Saturday, 25 June 2011

Common Hall-Election of Sheriffs

The offices of Sheriff and Alderman go back to medieval times and the office of Sheriff is older than any other in the City. Until the institution of the Mayoralty in 1189 Sheriffs or Shire Reeves governed the City as the King's representatives. These days two Sheriffs, an Aldermanic Sheriff proposed by the Court of Aldermen and a lay Sheriff are elected on, or as close to, Midsummer's Day in Guildhall. The election was on Friday last. These annual elections are grand ceremonial occasions with the full panoply of the Civic City's great and good performing. For it is a performance with much bowing and, for the Lord Mayor, hat doffing.
This year there was only one candidate for the role of Aldermanic Sheriff so he was elected unopposed.For the office of lay Sheriff 3 candidates competed. The hall was full and Liverymen, who are exclusively entitled to vote, overflowed into other rooms. The 3 candidates stood and individually verbally presented their case. The vote was taken by a show of hands which were counted by tellers. The election rules are perhaps not as simple as they might be and in the event that the votes cast for each candidate show that there is less than a 10% difference in the votes cast between the candidates and the candidate with the majority then a second, written poll vote is called for on another occasion. Which is what happened on Friday. The poll vote requires Liverymen to vote again on July 8th at Guildhall.
The election of the Sheriffs coincides with the election of other officers, such as Auditors, on the same occasion. Most interestingly Ale Connors are voted for. What or who are Ale Connors I sense you asking. Four Ale Connors are voted and their role, which is an ancient one, is to examine the measures used by beer and liquor sellers to guard against fraud. Early trading standards folk if you like. Originally ''to examine and assay the beer and ale, and to take care that they were good and wholesome and sold at proper prices according to the assize..'' was to ensure that the ale brewed by the many ale houses didn't contain too much sugar. Sugar being a way of using cheaper grain and hops--excessive sugar being a sign of poor ingredients. It is said that the ale connor had a simple task. He would visit a pub and upon being given a pint of ale would pour half of it on to a bench and sit in the puddle. He wore strong leather breeches. He drank the remainder and after half an hour stood up. If his leather breeches stuck to the wooden bench there was too much sugar in the ale. I find this explanation handed down through history charming, and probably true if you believe there are fairies at the bottom of the bottle.

After the election we were hosted to a delightful lunch at Farmers and Fletchers an intimate hall well suited to a smaller more informal gathering. Masters from some 12 Companies were there and the excellent lunch was accompanied by some lively conversation given the hung result of the election. The name of the successfully elected lay Sheriff will not now be known until the close of play on July 8

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