In common with other towns and cities the office of Shire Reeve, or Sheriff, with the same responsibilities, existed before 1200, and probably back in Anglo Saxon times. King John’s Charter of 1200, at a time when local government in Gloucester was by the general meeting of the Burgesses, is the first to give specifically the right to have two Bailiffs to perform the role of Sheriff. Consequently, in Gloucester, the office of Sheriff is at least 250 years older than the City Council.
Gloucester has a fairly complete roll of Sheriffs from 1200 to the present day. The first bailiffs/sheriffs appear to have been Walter Cadivor and Robert Clavus. The first Sheriffs under the Charter of Richard III in 1483 (when Gloucester became a city and the office of Mayor began) appear to have been William Francomb and John Poole.
The Sheriff was originally the agent of Royal jurisdiction in Gloucester. He presided over the local courts, had powers of summons and restraint, held prisoners and collected fines and taxes. He executed Royal writs, such as those to repair the castle and to provision the army. Most of these duties were continued into modern times – he remained personably responsible for taxation until 1732, and summoned courts until 1974.
The 1483 Letters Patent of Richard III provided that there be two sergeants-at-mace to serve the two Sheriffs. Ever since on formal occasions they have joined the Mayor’s two mace-bearers and the sword carriers and preceded the Mayor and Sheriff in procession. In the 1600’s there were up to four Sheriffs for a while. The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act reduced the number of Sheriffs to one.
The current chain and badge of office were presented to Mr Henry Jelfs by his brother Freemasons when he was Sheriff in 1883. At the end of his year of office it was given to the Gloucester Corporation in Trust for future Sheriffs to wear. It is of a more elaborate design that that of the Mayor.
Since local government reorganisation in 1974 the office is purely one of dignity, but the City Council wanted to preserve the office for historic reasons. The office of Sheriff was combined with that of Deputy Mayor in 1983.
In 2002 the method of electing the Sheriff (and the Mayor) changed from being elected by the majority party on the City Council to sharing the role between the three main political parties in turn.