The post of Sheriff of Poole was created in 1568 under the Great Charter of Elizabeth with the first post holder being Christopher Rose. The original document as sealed by Queen Elizabeth I is still in existence and from time to time is put on show at Poole Museum.
The role was extremely important within the administrative and judicial systems in the Town at that time, and included the following duties: presiding over a monthly court to administer justice; to receive all written commands from the Monarch concerning the Town; to receive all Crown debts (e.g. fines) and account for them to the Exchequer, control of the Town Gaol and responsibility for the prisoners within (the key to the Town Gaol still forms part of the Sheriff’s Regalia); to superintend executions, to be the Returning Officer for Parliamentary elections; to receive all Royal Proclamations; and to summon Jurors for the Court of Quarter Sessions.
During the Civil War, the Sheriffs of that period must have been in something of a dilemma. Officially they were the representatives of the Monarch in the Town, and, as such, should have been loyal to the Crown which must have been somewhat awkward as Poole declared for Oliver Cromwell and Parliament! Fortunately however, it appears no harm was done, although no doubt this was due in no small part to the Parliamentarian victory. However, it should be noted that there does not appear to have been any ill-will held by Charles II upon the Monarch’s return as he made a cordial visit to Pole in 1665.
During the 18th Century Poole continued to grow and prosper but with powers becoming more centralised within Parliament and the subsequent lessening of the Monarch’s power, the extent of the Sheriff’s role declined.
During the 18th Century the role of Sheriff was legally compulsory and, if elected to service, anyone declining the position could be fined. However, as the cost of the fine was considerably less than the expenses incurred in carrying out Shrieval duties this did not always act as a deterrent.
Following the 1972 Local Government Act, Queen Elizabeth II granted a further Charter to the Town retaining, amongst, other things, the role of Sheriff. Today the role is purely ceremonial and forms the first year of the three year term in Civic Office (Sheriff, then Mayor, then Deputy Mayor). However the Sheriff is still bound to protect the Mayor and travels in the front of the Mayoral Car carrying the Staff of Office ready to use against any marauders who may attack the Mayor. Fortunately, and certainly in recent times, this has not proved necessary!
The Sheriff attends the ceremony of Beating the Bounds by water, which occurs on the anniversary of events connected with the history of Poole, e.g. 1998, the 750th anniversary of the Longspee Charter, by which Poole gained its freedom from the Mayor of Canford. The event took place in 2000 and 2O09. NACTSEW has fond memories of this ceremony, as the Association held its Annual General Meeting there in 2000 and members joined the Mayoral party on a vessel which, with other boats, beat the Bounds by sailing into and round Poole Harbour. Various piratically attired local volunteers boarded the vessels in search of plunder – i.e. donations for the Mayor and Sheriffs’ charities!