Christmas inside

If you’re ever invited to a carol service in a prison, don’t say no. I can promise you that it will be quite unlike any other carol service you will have been to. Chelmsford Prison’s is held in the visitors’ centre, rated ‘bright and welcoming’ by Ormiston Families, the charity that manages it. We guests assembled a good hour before the men arrived, giving us plenty of time to get through security (quite a business when the party includes half-a-dozen Salvation Army bandsmen and their instruments) and have a chat over a cup of coffee and a mince pie. Our number included the Lord-Lieutenant, a couple of past High Sheriffs, the Bishop of Chelmsford and the Bishop Emeritus of Brentwood, and, besides members of the prison’s chaplaincy team, various outsiders who have shown an interest in the welfare, education and rehabilitation of prisoners.

The VIPs sat in a row facing the body of the hall, so once the men had arrived (in dribs and drabs, depending on which wing they were coming from) and the service was underway we had plenty of opportunity to observe them. As in most institutional congregations there were some keen singers, some uncertain ones (the keen ones helping them find their place in the service booklet), and some total abstainers, not to mention some surreptitious vaping. The overwhelming impression, however, was of total engagement with the proceedings, and when the Bishop of Chelmsford stepped down among them to deliver a moving and inspirational address, they responded with all the respect and perhaps more enthusiasm than the average congregation. But then he spoke to them as individuals, not as an anonymous body of criminals.

A big difference between this and other carol services I’ve been to is that when the men were called up to take a reading or prayers, and when they’d finished, the others applauded, and I took that to be a genuine appreciation of the magnitude of the task those men had undertaken: standing up in front of a roomful of people and speaking unfamiliar words. When the man reading Luke 2:8–14 got to the bit about the shepherds being sore afraid, he interjected ‘and me, I’m terrified’. For the men it was an achievement of a kind they may not have managed before, and as such a step, perhaps, on the road to rehabilitation.

In contrast to the slow build-up to the service, once it was over we dispersed quickly, the men to their cells and the guests out into the street; and that is the main difference between a prison carol service and most others. We’re used to wishing people a Happy Christmas as we go our separate ways, but it’s hard to wish someone a Happy Christmas if you know they’re going to spend it in prison.

A week after the prison carol service we were at the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) on the outskirts of Colchester, not for a carol service but to present some High Sheriff’s Awards. The MCTC is sometimes referred to as a military prison, and most people’s reaction on visiting it is to ask why civilian prisons can’t be like this. There are many answers to that question, the first being the nature of the inmates (‘detainees’ at the MCTC) and their offences. Most of the detainees have not committed criminal offences, but have breached military regulations: the majority have gone absent without leave. The regime at the MCTC is very different from that in a prison, with detainees on the go for most of the long day and not banged up in cells.

The stated purpose of the prison service is to enable prisoners to lead law-abiding and useful lives, both while they are in prison and after they are released: in other words, to rehabilitate offenders and prevent them from reoffending. No one would deny that the success rate is pitifully low. The MCTC has the same purpose but with an impressively high success rate, because it devotes considerable resources – more than would be acceptable in a civilian prison – to useful training that will result in better soldiers and sailors and airmen, or, in the case of detainees who are discharged after they have served their sentence, better trained to find suitable employment.

They are motivated, as I see it, by two principal factors. First, because the Army, Navy and RAF have already invested a lot in the detainees, and with a little further investment in the form of corrective training they can get them back on the right track, and the initial investment will not be wasted. Secondly, there is a culture in the Armed Forces which it is not always easy for civilians to understand: a very strong sense that when someone joins the Forces, and in particular a regiment, they are joining a family; and on the whole, up to a point, we stick by members of our family even when they break the rules and however annoying they are.

The difference between the MCTC and the prison service is that in the big wide world society does not look upon criminals as being members of our family, and has not invested very much in many of those who end up in prison; so why should we spend more money on them than the bare minimum needed to lock them up, out of sight and out of mind. This is not to say that there are not a great many individuals working in prisons to produce the same sort of results that are achieved by the MCTC; but there are not enough of them, and are never likely to be.

The High Sheriff’s Awards at the MCTC were initiated by Lady Ruggles-Brise, High Sheriff in 2011–12, based on the existing system of awards in Chelmsford Prison. At the MCTC they are made on the recommendation of the Commandant to staff who have made an outstanding contribution to the establishment. This year, in addition, we made an award (for what I believe is the first time) to a detainee, thus mirroring the practice within the prison: a soldier serving his second sentence for going absent without leave, who has distinguished himself by befriending new detainees at high risk of self-harm and suicide, and shown himself to possess great leadership potential. He is due to be discharged, to take up a new career using the welding skills he has acquired at the MCTC. Efforts to persuade him to stay on have been unsuccessful so far; if he did, he might even join the select number of former detainees who have gone on to be commissioned and rise to high rank.

