Chesters interesting History

The Sheriffs Of Chester

It has been suggested that Chester was the first English town to the have a Sheriff. A Sheriff of Chester is mentioned in a charter granted by Ranulph I, Earl of Chester around 1121-29.

By the end of the 12thC.the Sheriffs of Chester appear frequently on deeds as witnesses. From around 1250 right up until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, two sheriffs were appointed to Chester every year.

Throughout the mediaeval period and indeed until the early 19thC., the sheriffs were responsible for many aspects of city government:-

They executed writs, assisted the courts, controlled the city gaol, collected fines and collected the tolls.

In 1974 Chester City became part of the new District of Chester. The Royal Letters Patent of May 1974 gave the district the status of a Borough, and allowed the Council to appoint ‘offices of dignity’. In June 1974 it was resolved that a new sheriff should be elected.

That tradition has continued after further local government re-organisation in 2009, when Cheshire West and Chester Council took over from the old city council.

Chester has therefore had a sheriff for more than eight centuries!

The Earls of Chester

William the Conqueror gave England to his own trusted earls and barons after the Norman Conquest. A Fleming, Gherbod, was made Earl of Chester but because he had to return overseas almost immediately, William gave Chester to Hugh de Avranches, nicknamed Lupus (the Wolf) or the Fat in about 1070/1.

Earl Hugh was a powerful and ruthless man. According to the historian Orderic Vitalis, “he went about surrounded by an army instead of a household” and ruled Chester as an independent unit. His successors retained the Earldom until 1237 when it was annexed to the Crown.

In 1301 King Edward created his eldest son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester since then it has been normal practice for the Sovereign’s eldest son to receive both of these titles.
The Guilds of Chester

The original Guild Merchant was an association of all the merchants and craftsmen of a town, regulating trade and working conditions. The citizens of Chester were granted recognition of their Guild Merchant in 1200 but by the middle of the 13th century power had become concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy merchants and discontent arose with the system. This led to separate guilds for each craft being formed to protect the interests, trade and well being of each member.

A “closed shop” policy was adopted a craftsman had to be a member of a guild in order to carry on his business and outsiders could only trade in the city if they paid certain tolls or during the Fairs. Guildsmen had to be Freemen of the City and there were four ways to achieve this: by apprenticeship, by being born the son of a Freeman, by purchasing membership or by the gift of the Assembly.

The closely allied nature of some of the crafts could cause dissent if certain craftsmen attempted to carry out part of another’s trade so from the 15th century a lot of the guilds with similar aspects amalgamated. These included the Shoemakers and Cordwainers, the Joiners, Carvers and Turners and also the Wrights, Slaters and Sawyers. Possibly the largest union was that of the Smiths, Cutlers, Pewterers, Founders, Cardmakers, Girdlers, Headmakers, Wiredrawers, Spurriers, Arrowheadmakers, Armourers and Bellfounders Company!