Sheriffs had a poor reputation for much of the Middle Ages (think of the Sheriff of Nottingham), not surprisingly given that one of their principal duties was to collect fines and taxes on behalf of the monarch. The post (then as now) was unpaid, and many sheriffs could not resist the temptation to profit from it by exacting more tax than they were required to pass on the Exchequer, or by taking bribes in connection with their duties of administering justice. In 1274 King Edward I ordered an enquiry into widespread crime and corruption at all levels of government, but seventeen out of the forty questions that were drawn up related specifically to sheriffs. Sad to say, Walter de Essex, sheriff in in 1269 and 1270–1, emerged particularly badly from the process. 130 charges were made against him, one of which was the acceptance of a bribe to allow a murderer to go free, and another was the theft of a flock of sheep. His bailiffs were no better than their master, and were accused of 110 crimes, which included the unlawful seizure of cattle and riding peasants’ horses to death and making no compensation their owners.
A Latin poem written just a little later, at the beginning of the 14th century, survives in a manuscript in the British Library (Harley 913) and has been given the title ‘Song on the Venality of the Judges’. It includes these verses on sheriffs, translated by Helen Cam under the title ‘Song against Sheriffs’:
Who can tell truly
How cruel sheriffs are?
their hardness to poor people
No tale can go too far.
a man cannot pay
They drag him here and there,
put him on assizes
The juror’s oath to swear.
dares not breathe a murmur,
Or he has to pay again,
the saltness of the sea
Is less bitter than his pain.
a sheriff comes
To abbey or to hall
best of meat, the best of drink,
Is brought at his call.
all this store of dainties
Does the host no good
a gift of jewels
Is dessert after food.
grooms and his beadles
Must each have his share,
his lady wife must have a gown
Of rainbow hues to wear.
the sheriff’s clerks!
Needy folk at first,
like others, suffering
From hunger and from thirst;
when they get a bailiwick
How they grow and swell!
teeth grow long, their heads grow high,
lands, and rents they buy,
And pile up gold as well.
scorn their poor neighbours,
They govern by new rules,
is reckoned wisdom now
In our modern schools.
[From Helen M. Cam, The hundred and the hundred rolls: an outline of local government in medieval England (1930), p. 106. The Latin text of the complete poem (British Library, MS Harley 913), with a more literal prose translation, can be found in The political songs of England: from the reign of John to that of Edward II, ed. Thomas Wright (Camden Society, 1839), pp. 224–30. Wright gives it the title ‘Song on the Venality of the Judges’, and dates it to the beginning of the 14th century. The background to the poem, including the shortcomings of Walter of Essex, is discussed in Irene Gladwin’s The Sheriff: the man and his office (1974), pp. 179–182.]
How lucky we are to live in a country where certain private citizens can walk into the custody suite of any of our police stations, without prior warning, at any time of day or night, to check on the welfare of anyone being held in the cells. This was the thought I came away with after spending a couple of hours visiting the police stations at Southend and Basildon in the company of an Independent Custody Visitor (ICV).
ICVs are unpaid volunteers who have no other direct
connection with the criminal justice system. The scheme came about as a result
of recommendations made by Lord Scarman in his report into the 1981 Brixton
riots; initially voluntary, it was made mandatory across the UK under the
Police Reform Act 2002. ICVs are concerned solely with the welfare of detainees,
to ensure that they are being well treated, are adequately clothed and fed,
understand why they have been detained, and have access to the legal and other
advice to which they are entitled.
ICVs do not themselves provide advice, and in that way maintain their independence. They arrive unannounced, and have the same immediate physical access to the police station and its custody suite as any police officer. Once inside, they will check the current situation with the custody sergeant and, unless it is deemed unsafe to do so, may access any part of the suite unaccompanied, speaking to detainees in the cells and checking the facilities, from the showers to the kitchens to the store cupboards. We were there at five o’clock in the afternoon, but one o’clock in the morning seems to be a favourite time for an inspection. The aim is to visit each custody suite (at Basildon, Clacton, Colchester, Grays, Harlow and Southend – Chelmsford is currently closed while the station is being refurbished) about three times a month. This is achieved by a team of up to 17 volunteers.
