The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 2Allen, Thomas
An account of the Aldermen and Sheriffs, with a list of the latter.
An account of the Aldermen and Sheriffs, with a list of the latter.
The aldermen of this city are of far more remote antiquity than the mayors; and their office was unquestionably of Saxon institution. The title of , or aldermen, among the ancient Saxons, appears to have been of the greatest dignity (though it is now no where to be found but in chartered societies;) and was synonimous with the title of
This probably gave rise to the honorable title of barons, whereby the aldermen and commonalty of London were for a long period denominated.
Whether the city of London at was divided into wards by king Alfred, (after his rebuilding the same, as already mentioned,) or by arbitrary lords, whose demesnes in the city were held in vassalage by the citizens, or by others, is unknown. However, the latter seems the more probable, from the known fact, that, during the Saxon government, most of the cities and towns in this kingdom were held in demesne or vassalage; which is strongly corroborated by the wards of this city being anciently hereditary, and alienable at the will of the alderman.
And it is observable, that the wards or aldermanries of this city were denominated from the aldermen, and anciently changed their names as often as their masters; and that the division of the city into wards or aldermanries, appears to be of great antiquity; for it is manifest, that London had both wards and aldermen in the reign of king Richard the .
The abuses which necessarily arose from this proprietary system,
| led to repeated efforts on the part of the citizens to change the tenure of the office; and at length, from of those coalitions between the crown and the people, which are not uncommon in the history of revolutions, the right of property was, in the reign of Edward II. wrested from the aldermen, and the citizens of each ward were declared to have the power of electing annually the alderman who was to preside over it. So frequent an exercise, however, of the elective privilege, had also its peculiar inconveniences; and in , it was ordered by parliament that in future the aldermen should |
At present it is regulated by an act of parliament passed in the Geo. I. and the person so elected is to be returned by the lord mayor (or other returning officer in his stead, duly qualified to hold a court of wardmote) to the lord mayor and aldermen, by whom the person so returned must be admitted and sworn into the office of alderman before he can act.
It is not necessary that the person elected should be a resident of the ward. Citizens of eminence often become candidates for the aldermanship of wards, with which they have previously had no particular connexion. Should a person decline the office of alderman, (which is, however, rarely the case,) he may be fined; there is even a precedent for imprisonment.
In elections for aldermen, the right of voting is confined to freemen who are resident householders of the ward paying scot and lot, and an annual rent of not less than a year.
Each alderman has the active direction or wardenship of the affairs of his ward, under the general superintendance of the lord mayor; and is assisted by or more deputies, appointed by himself from among the common-councilmen of the ward. Every ward, too, has its court of wardmote, or common-hall, with which the alderman may advise on all matters touching the common welfare.
The privilege of acting as magistrates in the city was formerly confined to the lord mayor, the recorder, the aldermen who had passed the chair, and the senior aldermen below it; but in the year , George II., by letters patent, empowered all the aldermen of London, without distinction, to act in future as justices of the peace within the city and its liberties.
It was anciently the custom for the magistrates of the city of London, to have posts painted and ornamented, set up at their doors, on which the royal proclamations were fixed. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and several others of our old dramatists, notice this practice. These posts were usually newly-painted on entering into office, a custom which is alluded to by the satirical bishop of Salisbury, when in his , he says of an alderman,
to the reformation the city, in imitation of the national parliament, had its spiritual alderman; the prior of the Holy Trinity, without , for the time being, having always been the alderman of Portsoken ward.
The dignity of alderman, like that of the lord mayor, had once more than ordinary protection; and in those turbulent times, when personal feelings and resentment usurped the place of law and justice, it is recorded that a citizen was imprisoned, and his right hand cut off for assaulting an alderman. Resistance to the authority of an alderman was commonly punishable with the loss of freedom, and imprisonment for a year and a day.
The costume of the aldermen is a cloth gown of violet or scarlet, lined with silk, or furred according to the season. On occasion, an alderman who neglected to line his cloak according to the established mode, was condemned by his brethren to a summary punishment, amusingly characteristic of the claims of this respectable body to the character which Shakespeare has given of them, as being
They decreed that the whole court should go and breakfast with him.
The office of sheriff, (, or governor of the shire, or county), is an office of great antiquity, trust, and authority. The lord mayor and citizens of London have the shrievalty of London and Middlesex in fee by charter; and the sheriffs are by the livery annually elected.
Any person being a freeman of London is eligible to the office; and whoever is elected is bound to serve, unless he can swear that he is not worth The penalties for refusal are to be paid into the city chamber, and , or . to the ministers of the city prisons. A citizen, after payment of these fines, is exempted for years, but an alderman only for : no person, however, after being once drank to by the lord mayor, can be drank to again by any subsequent mayor, unless he becomes an alderman. Whoever serves is obliged to give a bond to the corporation of
Although many pay the forfeit rather than serve the office, yet it is sometimes contested for; in which case, the poll is held at , and adjourned from day to day, in the same manner as in elections for members of parliament.
