The new High Sheriff of Cheshire was literally ‘prick started’ by the Queen as one of the county’s leading dignitaries.
Charles William Holroyd CBE, of Oakmere, was nominated last November to take over the ancient role. That nomination took place at a ceremony at London’s High Court which pre-dates the Norman Conquest and the role of High Sheriff is the oldest secular office in Britain.
In another ancient ceremony, that nomination was officially confirmed by the Queen. To do this she pricked all 51 names on the list of new High Sheriffs for England and Wales with an antique silver bodkin.
Now the new High Sheriffs will make a declaration in accordance with the 1887 Sheriffs Act some time during the next few weeks and then take office.
Legend has it that the silver bodkin used to this day to ‘prick’ the names of the Sheriffs on the list was originally used by Queen Elizabeth I, who was embroidering when she was asked to mark the names on the list. She couldn’t find a pen so used the bodkin instead to prick them.
Another story, however, has it that the reason the bodkin came to be used is because the list is traditionally produced on vellum and pricking the vellum is more permanent than making a mark with ink which could be tampered with.
The modern day form of the ceremony, carried out by the Queen at the Privy Council at Buckingham Palace, dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria. But the office of High Sheriff stretches back much further.
‘Shire Reeves’, as they were originally known, were appointed for each county and used to have to give account to the reigning monarch once a year of the money they had collected on behalf of the monarch.
These days, of course, the High Sheriffs no longer collect money for the monarch in the way their predecessors did in centuries past.
They also had many other powers but the majority of those have now been vested in Lord Lieutenants, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue.
Today the functions of the post are now almost entirely ceremonial. The only significant legal functions relate to the enforcement of High Court writs.
However, High Sheriffs are still expected to be ready to attend to the needs of, and provide hospitality to, High Court judges out on ‘circuit’, when they preside over the county’s crown courts.
And, ranking as they do among the country’s top dignitaries they are also expected to attend at royal visits to their counties.
Another official act they are entitled to carry out is to act as returning officers in parliamentary elections.