The fact is that volunteers play an important part in every stage of the criminal justice system. Imagine, if you can, that you are a criminal and have been arrested. You may well have been arrested by a Special Constable, volunteers with the same police powers, uniforms and equipment as regular officers, but unpaid and, for the most part, putting in extra hours on top of their paid employment. Essex’s Special Constabulary is the second largest in the country and the fastest growing, with over 530 officers. If you are a young person or vulnerable adult and need supporting through the custody process, the police will arrange for an Appropriate Adult to come to the police station to help you – another volunteer, part of the Appropriate Adult Service run by Open Road. And, as we have seen, you may find yourself talking to an ICV.
If you are charged with an offence you will soon make an appearance in the Magistrates’ Court. Here you may be dealt with by a full-time professional District Judge sitting alone, but more likely by bench of three magistrates, unpaid volunteers, of whom there are about 300 in Essex (more needed!). All criminal cases start in the magistrates’ court, and about 95 per cent are completed there too. The rest, the more serious cases, go to the Crown Court, either for sentencing or trial. If there is a trial, the decision of guilt or innocence will be made by a jury of twelve citizens: not exactly volunteers, because jury service is an obligation from which one can only be excused in certain circumstances, but jurors are not paid, are selected randomly, and are untrained members of the general public. Magistrates are trained, but the fact remains that the outcome of all trials, whether in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, is in the hands of people who are not professionals but are, theoretically at least, peers of the defendant.
Another group of volunteers play an important part in the trials process: members of the Witness Service, run by Citizens Advice. For most people, giving evidence in court is a nerve-wracking business, and Witness Service volunteers look after witnesses while they are at court, in rooms set aside for them, and explain the procedure; they will also arrange pre-trial visits to the court so that witnesses are familiar with the surroundings, and may sit with them in court while they are giving evidence.
Volunteers continue to play their part after sentencing. Young offenders (age 10–17) may receive a Referral Order, which involves sessions with a panel of volunteers who are committed to helping young people move away from offending. Other offenders may find themselves engaging with restorative justice, a process whereby victims of a crime have direct or indirect contact with the person responsible, via a volunteer facilitator. Conditions in prison and the welfare of prisoners are checked by volunteer members of the Independent Monitoring Board.
And so it goes on. That’s without beginning to list
the many organisations, with their teams of volunteers, that help ex-offenders
get back on their feet, find them places to live and work to do, and tackle problems
associated with mental health and drug and alcohol dependency. The state of the
criminal justice system leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s no doubt that
it would be in very much worse condition without the thousands of volunteers
across the country who work within it.
The Justice Service evolved out of the services that were held at the beginning of each Assizes, so that we might pray for the judges to be blessed with wisdom and good judgment in their deliberations. You don’t have to go very far back to reach the days when the High Sheriff and his chaplain attended at least the first week of the Assizes, and every day of any capital trials. Indeed one of the chaplain’s duties was to say ‘Amen’ after the judge had pronounced sentence of death.
All this disappeared with the abolition of the Assizes in 1972 and the creation of the present Crown Court, which sits all the year round. Instead, most counties now hold an annual service for the judiciary, usually at the beginning of the legal year in October, a practice established in Essex by the then High Sheriff, Lt-Col R. G. Judd, in 1974.
Now that High Sheriffs are no longer expected to provide javelin men for the physical protection of visiting judges, we have to find other ways of fulfilling one of our stated roles, which is to support the judiciary. The Justice Service is one way of doing this, by making our judges and magistrates realise that they are much-appreciated members of the community of Essex. To put it in more touch-feely terms, I wanted to make them feel loved, because I know the judiciary and the legal profession do not feel particularly loved at the moment.
The courts system has suffered enormously from cuts in recent years. It’s not a sector that attracts much public sympathy, given the public perception that judges are enemies of the people, barristers are notoriously overpaid, and legal aid benefits only criminals and the occasional high-profile wealthy foreigner. It doesn’t help that the judiciary are not given to grumbling in public, although I can’t help noticing that retired senior judges (in one case, that of Sir Brian Leveson, not even quite retired, but on the eve of doing so) seem to be queuing up to point out the dangers society is facing as a result of funding cuts in general and the withdrawal of legal aid in particular. The Times reported recently a judge saying in open court that the system is breaking at every point: ‘Everywhere you look, our justice system is beginning to be not fit for purpose. Slow justice is bad justice.’ It’s no wonder that in some counties of England, including neighbouring Suffolk, there are no criminal law solicitors under the age of 35.
