The Office of Sheriff of Chester dates back to the 1120s and Chester claims that it is the oldest in the country. It certainly predates that of Mayor. A Sheriff is first mentioned in a charter to the Abbey of St Werbergh c1121-1129.
Chester appointed two Sheriffs each year until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 came into force. They had legal duties, such as the return of writs, assisting the Mayor in the running of the Portmote Court and presiding over the Pentice Courts and the Passage Courts. The Portmote Court, first mentioned at the beginning of the 13th Century, registered land transactions and also dealt with covenant and debt. It is documented until 1720. The Pentice Court dealt with debt and trespass, and cases not settled were referred to the Passage Court.
Under the “Great Charter” of 1506 one Sheriff was chosen by the Mayor, and the other Sheriff by the Freemen of Chester. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were many complaints that the Sheriffs were failing to hold their courts, and in 1604 the Assembly insisted that they restore them to regular use.
The Sheriffs were responsible for maintaining the City gaol in the Northgate.
One of the duties still performed by the Sheriff of Chester is an annual inspection of the City Plate, and to move the sealing of documents at Council meetings. The Sheriff is also host with the High Sheriff of the bi-annual Legal Service in Chester for the judges on the local circuit.
The names of a few of the early Sheriffs, and of all the Sheriffs since 1836 are recorded on the panelling in the main Committee Room in the Town Hall; the names of the Sheriffs are known in an almost unbroken line from 1238.