Carmarthen is one of only two towns in Wales to have a Sheriff – the other is Haverfordwest. The Carmarthen Sheriff generally, but not always, progresses to become Deputy Mayor and then Mayor.
The Borough is of great antiquity, and probably possessed several municipal privileges under the native Princes of South Wales, who made this place their seat of government.
Early references to the Sheriff are dated 1223, when a writ of Henry II was addressed to his Sheriff of Carmarthen and Cardigan. Following the Welsh Wars Edward I’s Statute of Wales erected the Welsh counties. Sheriffs subsequently appeared in Carmarthen from 1241.
The accession of James I in 1603 marked the end of the Tudor dynasty and the beginning of the Stuart. The new Charter of 1604 raised the status of the Borough to that of a County Borough, so that Carmarthen became a County of itself, with the formal title of “The County and Borough of Carmarthen”. The Charter replaced the two bailiffs with two Sheriffs, and confirmed the Borough’s previous “possessions, privileges and jurisdictions”. The original Charter, written in Latin, still hangs in the Mayor’s Parlour.
In 1831 controversy arose over the conduct of an election to the Borough. No return was made, and, in conditions of noise, disturbance and violence the Sheriffs did not “take effectual means to preserve the freedom of the election… and keep the poll open as long as allowed by law”. A new Writ was issued for the Borough.
In 1835 the number of Sheriffs was reduced to one.
One tragic and notorious case over which the Sheriff presided was the trial of George Thomas for the murder of a young girl, named as Jones. The Home Secretary, Mr Asquith, saw no reason to issue a reprieve, and so George Thomas was hanged.
Until 1974 the Sheriff greeted the judge on his arrival for the Assizes and presented him with white gloves, and ensured he had suitable lodgings.