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The Portreeve's Chains

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

A short history of the Portreeve's Chains of Office

Dating from 1891 the Portreeve's Chains of Office are silver gilt connecting exquisitely enamelled medallions. They show extraordinary workmanship and provide an important record of key figures in the long history of Ashburton's Courts.

Not many people have the opportunity to see the Portreeve's Chains of Office up close, to admire the workmanship or to peruse the names of the past Portreeve's recorded on its links. Fortunately some of their history is recorded in the Portreeve's Journal, in notes recorded by past Portreeves and in photographs of past Portreeves taken over many years. I've not been able to uncover their complete history, and there are one or two unanswered questions as a result.

To enable others to appreciate these extraordinary symbols of our long history, I've put together what information I have gathered and it is presented below. I'd like to thank the Ashburton History Museum, the Guild of St Lawrence and Pete Webb for their help with pulling together this information. Much of the text is reproduced from the Archives of Bob West (Past Portreeve 1153 - 1973-74)

Borough of Aysheburton - Details of the Portreeve's Chain

The Chain was presented at a Special Court held on the 30th October, 1891. An entry in the Portreeves’ Journal, signed by E. Tucker, Portreeve describes the Chain as follows:

The Chain consists of:

  1. The Badge proper is oval in shape and bears the Borough Arms and Motto in coloured enamels surrounded by a rich border of alternate Maltese Crosses and Fleurs-de-lis surmounted by a mural coronet on which the Tudor Rose and Devonshire Myrtle are shown.

  2. The Chain is composed of 22 sets of links - each presented by or in memory of a past Portreeve - consisting of an oblong link bearing a Saint Andrew's cross between a sun and crescent. The name of the Portreeve is engraved on the cross with the date or dates of his bearing office, a round link connects it with one in the form of a Gothic letter A, the initial of the Borough.

  3. The centre link of the Chain from which hangs the badge bears the arms of Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, a Lord of the Borough and founder in 1314 of the Grammar School. He also obtained the charter for the fairs held in August and November and the weekly markets. The arms are encircled by ‘teazles’ in complement of the woollen industry. This link was presented by Rev. W. H. Birch, the Vicar, in memory of the Bishop and of himself having held the office of Portreeve in 1885-6.

  4. The Chain is secured in its proper places at the shoulders of the wearers by the two broaches bearing in coloured enamels the shields and arms of the Rt, Hon. Lord Clinton and Sir Robert Jardine, Bart, M.P., the present Lords of the Borough and presented by them.

At the Annual Court Leet and Law Day held on the Seventh day of November 1891, the following presentment was made:

"We present that a Portreeves Badge and Chain of 22 links together with the Broaches given by the Lords Lord Clinton and Sir Robert Jardine representing their Coats of arms and the central link bearing the arms Bishop Stapledon given by the Rev'd W. M. Birch Vicar has been presented by them and several past Portreeves to this Borough with the understanding that should the office at any time become extinct and no Portreeve or similar officer be elected the links of the chain be returned to the Representatives of the respective donors."

Details of the medallions and links are recorded in this document written in 1952. It's interesting to compare the enamelling in the drawings with the chains as they appear today.

The Missing Link

Note the drawing at the top of the second page - this shows a medallion bearing the Arms of the Lord of the Manor Hon. Richard Maitland W. Dawson that was added in 1908 and supposedly featured in the centre of the back of the chain. However, it doesn't feature in the chain today, instead there is a standard oblong link in it's place.

The missing medallion might be explained by the many reconfigurations of the chain over the years, it started as a single chain of links and at some point had to be reconfigured into two parallel chains in order to accommodate the added links.

Changing Styles

In addition to the changes to the configuration of the Chains of Office, the robes have also changed. In these old photos dating up until 1951, the robes which were purple with a fur trim - they can be seen in St Lawrence Chapel - today's robes are red with a black and yellow trim.

Notes from the Portreeve's Journal

The outgoing Portreeve records important events from his year in the Portreeve's Journal - these notes provide a fascinating insight into the life and times of Ashburton, as well as enabling us to piece together the history of the Courts.

The following entries relating to the chains appear in the Portreeves' Journal:


A committee of the Officers and past Portreeves approved a design submitted by the Portreeve elect for an addition of a second set of links presented. by Portreeves who had held office for the first time since 1892 with a central link to commemorate the Coronation.

August 9th 1902.