Last November I must have had a bit too much time on my hands, because I watched the Lord Chief Justice giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee. ‘There are buildings all over the country,’ he said, ‘that were put up in the 70s and 80s in particular… their roofs are leaking, as often as not; their lifts are broken; their air conditioning and heating systems work intermittently… [T]here is a very substantial amount of money that needs to be spent.’ Substitute a non-functioning security gate for the leaking roof and he might have been describing the magistrates’ courts here in Chelmsford – a building opened not in the 70s or 80s, but in 2012. This August, Saturday remand courts were moved to Colchester because the cells in Chelmsford had to be closed ‘under a national protocol relating to high temperatures’, which is official jargon for ‘the air con still isn’t working’. No doubt we all have similar tales to tell.
I am sure we all welcome the promise of 20,000 new police officers; some of us are less convinced about the creation of 10,000 new prison places as being the answer to the problems that that system faces, even if they really are new places and not the same 10,000 places that were announced in 2016 but which never materialised. Overcrowding is certainly a problem, and previous suggestions for dealing with that – early release, ending of sentences of six months or less – seem to have been dropped. But in all the rush to lock people more people up for longer we must not overlook the desirability of providing more staff and better conditions in existing prisons, the need to prepare prisoners better for release, and above all to ensure that when they are released they have suitable accommodation to go to, which 40 per cent of those leaving Chelmsford Prison do not. And there has to be a better way of dealing with our women offenders than sending them to a prison a hundred miles away from their home and family.
And someone seems to have overlooked the fact that between 20,000 new police officers and 10,000 new prison places there is a process, a rather crucial one at that, namely what takes place in the courts, Even reinstating some of the cuts inflicted on the CPS in recent years will not make up for the lack of funding of the courts service. We can all readily appreciate the need for good schools and good hospitals, because we have all been to school, many of us will have children to educate, and we can all expect to need to go to hospital sooner or later. So we want out schools and hospitals to be the very best. But most people go through life not expecting to go to prison, or to have anything to do with the criminal justice system, beyond perhaps a spell of jury service. Yet any one of us could find ourselves, tomorrow, in urgent need of legal representation, as a victim of crime, or as someone wrongly accused, and how glad we will be then of a well-funded, fully functioning criminal justice system. And I haven’t even mentioned the ever-increasing workload of the Family Courts, where the withdrawal of legal aid has had equally damaging consequences.
The Justice Service is an opportunity for the judiciary at all levels to come together and to celebrate their place in the community: for without our brilliant judiciary, whose wisdom and humanity set a standard for the rest of the world, the way of life that most of us enjoy in this country simply would not exist. And events of the past few weeks, which are still unfolding, have shown how the rule of law, guarded by a wise and independent judiciary, is as important as ever.
This feast day, which honours King Edward (canonised as St Edward the Confessor in 1161), falls on 13 October, which this year happily coincides with the High Sheriff’s Justice Service. I say ‘happily’ because it provides an excuse to recall the task laid upon the shoulders of Henry de Helegton, sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire 1251–3, who may well have found planning for the feast day in 1252 particularly onerous.
King Edward (during whose reign lived the first recorded sheriff of Essex, Leofcild) died in 1066, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the building of which he himself had initiated. Over the years his remains were moved about or ‘translated’ within the Abbey: on 13 October 1163 and, finally, on the same date in 1269. King Henry III was responsible for the final translation, and he particularly venerated St Edward, making the feast day one of great festivity (which is the original meaning of the word) and banqueting (which it has come to mean).
This placed considerable demands upon the counties within reasonable distance of Westminster, and therefore upon their sheriffs. In 1252, orders were sent to the sheriffs of Buckinghamshire, Kent, Sussex, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire and London to send up to Westminster, by the Wednesday before the Feast of the Translation of St Edward, a total of 76 boars, 60 swans, 72 peacocks, 1,700 partridges, 500 hares, 600 rabbits, 4,200 fowls, 200 pheasants, 1,600 larks, 700 geese, 60 bitterns, and 16,000 eggs.
It is apparently not recorded how the sheriffs divided this responsibility amongst themselves. How did they ensure that King Henry did not receive, say, 160,000 eggs and no boars? Did Norfolk say to Essex, I’ll take care of the bitterns if you supply the larks? Or did they each simply come up with a tenth of the total? Either way, it must have been quite a stressful time for Henry de Helegton and his colleagues.
