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"Are You The Mayor?"

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

The Portreeve is often confused with the Mayor - Master Bailiff Sean Wilson explains

Portrait of John Brown (1155) Portreeve in 1975-76, by Robert Lenkiewicz
Portrait of John Brown (1155) by Robert Lenkiewicz

This November at our Court and Law Day ceremony I will become the 1201st Portreeve - the number referring to the number of years Ashburton has had a Portreeve, the office started in 820AD. From that day on I will often be asked “Are you the Mayor?” as I appear in my red gown and chains of office.


In Anglo Saxon Britain, law and order was maintained by reeves. A port-reeve officiated within a town and a shire-reeve (later known as a “sheriff”) held responsibility for a shire. Over time Portreeves were replaced by Mayors however, some towns retain the office and sometimes the Mayor is also the Portreeve. The Portreeve was responsible to the Lord of the Manor - in Ashburton this is the Town Council. Ashburton is one of a very small number of towns retain the office by an Act of Parliament.


The Portreeve is head of a legally constituted court, though these days, the role is largely ceremonial. I will attend many coffee mornings and events to support the community, and also take on a role within some organisations - for example, the Portreeve is also the President of the Ashburton Pensioners Association, so I will enjoy joining them for their Christmas Lunch this year!


The Portreeve often uses their year in office to raise funds for a chosen local charity or cause - this year is exceptional and there are many causes deserving of support, I will announce my decision after Court & Law Day but I am hoping to be able to make a positive change for the whole community.


Leaflet - Courts Information
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