The office of Sheriff is one of the oldest appointments to have survived into modern local government, and in Norwich dates from a Charter of Henry IV granted in 1404. This gave Norwich the right to County status independent of Norfolk, and the right to appoint two Sheriffs, eventually reduced to one by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. It had become necessary for Norwich to have a Sheriff because the Charter of 1404 had made it into “the County of the City of Norwich” so that it was no longer under the authority of the Sheriff of the County of Norfolk.
The Sheriffs of Norwich once exercised extensive judicial powers which included holding a County Court every month and as often as twice a week, hearing actions for debt and trespass in what became know as the Sheriff’s Court. Over the centuries, however, the powers of the office dwindled to little more than responsibility for summoning jurors and executing writs and with the re-organisation of local government on 1 April 1974, the duties of the Sheriff of Norwich became purely ceremonial.
This arose because the Local Government Act 1972 provided that only the counties created by the Act would be allowed to appoint Sheriffs to carry out the surviving official duties of the post and Norwich is therefore once again under the authority of the High Sheriff of Norfolk. This is also the reason why the word “county” no longer forms part of the official title of Norwich.
The City Council decided in 1973 however that it should apply for a new Charter which would give it the status of borough and allow it to retain some of the traditional privileges which the City had enjoyed, including the right to continue to appoint a Sheriff, as a “local officer of dignity” even though the office would only be of civic and ceremonial significance. This right was granted in the Charter of 1974.
In the past the Sheriff of Norwich also acted as Returning Officer at Parliamentary Elections, but this duty ceased on 31 March 1974, and the Lord Mayor then took over this function.