Monday, 9 April 2012

City of London Guide Lecturers Association Annual Lecture

My year continues with the discovery of places I have often passed but never noticed. I was delighted to be invited to the 9th Annual Derek Melhuish Memorial Lecture on April 2 at the Dutch Church in Austin Friars.

I have occasionally slipped through Austin Friars as a short cut but never really noticed the church. The Dutch connection started in the sixteenth century although the original building was destroyed during the Blitz and the current church built in 1950. It is a very simple and elegant building covered in Portland stone.

The lecture was given by Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE and was a history of the role of the Sheriff with a number of her own personal experiences during her own year as Sheriff – The Role of the Sheriff both Ancient and Modern.

The earliest references to sheriffs date back to the tenth century where their main role was collecting taxes. The office of Sheriff in the City dates back to the Middle Ages and reflects their long-standing importance in the government of the City of London. The office of is of greater antiquity than any other in the City of London. Until the institution of the Mayoralty in 1189, Sheriffs or 'Shire Reeves' governed the City as the King's representatives, collected royal revenues and enforced royal justice.

The two Sheriffs are appointed for one year and their primary role is to support the Lord Mayor. They attend the Judges at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and are actually resident for their year of office in the courthouse complex, so that one of them is always attendant on the judges. In Court No1 the principal chairs on the 'bench' are reserved for them and the Lord Mayor, the City's Sword hangs behind the 'bench'.

Their role with the Lord Mayor involves travelling with him principally to support the various business delegations that usually accompany trips abroad as well as entertaining business groups visiting the City.

Fiona said that one of the most enjoyable parts of the year was doing the research for the various speeches and activities. Her “day job” must have prepared her well to speak on subjects such as “socially responsible investment” and “Russian legal reforms” not forgetting “Women in the City”.

It was a most informative and entertaining lecture.

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