The election of sheriffs takes place annually on Midsummer-day, and they come into office at Michaelmas, When chosen, they are sworn into office at , and days afterwards in the court of exchequer at Westminster-hall. The order of the procession upon this occasion is similar to that on presenting the lord mayor, with the exception of not walking round Westminster-hall, but going immediately to the court of exchequer, and being preceded by of the court of assistants of each of the companies
| of which the sheriffs are members, who attend in their barges and are landed ; upon entering the court of exchequer, the recorder, sheriffs, and aldermen make obeisances to the cursitor baron, which he returns, the lord mayor keeping his hat on; Mr. recorder then presents the new sheriffs for his majesty's approbation, the lord mayor and junior sheriff standing at his right hand, and the senior at his left; his majesty's approbation is usually expressed in the following words: |
The recorder then states to the court, that the sheriffs attend to account, and a warrant to this effect is read, and Mr. recorder moves that it may be recorded, which is granted. A warrant is in like manner read, to record the appearance of the late sheriffs to render their accounts, which upon motion is also recorded; the late sheriffs are then sworn by the cursitor baron to account, and a warrant of attorney is then read of the appointment of the under-sheriffs, who are sworn by the cursitor baron, to account, &c. which upon motion is also recorded; the tenants or occupiers of certain lands are then called, when the junior alderman present cuts a stick with a hatchet at strokes, which is held by of the officers of the court; the tenants and occupiers of a house called the forge, are then called, when the officer counts the horse-shoes and nails; being asked how many shoes, answers ; another officer then proclaims, a good number: he is then asked how many nails, and answers ; the other officer in like manner proclaims, a good number. The business being over, Mr. recorder invites the cursitor baron, in the name of the sheriffs, to dine with them; this ceremony being finished, the procession returns in the same manner as upon presenting the lord mayor.
The duties of the sheriffs are multifarious; they have to serve the king's writs of process; and, in this, are armed with such authority, that where the king is party, they may break open doors, or untile houses, in order to obtain admittance, if it be denied. It is also the sheriffs' duty to impannel or summon juries composed of men of
to attend the judges on all commissions of oyer and terminer, and gaol delivery; to levy and pay into the exchequer all fines to the crown; to raise the , or power of the county, in cases of riot, when every person called upon by the sheriff, above the age of , is subject to fine and imprisonment, if he refuses to comply with the summons; to attend on the lord mayor, on all state occasions, and to discharge the orders of the court of common council in all cases of petition to parliament, and of address, or even remonstrance to his majesty. The most painful part of the office of sheriff is that of seeing criminals executed; and in a metropolis so
|large as London, it is a duty they are frequently called on to perform.|
In the execution of writs and processes, summoning juries, &c. the sheriffs delegate their trust. In the city, this duty is performed secondaries, who purchase their appointments from the corporation, and are permanent under-sheriffs. In the county, in which department alone between and writs are annually issued, the sheriffs appoint their own deputy, or undersheriff, and have besides a considerable number of bailiffs, or officers, who give security to a large amount for the faithful discharge of their office.
If either of the sheriffs die, while in office, the survivor cannot act till another is chosen.
In all elections of members of parliament, either for the city of London or the county of Middlesex, the sheriffs, to whom the writs are directed, are the returning officers; they convene the voters, preside at the poll, and adjourn it from day to day as they deem expedient. Their power in this respect, however, does not extend to the city of .
Formerly, sheriffs were disqualified from being members of parliament; but this gave the crown a power which has sometimes been rendered subversive of liberty. The resistance made by sir Edward Coke, sir Robert Phillips, and sir Thomas Wentworth, to the arbitrary measures of Charles I., induced that monarch, previous to the new parliament of , to make them sheriffs of Buckinghamshire, Somersetshire, and Yorkshire, which at that time prevented them from sitting in parliament. Sir Edward Coke, however, still thwarted the crown; for, on being called upon to be sworn into office, he objected to the following part of the oath that was tendered to him:
In consequence of the refusal of sir Edward to take this oath, it was not only dispensed with at the time, but ever afterwards omitted in the swearing--in of sheriffs.
On the revolution of , the law which prevented sheriffs from sitting in parliament was modified, and by an act passed in the of William and Mary, it was declared, that sheriffs, mayors, and bailiffs of boroughs are only disqualified in their respective jurisdictions, as being returning officers. Thus, though a sheriff of London cannot represent London or Middlesex during the time he is in office, yet he may be elected for any other place.
says Mr. Maitland,
 Fitz-Stephen's Description of London.
 Pamphlet before quoted, p 110.
 Maitland's London, vol. ii. p. 1202.