From the MCTC we went to an event in Clacton to celebrate the achievements of boys who have completed programmes run by Lads Need Dads. It was a poignant occasion, particularly in the context of visiting MCTC and Chelmsford Prison. Lads Need Dads is one those brilliantly simple and obvious ideas, so simple and so obvious that no one really thought of it until Sonia Shaljean came up with it. But anyone who has worked with children, and in particular with children who have found themselves caught up in the criminal justice system, knows that far too many boys grow up without a positive male role model to follow. If you have spent time in the Youth Court or the Family Court you will know that most of the young people who fall out of education and into crime have either been in care, or live in a family that, for a variety of reasons, does not include their dad.

Sometimes boys will be lucky enough to find a father-figure outside the family: it might be a teacher, or a Scout or cadet leader, but this is less likely for boys from more troubled backgrounds. One excellent father-figure I met recently was teaching carpentry to a boy who was on a Referral Order, which means the boy had had to go through the criminal justice system before he could find the help and guidance he needed. I think he’ll come out of it all right, and will go to college to do the necessary training and get a job in construction, but it’s a pity he could only get there by committing a crime and going to court.

That is why the work done by Lads Needs Dads is so important, and why their achievements have been recognised by, among others, the Centre for Social Justice, the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, and successive High Sheriffs. And it seemed particularly appropriate, and not especially surprising, that one of the MCTC staff to whom I gave an award earlier in the day had been nominated for his work with Lads Needs Dads: a mentor himself, but also an active recruiter of other mentors within the Military Provost Staff, of whom it was said that ‘his emotional intelligence, positive role-modelling and mentoring ability have directly helped the charity’s beneficiaries’.

Between them the MCTC and Lads Need Dads have much to offer when it comes to showing how to rehabilitate offenders and, better still, stop people offending in the first place. Rehabilitation is a subject that has been much in the news as a result of the horrific events at Fishmongers’ Hall and London Bridge on 29 November, when two young people, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were murdered by someone attending a workshop they had helped organise for a prison-based education project, Learning Together. They passionately believed in the possibility of rehabilitation for even the worst offenders, and although at first it looked as though the incident might have undone all their good work, it soon became clear that it had raised public awareness of what they were striving to achieve. If we cease to believe in the possibility of rehabilitation and redemption, our society will be all the poorer.

Doing bird (or not, as the case may be)

Camouflage is an outdoor game, something like a cross between hide and seek and grandmother’s footsteps, which involves hiding behind anything you can find or lying as still as you can in long grass before dashing to reach base. Luckily it was a fine dry day, and I was dressed for an outdoor lunch; anyway, one should expect to get a bit muddy if visiting an organisation called the Wilderness Foundation. I’d been before, for a general look round, but returned to join a session of the programme for women on probation, part of the Essex Women’s Support Service run by Open Road for Essex CRC. The principle behind the programme is that simply being outdoors has a positive impact on mental health, with the additional benefit of activities that build confidence, in a safe and (normally) all-female environment. It’s the ideal situation in which to talk through problems and come to terms with past offending. For me to be able to chat to these women as we sat round their campfire eating lunch that they’d just cooked was a real privilege.

Relaxing round the campfire, before the excitement of Camouflage

Just why there should be a special programme for women offenders is a question that was first raised for me by the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, writing in The Times in September 2018 to explain why she was leading a debate in the House of Lords calling for a change to the way women are sentenced. As a magistrate, I should have read the Equal Treatment Bench Book more carefully, and remembered the simple rule, that treating people equally does not mean treating them the same. Numerous studies have shown that, compared to men, women suffer disproportionately by being sent to prison. The Bench Book tells us that ‘although women are less than 5% of those in prison, they account for over 25% of self-harm incidents, an indication of the traumatic impact of imprisonment on many.’ Women are less likely than men to find employment on release from prison, and more likely to lose their accommodation; even more damaging, because the impact is wider, if they have children they are likely to be taken into care. 84% of women in prison have committed non-violent crimes, and are often themselves the victims of crimes more serious than those they have committed; their offending is frequently the result of coercion by abusive partners. The closing words of Mim Skinner’s excellent book Jailbirds sum up the situation simply and clearly: ‘It is almost never beneficial to imprison women’.

A good place to start if you want to get an idea of what life is like inside women’s prisons, and to understand why most would be better off outside

The issues have been widely discussed since the publication of the landmark Corston Report, published in 2007, and although some progress has been made in parts of the country, much remains to be done. An important step was taken in Essex in September with the setting up of the Women’s Service Action Team (WSAT) under the chairmanship of Alex Osler, Director of Essex CRC. This brings together representatives of the various agencies who are working with women offenders in Essex, Southend and Thurrock, with the aim of increasing the provision of community-based alternatives to custody and reducing reoffending. Experience in other localities, notably Greater Manchester, has shown that this ‘Whole System Approach’ to tackling offending is extremely effective.