The Coronation additions were worn for the first time on this Coronation Day and consists of 8 ordinary links in memory of that office having been held by the following:-

William Mann 1859, Richard Luscombe 1864, Robert E. Tucker 1892, George C. Foot 1893, Stephen Yolland 1894, Joseph Batten 1895, J. Parnell Tucker 1897 Frederick H. Firth 1900.

The Coronation link consists of a 5 pointed star surmounted. by a crown. In the centre a Tudor Rose on 'Which the Royal Cypher of E.R.V11 is displayed in enamel, inscribed on the back is ‘Coronation of King Edward VII June 26th 1902 P.F.S. Amery Portreeve'


During the year the Portreeves Chain has been brought up to date by the insertion of new links to commemorate the year of office of Mr Frank Mann 1903, Mr John Berry 1904, Mr Edward Sawdye 1907, Mr William Pengilley 1908, and a medallion bearing the Arms of the Lord of the Manor Hon. Richard Maitland W. Dawson has also been attached to the Chain and additional dates to denote second terms of office had been inscribed on the links of Mr Robert Edward Tucker, James Clymo and Edwin Tucker.


During the year the Portreeves Chain was brought up to date by the addition of 11 new links the work being carried out by Messrs Page Keen & Page of Plymouth.


The Portreeves Chain of Office has during the year been brought up to date by the addition of ten new links to commemorate the years of office of E. O. Babington 1921-2, H. Naylor 1922-4, Rev. A.H. Thompson 1924-5, F. Edgecombe 1925-6, F. Lallgler 1926-7, R. Cubitt 1927-8, F. J. Marshall 1928-9, J. H. Pomeroy 1929-30, A.H. Satterley 1930-31, R.H. Egbeare 1931-2.

This completes the Chain except for one link which the Court agreed could be added to commemorate the year of office of John Sawdye 1949-50, as he was the 5th member of the same family to hold the office.

The Medallions

The photos below show the detail of the chain as it appears today - at over 130 years old they are unsurprisingly showing signs of wear - much of the gilt has rubbed off and some of the enamel on the medallions has been damaged. The Portreeve's medallion itself is in excellent condition and is exquisitely enamelled - the photos don't really do it justice!

The Latin text around the bezel reads "FIDES PROBATA CORONAT". The motto appears to have been used by the Portreeve and Burgesses of Ashburton since the granting of the St. Lawrence's Charter issued in 1314. Although difficult to translate, its general meaning is - "faith confirms what has been proved good and true", or, "faith crowns true actions".

The motto has subsequently been adopted on the arms for Ashburton in New Zealand.

Portreeves Links

The following is a complete catalogue of the Portreeve's links in date order:

P.F. Sparke (1831)

H. Gervis (1832)

R. Abraham (1835,1842)

S.P. Knowles (1837)

W.R. Whiteway (1839)

W.A. Cockey (1844)

J.S. Amery (1846)

S. Tozer (1856)

R.C. Tucker (1857)

W. Mann (1859)

E. Sawdye (1861,1877)

R.F.S. Amery (1863,1875)

R Luscombe (1864)

W.S. Gervis (1869,1884)

J.S. Amery (1873,1881)

C. Langler (1876)

H.A. Eddy (1878)

H. Stevens (1879)

S. Tozer (1882)

J.H. Foaden (1883)

E.J. Sawdye (1888)

J. Down (1889)

E. Tucker (1890)

J. Glymo (1891)

G.C. Foot (1893)

S.Yolland (1894)

J. Batten (1895)

J.F.Tucker (1897)

F.H. Firth (1900)

R.E. Tucker (1902)

F. Mann (1903)

J. Berry (1904)

E. Sawdye (1907)

W.Pengilly (1908)

J.F.Baker (1909)

W. Fitzpatrick (1910)

Rev. R.J. Bond (1911)

R.B. Berry (1912)

G.P. Foaden (1913)

E.Tucker (1914)

T.S. Abbott (1915)

J. Barnes (1916)

J. Osborne (1917)

W.T. Butchers (1918)

J. Cock (1919)

E.O. Babington (1921)

H.Naylor (1922)

Rev. A.H. Thompson (1924)

F.Edgecombe (1925)

F.Langler (1926)

R. Cubitt (1927)

F.J. Marshall (1928)

J.H. Pomroy (1929)

A.H. Satterly (1930)

R.H. Egbeare (1931)

J.A. Sawdye (1949)



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