The Sheriff: Mayoral history

The name Sheriff comes from the old English "Shire Reeve" who was the King's representative in the County (Shire). In ancient times the Sheriff had responsibility for the administration of justice, the collection of taxes, seizing the property of debtors, keeping the gaol, hanging criminals and even command of military force.

The office of Sheriff in Poole was created on 23 June 1568 by the Great Charter of Queen Elizabeth I, which mode Poole a County Corporate, in deed and name, distinct and separate from the County of Dorset. Poole was the only town given this honour by the Queen. This Great Charter virtually ended any control over Poole by the Lord of the Manor. The Charter allowed the town to choose its own Mayor, Sheriff, Justices of the Peace, Recorder and Coroner. Poole was one of only 19 towns that had the right to elect a Sheriff. Today there are only 16 Sheriffs in the whole of England and Wales.

The duties and responsibilities of the Sheriff today are not as onerous as in the past. The title of Sheriff became purely honorary as a result of the Local Government Act 1972, which reorganised Local Government from 1974 onwards. Poole, at this time, asked if it could keep its "Borough" status and retain its historic titles and privileges within the district of Poole. This was granted and the Charter of "Queen Elizabeth II" was granted on 1 April 1974, including the honorary title of Sheriff. At the Annual Council meeting each year, the Sheriff is presented with a key, symbolically representing the past duty as Keeper of the Town Gaol, and he/she is also given a staff or wand surmounted with a crown, signifying the former connection with the Monarch. The chain of office dates from the 1880s and has been gradually built up to its present length of 37 links. It is believed that Poole is unique in that the two Charters of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II gave Poole the right to have a Sheriff. The Roll of Honour goes back to 1568 and is shown on the plaques in the Conference Room.

Today the Sheriff's role is almost entirely ceremonial, acting as a support to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor when carrying out their civic duties and responsibilities. The Sheriff will not attend any engagements/functions alone, unless for the sole purpose of talking about the office of Sheriff.

Contact details


01202 633200

Mayor’s Office
Borough of Poole
Civic Centre
BH15 2RU 

Page last updated: 13 September 2019
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