A key component of the Whole System Approach is the provision of women’s centres hosting a range of services and activities. Good examples can be found in this region in Northampton and Cambridge, but until now the size and geography of Essex has made it seem too difficult to set one up here: but now one has been opened in Harlow by Safer Places – the Rosie Centre – that will not only provide for the immediate area but could also serve as a model for similar centres in other parts of the county. They are quite rightly very excited about the potential of this venture.

Their experience will feed into the conference that I’ve been working on with the WSAT and the national charity Clinks that will be held in March 2020. This will explore all aspects of provision for female offenders, looking at examples of current good practice in Essex and beyond, and seeing what can be done to improve the situation in the future, whether it’s more and improved community programmes, more women’s centres, or (and this is so often the crucial factor) suitable accommodation for vulnerable women who are at risk of offending or reoffending. I feel very much more hopeful than I did a year ago.

Song against Sheriffs

The original Latin. Sheriffs were also known as ‘vicecomte’, the Norman French equivalent of sheriff.

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?

Of their hardness to poor people

          No tale can go too far.

If a man cannot pay

          They drag him here and there,

They put him on assizes

          The juror’s oath to swear.

He dares not breathe a murmur,

          Or he has to pay again,

And the saltness of the sea

          Is less bitter than his pain.

When a sheriff comes

          To abbey or to hall

The best of meat, the best of drink,

          Is brought at his call.

But all this store of dainties

          Does the host no good

Unless a gift of jewels

          Is dessert after food.

His grooms and his beadles

          Must each have his share,

And his lady wife must have a gown

          Of rainbow hues to wear.

Oh, the sheriff’s clerks!

          Needy folk at first,

Poor like others, suffering

          From hunger and from thirst;

But when they get a bailiwick

          How they grow and swell!

Their teeth grow long, their heads grow high,

House, lands, and rents they buy,

          And pile up gold as well.

They scorn their poor neighbours,

          They govern by new rules,

That 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.]

Thank goodness for volunteers

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).

Inside the custody suite of Southend Police Station, opened in 2017 (Logan Construction)

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 High Sheriff’s Justice Service

The High Sheriff’s Procession, led by the Under Sheriff, with the Lord-Lieutenant bringing up the rear.

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.

The High Sheriff’s Chaplain, the Revd Faye Bailey, processing behind The Hon. Mr Justice Newton and The Hon. Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb.

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.

Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, opened in 2012 (AHR)

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.

HMP Peterborough: where most Essex women serve their custodial sentences

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.

The High Sheriff of Essex with the High Sheriffs of Bristol (left) and Kent (right), HM Lord-Lieutenant of Essex (centre), The Hon. Mr Justice Newton (left) and The Hon. Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb (right), the Under Sheriff, and Crown Court judges from Chelmsford and Basildon.

The Feast of the Translation of St Edward the Confessor

The burial of King Edward, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.

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).

Peacock on the menu in the 15th century.

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]

More on Langleys and the Tufnells

Sir Anthony Everard (died 1614) as depicted on his monument in Great Waltham Church. It was erected by Sir Anthony himself in 1611, following the death of his first wife Anne in 1609.

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.

Delicate work: a volunteer flattening and repairing some of Chancellor’s drawings, in this case for the restoration of St Martin’s Church, Little Waltham.

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.

Chancellor’s design for the coachman’s cottage at Langleys (ERO D/F 8/723/27, reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office).
The finished building, photographed from 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.

Essex’s shrieval hot spots


Danbury Park: built by John Round in the 1830s, bishop’s palace from 1845 to 1892 (when this postcard was published), now converted to apartments

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).

Weald Hall, demolished in 1950, showing the early 18th-century front added to the 16th-century house.

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.

Boreham House, built for Benjamin Hoare in 1726–33.

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).

Layer Marney Tower, begun by Sir Henry Marney in about 1520, and intended as the gatehouse to a palace on the scale of Hampton Court that was never completed.

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).

The park and house of Langleys, Great Waltham, seen from the Essex Way.

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.

Top Ten Essex families (iii)

Tyrell family arms, from William Berry’s Pedigrees of Essex Families.

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.

Monument to Sir John Tyrell Bt, High Sheriff in 1750, who died without a male heir in 1766. The monument, by Joseph Nollekens, was originally in All Saints, East Horndon, and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (the church was made redundant in 1970).

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.

A peep inside the Tyrell vault on the north side of St Andrew’s Church, Boreham, which dates from about 1804 but was rebuilt in 1895. John Lionel Tufnell-Tyrell’s name can be seen; he was laid to rest here in 1912.

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).]

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]