseman, appointed sheriff in 1638, who had been created baronet in 1628 and died in 1643. Another branch lived at Rivenhall, the first sheriff being Ralph, appointed 1590, whose fine monument is in the church there. His son Sir Thomas was sheriff in 1611, and his son, also Sir Thomas, was appointed in 1658. He died during his term of office, which was completed by his son William, who at the Restoration in 1660 was able to buy himself a baronetcy at the special bargain price of £500. He was elected MP for Maldon four times, before his death in 1688. His widow sold Rivenhall Place, which had been built by Ralph, to the Western family, one of whom, Thomas Burch Western of Felix Hall, was High Sheriff in 1850–1 (and Lord-Lieutenant 1869–73).
Just overlapping with the Wisemans were the Abdy family. Anthony Abdy, an alderman of the City of London who died in 1640, settled at Albyns, Stapleford Abbots, where he built a house that was demolished in 1954 following war damage. His son Thomas, created baronet in 1641, was sheriff in 1651–2; his seat was Felix Hall, Kelvedon, the first of four sheriffs (of four different families) to occupy that house. Sir Robert Abdy of Albyns, created baronet in 1660, and sheriff in 1660–1, was his younger brother. John Rutherford Abdy, sheriff in 1809–10, was great-grandson of Sir William Abdy, 4th baronet of Rivenhall, but this line died out with the death of the 7th baronet in 1868. Meanwhile the Albyns baronetcy had also died out, in 1759, but a new one was created in 1849 for Thomas Neville Abdy, High Sheriff in 1875–6. He was succeeded in 1877 by his son William, High Sheriff in 1884.
That brings us firmly into the 19th century, and two families who quickly made their mark upon the shrievalty: the Parkers and the Courtaulds. John Oxley Parker, farmer and estate agent of Woodham Mortimer Place, was High Sheriff in 1883–4, and his son Christopher William Parker, of Faulkbourne Hall, in 1906–7. Colonel Richard Cecil Oxley Parker (nephew of J. O. P., son of one of the founding partners of Strutt & Parker) was High Sheriff in 1942–3, John Oxley Parker (son of C. W. P.) in 1948–9, and his son Christopher William Oxley Parker in 1961–2.
Coming even closer to the present day, George Courtauld of Cut Hedge, Halstead, was High Sheriff in 1896–7, his son Samuel Augustine Courtauld of The Howe, Halstead, in 1916–17, and nephew William Julien Courtauld of Penny Pot, Halstead, in 1921–2, Augustine Courtauld (son of S. A. C.) of Spencers, Great Yeldham, in 1953–4, and George Courtauld’s great-grandson, also George, of Colne Engaine, in 2001–2.
[Many of the individuals mentioned here will be found in Essex Worthies: a biographical companion to the county by William Addison (1973).]
Most High Sheriffs have a summer party of one sort or another. We’ve just got back from Norfolk’s, which took the form of drinks and nibbles followed by a circus show in the wonderful Yarmouth Hippodrome, Britain’s last surviving circus building (as opposed to tent). It was built in 1903 by the legendary circus showman George Gilbert (designed by R. S. Cockrill of Lowestoft – his Hippodrome there, also for Gilbert, was later converted to a concert hall and demolished in 1999). The arena can be flooded for water spectacles, rather in manner of the Colosseum in Rome.
In Essex we still stick to the traditional teatime garden
party with marquee, although who knows what future High Sheriffs may choose to
do. Flooding on these occasions is usually due to rain, and one has to plan
accordingly; but this year the rain had come a week or so ahead, enough to ensure
that the grass was as green and flowerbeds as colourful as they ever get in our
little patch of Essex, and the day itself was sunny and hot.
It’s as well to ask from time to time what the point of these occasions is, and there’s more to it than laying on a good tea for the ‘usual suspects’ and giving them the opportunity to nose round somebody else’s garden, important though these aspects of the occasion are. For me, the point of the garden party is to thank those who, in their daily lives, devote much of their lives to public service, without which society as we know it, and which we perhaps take for granted, simply could not function. Public service takes many forms. It may mean doing voluntary work, for no financial reward. It may mean doing a job, often poorly paid, that most people don’t want to do because it is unpleasant or stressful in one way or another. Or it may mean taking a job that is less well paid than another job that you might be qualified for, because you believe that the less well paid job is more worthwhile.
Most of the guests at the High Sheriff’s Garden
Party fit into one or other of those categories. Moreover, for every guest it
would be possible to invite a hundred more, equally deserving, and the hope is
that those attending, when they next see those they work with, will let them
know how much their efforts are appreciated.
Two good examples of public service were provided at
our party by the Essex Marching Corps, and Castle Point & Rochford
Volunteer Police Cadets. This particular group of police cadets is the largest
in the county and their leader, PC Steve Judd, has put in an extraordinary
number of hours of his own time to get them to that position. Without the cadets’
help, our temporary car park in an adjacent field would undoubtedly have been
the scene of considerable chaos, and they did a splendid job.
The Essex Marching Corps is the only remaining independent marching band in Essex, and their mission is to enable all young people regardless of ability, financial means or family situation, to make music. Instruments, training and uniform are provided free of charge; the band meets in a hall in South Benfleet that the volunteers and parents literally built themselves, and which they can hire out to supplement the income they receive in grants and donations. They made a huge contribution to the afternoon, and in spite of the heat managed to look very smart in their new uniforms.
The afternoon was rounded off by the bell ringers of
St Peter’s Church, who rang melodiously as guests were departing. As many
guests commented afterwards, it put the seal on a quintessentially English