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Roles in the Court

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

What did they do?

Don Distin and Calvin Giles, official Ale Tasters, solemnly undertaking their duties during the Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing Ceremony
Ale tasters enjoying their job! - photo by John Germon

The Leet and Baron Juries appoint members to a small number of roles. Each jury appoints a Foreman, Deputy Foreman and two Constables. In addition they make a number of other appointments.

Leet Jury Appointments

  • The Portreeve (Normally the current Bailiff)

  • The Bailiff (Normally chosen by the current Bailiff)

  • Two Ale Tasters

  • Two Bread Weighers

  • The Inspector of Trees

Baron Jury Appointments

  • Two Marshals

  • Two Viewers of the Market

  • Two Viewers of the Watercourses

  • Two Pig Drovers

  • Two Scavengers

  • Two Sealers and Searchers of Leather

What Did They Do?

Each role has a historical significance - what did they do?

Historically the roles were important to maintain law and order - many of the roles were concerned with the health and safety or consumer protection of local residents.

Portreeve - in Anglo Saxon Britain, law and order was maintained by reeves who implemented the decisions of the local court. A port-reeve officiated within a town and a shire-reeve (later known as a “sheriff”) held administrative responsibility for a shire. These days, Ashburton's Portreeve is the head of a legally constituted Court. They are also a social head of the town attending community or fund-raising events for the Courts and other organisations, and, together with the Mayor, representing the town.

Bailiff - ensured that the decisions of the court were actioned, responsible for summoning the Jury, and performing any arrests ordered by the court. Today our Bailiff supports the Portreeve as they undertakes their duties and will take over the role of Portreeve at the end of their term.

Steward - appointed by the Lord of the Borough, the Steward is responsible for the smooth running of meetings and events and offers advice if required.

Foreman of the Jury - elected annually and is Head of the Jury and speaks for (and represents) the Jury at all formal functions of the Court. They also keep a Minute of formal meetings.

Crier - announced of the court's decisions to the people of the manor in general, today our Crier makes announcements for Court & Law Day and other Court events.

Marshall - these days the Marshall conducts and controls Court ceremonies and processions.

Constable - would ensure order during court sessions, today our Constables direct traffic during processions and Court events in the town.

Ale Taster - ensured the quality of ale, checked that true measures were used, today they play a key part in the Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing ceremony.

Bread Weigher - verified the freshness and weight of bread sold in the manor, today they play a key part in the Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing ceremony.

Viewer of Watercourses - verified that all Watercourses were unimpeded and free flowing - an important function before the installation of modern sewage systems!

Viewer of the Market - ensured that the quantity and quality of products sold at the market were not substandard

Inspector of Trees - ensured that trees in the borough were healthy and safe.

Searcher and Sealer of Leather - ensured the quality of leather goods and applied their Seal of Approval as appropriate.

Scavenger - ensured standards of hygiene within the lanes and privies to try and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Pig Drover - drovers were responsible for the movement of livestock and taking them to market.

Although a legally recognised Court, these days most Court events help to maintain our traditions and most roles are ceremonial - for example, the Ale Tasters and Bread Weighers participate in the Ale Tasting and Bread Weighing Ceremony which keeps alive our traditions, they no longer have any legal function. The Portreeve, Bailiff and Courts Members also play a significant part in supporting and raising funds for local causes, charities and community organisations.

Leaflet - Courts Information
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