The Sheriff of Berwick-upon-Tweed
2023-2024, David Gordon
The Office of Sheriff is of relatively recent creation, although it is historically linked to that of the former Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Since the Government Act of 1972 the Office of Sheriff is wholly honorary; the holder being 'a local officer of dignity' for which provision was made from the Act.
The office prior to the Act of 1972 existed under the provision of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 which enacted that the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was to be a county and town corporate.
The Berwick-upon-Tweed Act the following year further declared and enacted that the borough and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was to be a county in itself to all intents and purposes, except only insofar as it related to the return of a Member or Members of Parliament.
Although the Office at that time had certain legal and administrative functions these were gradually eroded and for many years have been ceremonial. Legal functions that were at one time the responsibility of the Sheriff were, in fact, executed by the Under-Sheriff who was appointed by the Sheriff.
The Sheriffs of Berwick-upon-Tweed are well documented since 1836 but little is known about any prior to that although the Office is referred to in the Charter of Edward I in 1302. Another reference is made when noting an appointment of the Sheriff of Berwick by Edward III on 25th July 1333 following his victory in battle at Halidon Hill with the Scottish Crown.
Some scarce insight into the life of a Sheriff in the 1600's is given by this short record made by a clerk in 1630.
Unlike most other shrievalty towns and cities the office of Sheriff is held by a person of merit personally nominated by the Mayor Elect as Deputy Mayor. The Appointment follows approval by Full Council.
The Sheriff's Chain
Customs and Traditions
Freedoms of the Town
Admissions of Berwick Freemen are recorded in the borough records from the early 16th century but the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages. Today, the ceremony is presided over by the Mayor and Sheriff of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Freedom is conferred by the Chairman of the Guild of Freemen after oaths have been read aloud.
The new freemen were admitted by birth-right. Eligibility to become a Freeman has changed over the years. Originally only the eldest son, on reaching the age of 21, could become a Freeman this way. Younger sons would be apprenticed for seven years to a Freeman to gain their freedom but from 1782 all sons could be admitted by birth-right.
Today, all children of a Freeman – including daughters – can apply to be admitted. However, succession must pass directly from one generation to the next or right is lost. A small number of Honorary Freemen may also be admitted by the Guild “by ticket” but their children have no right of admission.
Mr Michael Richardson, Sheriff of Berwick-upon-Tweed welcomes applicants as 'Freemen of the City'
Riding the Bounds
Each year on May 1st the boundaries of Berwick-upon-Tweed are inspected. This ancient tradition would have been one of the greatest responsibilities of the Sheriff and of particular importance due to the constant disputes over the border between England and Scotland.
The ‘Bounds’ of Berwick-upon-Tweed refers to the Bounds of the 'Liberties' of the Town - the land between the border with Scotland and the River Tweed. They are first mentioned in a charter issued by Robert Bruce after he defeated the Town in 1318.
The current border between England and Scotland was established in 1438 but was not legally binding which caused ongoing tensions. In 1542 it was agreed for the 'Bounds' to be "perambulated so often as to keep them well known". This order would have been carried out by the town’s garrison.
Keeping the bounds however was not just about the border with Scotland. It later became a necessity to settle ongoing land disputes within the 'Bounds' over grazing and haymaking rights. In 1605 it was decided to divide the land into defined meadows.
Burgesses were ordered to pay a tax on every acre of land they owned to pay for a boundary ditch between England and Scotland. This gave rise to the annual 'Riding of the Bounds' to check the integrity of the land divisions and the ditch.
The event is now organised by the Berwick Riders Association.
Each year the 'Chief Marshal' and other leaders meet the Mayor and Sheriff at the Guildhall steps and request permission to check the boundary of the 'Liberties of Berwick'.
Permission is granted, the Town Flag is handed over and the toast given before the riders set off on the 17 or so miles to check the boundaries. At the completion the flag is returned to the Mayor and Sheriff with the report that the town boundary remains secure for another year.
Many of the early customs around the 'Riding of the Bounds' are still observed; horses are decorated with ribbons; a race is held at Canty's Bridge and a celebratory repast is enjoyed after the event.
The ceremony has taken place every year with very few exceptions. Cancellations were forced by lack of funds (1726-29) Foot and Mouth disease (2001), and the global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Into the 21st Century
Berwick-upon-Tweed's Office of Sheriff and its role has changed over the years in keeping with political and social shifts. The Sheriff, selected by the Mayor Elect whilst still Deputy Mayor supports and accompanies the Mayor on community visits and civic duties and helps promotes local projects and achievements.
The Shrievalty of Berwick is widely celebrated locally as one of fifteen across England and Wales.
Sheriffs of Berwick-upon-Tweed
Liam Mutch Sheriff of Berwick 2017-2018
1985 Alan Thompson
1986 Roy Thompson
1987 John Paul
1988 James Armstrong
1989 John Reay
1990 William Leith
1991 Thomas Rea
1992 Albert Clemit
1993 John Marshall
1994 James Smith
1995 Henry Thompson
1996 Christopher Matthews
1997 Thomas Johnson
1998 Peregrine Fairfax
1999 Gerald Taylor
2000 Tom Wakenshaw
2001 John Mole
2002 Philip Stanbury
2003 David Wilson
2004 John Stephenson
2005 Alexander Ritchie
2006 Angus Murray
2007 Alan Bowlas
2008 Ian Hay (until 31/03/2009)
2009 Barbara Herdman (from 01/04/2009 to 18/05/2009)
2009 James Hutchinson
2010 Andrew Swinburne
2011 Lance Robson
2012 Robert Dalgleish
2013 Michael Richardson
2014 Michael Richardson
2015 Ian Hay
2016 Brian Douglas
2017 Liam Mutch
2018 Jude Eltringham
2019 Martin Warner
2020 Martin Warner
2021 Canon Alan Hughes
2022 Eddie Mullins
2023 David Gordon
Ian Hay Sheriff of Berwick 2015-2016