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[Sheriffs of London]

The SHERIFFS next require our attention. Some writers place them after the lord mayor, but such arrangements would interrupt the narrative respecting the city's legislature. The office of sheriff (from shire-reve, governor of a shire or county) is of great antiquity, trust, and authority. London had its sheriffs prior to William the First's reign, or, "the conquest," as writer after writer erroneously terms that period of our history. They might as well say, that William III., in 1688-9, ascended the throne by "conquest." In all general cases the sheriffs are the king's officers; but the sheriff-wick of Middlesex having been purchased by the city from Henry I., the lord mayor and citizens now bold it in fee, and appoint two sheriffs annually for London and Middlesex. The jurisdictions of these officers are, to a considerable extent, perfectly separate, but if either die, the other cannot act till a new one be chosen; for there must be two sheriffs for London, which, by charter, is both a city and a county, though they make but one jointly for the county of Middlesex. Anciently these officers were chosen from amongst the COMMONALTY before spoken of, and any citizen is still eligible, except he swear himself not worth 15,000l., and many aldermen who were never sheriffs were advanced to the mayoralty; but a greater degree of regularity and rotation is now observed, and no sheriff can be chosen lord mayor unless he has been elected an alderman. The mode of choosing the sheriffs has been frequently altered. Formerly the elder sheriff was nominated by the lord mayor, who drank to him by name as sheriff for the ensuing year; and this nomination was, by custom, confirmed by the commonalty; but the commons succeeded in abrogating this custom, and for some time both sheriffs were chosen by the livery at large. Sir J. Parsons, lord mayor in 1704, revived the ancient method of nomination, under the authority of a then recent act of common-council. The present mode is for the lord mayor to drink to fourteen respectable citizens, two of whom are elected by the livery on the following Midsummer-day, and they are obliged to serve according to a bye law of 1748, under a penalty of 600l., (and 13l. 6s. 8d. to the ministers of the city prisons), 100l. of which is to be given to him who first agrees to fill the office. The lord mayor cannot properly nominate a commoner sheriff, if there be an alderman who has not served, though it is often done; but if the citizen drank to, pay the fine, he is exempted for three years, nor can he be again drank to by any future lord mayor, unless he become an alderman. No alderman can be exempted for more than one year, after a previous payment, without the consent of the common-council: whoever serves is obliged to give bond to the corporation for 1,000l. The sheriffs enter upon their office on Michaelmas-day. The DUTY of the sheriffs, amongst other things, is to serve writs of process. Where the king is party, the sheriffs may break open doors, or may untile houses, to gain admission, if entrance be denied; but not upon private process except upon outlawry after judgment; and in every case where the outer door is open, or where admission can be obtained by stratagem, or without force, the sheriffs or their officers may enter and execute the writ. They are also to attend the judges and execute their orders; to impannel or summon juries "of honest repute and of good ability, to consider of and deliver their verdicts according to justice and the merits of the cause;" to see condemned persons executed; and, in eases of resistance to the legal authority, as in public riots, &c., to raise the posse comitatus. For the county alone about 25,000 writs are annually directed to the sheriff.

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819