[Helen Cam, The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls (1930), pp. 99–100]
I’ve already mentioned Langleys, one of Essex’s finest country houses, in the parish of Great Waltham. It dates mainly from about 1718–20, when an existing house was rebuilt by Samuel Tufnell MP. He had bought the estate in 1710 from Sir Richard Everard, 4th baronet. His great-grandfather, the 1st baronet, also Richard, was High Sheriff in 1644–5, as was his father Hugh in 1626. Hugh’s eldest brother Sir Anthony (died 1614) is the subject of the magnificent monument in Great Waltham Church.
Samuel Tufnell’s son John Jolliffe Tufnell inherited in 1758 (Jolliffe was Samuel’s mother’s maiden name) and was High Sheriff in 1785–6, followed by his grandson of the same name in 1823. Later in the 1820s John Jolliffe Tufnell II made a significant change to the house, bringing forward the central bays of the entrance front to create an entrance hall. A third John Jolliffe Tufnell was High Sheriff in 1870, and his grandson Major Nevill Arthur Charles de Hirzel Tufnell in 1931.
John Jolliffe Tufnell III also indulged in building work, employing the architect Frederic Chancellor. Chancellor was probably Essex’s most distinguished architect, with an office in London as well as Chelmsford; he was also a dedicated public servant, the first mayor of Chelmsford in 1888 and in six further years, a freeman of the borough, and a member of the County Council. The Essex Record Office houses his office archive, a fine (and very large) collection of architectural drawings that is in the process of being conserved and catalogued with the help of funding from the Essex Heritage Trust and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.
When I visited the ERO earlier this year I was able to see the process in action (most of the work is carried out by volunteers, under the watchful eye of conservator Diane Taylor), including some of Chancellor’s drawings for work at Langleys. After nearly forty years as an architectural historian I still get a thrill out of looking at the beautiful objects, the best of which manage to be simultaneously works of art and precise instructions to the builder. With a few slight changes of detail, the coachman’s cottage designed by Chancellor for J. J. Tufnell in 1869 is instantly recognisable; it stands in the grounds of Langleys, next to the Essex Way.
Thanks to other material in the Chancellor Archive,
we also know that it was Frederic who, in 1895, rebuilt the mausoleum attached
to Boreham Church that is the final resting place of, amongst others, John
Lionel Tufnell-Tyrell, High Sheriff in 1887–8.
We’ve seen which families in Essex supplied more sheriffs
than others over the centuries, and where they came from: the Tyrells from East
Horndon, and later Boreham; the Goslings from Farnham; the Mildmays from Moulsham,
Danbury and Little Baddow; the Smiths from Theydon Mount; the Buxtons from
Woodford and Waltham Abbey; and so on.
But there are other towns and villages in the county which have, for one reason or another, been home to more than their fair share of sheriffs, and even what has just been said does not give the full picture. Danbury, for example, comes second only to East Horndon as a shrieval hot spot because it has been home not just to two Mildmay sheriffs, but also to three Darcys (Sir Robert 1419–20, Robert 1458–9, and Anthony 1511–12), as well as Sir Gerard Braybrooke 1406–7, Richard Haute 1474–5, Thomas Fitch 1766–7, John Round 1834–5 and Brig. Gen. J. T. Wigan 1930–1 (both of Danbury Park), Jennifer Tolhurst (2005–6, Lord-Lieutenant since 2017), and Michael Hindmarch 2010–11.
Ranking equal with Danbury is Coggeshall, thanks largely to the eponymous and indefatigable Sir John de Coggeshall (1334–9, 1343–7, and 1351–3), his grandson Sir William Coggeshall (1391–2, 1404–5 and 1411–12), as well as Thomas Coggeshall (1393–4). Other Coggeshall sheriffs were John Sewall (1380–1), Sir Mark Guyon (1675–6, who made his seat at Dynes Hall, Great Maplestead), Peter du Cane (1744–5), and two residents of Holfield Grange, Osgood Hanbury (1858–9) and R. D. Hill (1911–12).
Next comes South Weald, where Weald Hall (demolished in 1950, within what is now Weald Country Park) was the seat of Wistan Browne (1576–7), Samuel Smith (1710–11), Hugh Smith (1737–8), and three Towers: Thomas (1759–60), C. T. (1840–1) and C. J. H. (1876–7). From elsewhere in the parish came Sir Thomas Manby (1687–8), J. H. Horton (1909–10), Major Hubert Ashton and H. G. Ashton (1943–4 and 1983–4), and Lt-Col V. S. Laurie (1950–1).
Stansted Mountfitchet, like Coggeshall, is associated with a particular family: Sir Richard de Montfichet was sheriff for three years from Michaelmas 1200, and his more famous son, also Sir Richard, served from May 1242 to March 1246. Also from the town was Sir John Howard, who served three terms (1400–01, 1414–15, and 1418–19); he was also sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, 1401–03.
Theydon Mount has already been covered as the seat of the Smith family of Hill Hall, although an earlier lord of the manor, Reynold (or Reginald) Malyns was also sheriff, in 1418–19. Likewise Boreham: as well as Boreham House (John Tyrell and J. L. Tufnell-Tyrell) there was the much older New Hall, briefly Henry VIII’s palace of Beaulieu and since 1798 a convent and then school, but also the property of Sir Thomas Shardelow (sheriff 1368), Richard Alred (1437–8), and John Olmius (1745–6). In addition there were Henry Lovibond Collins (1774–5) and Sir Adam Beattie Ritchie (1945–6).
It is becoming clear that particular towns and villages feature prominently because they were the location of major houses. Peter du Cane was mentioned under Coggeshall, but he is better associated with Braxted Park, Great Braxted, which he purchased in 1751. Earlier owners were the Ayloffe family (William, sheriff in 1564–5, his son William 1594–5, created baronet in 1612, and his son Sir Benjamin 1642–3). The estate was briefly owned by Peter Whitcombe (sheriff 1702), and more recently by Michael Clark (1991–2). Likewise Layer Marney has contributed many sheriffs over the centuries, beginning with Sir William Marney in 1401–2, and Sir Henry Marney in 1486–7 and 1492–3. It was Sir Henry who began rebuilding the house that became known as Layer Marney Tower, whose later shrieval owners were Sir Brian Tuke (1533–4), his son George (1567–8), Major Gerald Charrington (1981–2) and his son Nicholas (2014–15).
Other hot spots were Kelvedon, where Felix Hall was the seat of Daniel Mathews 1768–9, T. B. Western 1850–1, R. B. Colvin 1890–1, and Colonel H. E. Hunter Jones 1963–4; in the Middle Ages the manor had been held by John Filliol or Filiol (sheriff 1373–4) and Humphrey Bohun (1454–5). Great Waltham makes the grade largely due to Langleys (Hugh Everard 1626, Sir Richard Everard 1644–5, John Jolliffe Tufnell I, II and III 1785–6, 1823, and 1870–1 respectively, and Major Neville Tufnell, 1931–2), as well as P. G. Lee (1990–1) from elsewhere in the parish. Halstead also qualifies as a hot spot, thanks to three Courtaulds (George of Cut Hedge, 1896–7, Samuel Augustine of The Howe, 1916–17, and William Julien of Penny Pot, 1921–2), as well as Sir Samuel Tryon (1649–50), J. R. Vaizey (1877–8), the Hon. R. C. Butler (1969–70), and Christopher Stewart-Smith (2006–7).
Of all these places only Halstead cannot be associated with dynastic families that have roots in the Middle Ages. Sir Samuel Tryon’s father, also Samuel, was created baronet in1620 as Sir Samuel Tryon of Layer Marney: his grandfather had emigrated from the Netherlands and his son had bought Layer Marney from the Tukes, so even he had established himself as part of traditional Essex.
It’s worth mentioning briefly that more than fifty High Sheriffs of Essex, from the 16th century onwards, came from that part of the county which, since 1965, has been in Greater London, including Ilford, Leyton, Romford, Walthamstow, West Ham, and Woodford. The first of these was Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall, Romford, sheriff in 1544–5; the last was Col Stuart Mallinson of The White House, Woodford Green, 1939–40. Before the 16th century we find only Sir Adam Francis or Fraunceys, sheriff 1392–3, who owned the manor of Ruckholt in Leyton. The explanation lies in the growth of importance of the mercantile and professional classes, who prospered in the capital and settled in the surrounding countryside but wanted to remain within easy reach of the metropolis – which until the coming of the railways meant what are now the London suburbs.
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.]