Downham man named as Norfolk’s new High Sheriff

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The name of Norfolk’s new High Sheriff was written into history during at a ceremony, which has been taking place since before the Norman Conquest, at London’s High Court on Wednesday.

Nicholas Julian Hedley Pratt of Ryston, Downham, will take office next year as one of the latest holders of the oldest continuous secular office under the Crown in Britain.

He will be followed in 2016 and 2017 by Major General Sir William George Cubitt of Honing, and Alfred James Stephen Bagge of Stradsett.

In one of the most ancient official ceremonies still practised in this country, which dates back more than 1,000 years to Saxon times, judges and court officials gathered at the High Court, some wearing wigs and court clothing designed centuries ago, to preside over the formal nomination of 51 High Sheriffs and their deputies from all over England and Wales.

In Saxon times, sheriffs of each county went to the King’s or Queen’s Court, to give account for the money they collected on behalf of the monarch. Now they no longer collect money for the monarch, but their annual attendance at court has continued.

Though the role goes unpaid, High Sheriffs rank among top dignitaries in their areas. They are expected to attend at royal visits to their counties, as well as being entitled to act as returning officers in parliamentary elections.

They also have a responsibility for the well being and protection of High Court Judges, and for the maintenance of the loyalty of subjects to the Crown, though these responsibilities are delegated to the Chief Constable of police.

Many are active in local and national schemes that reflect their historical functions, in particular National Crimebeat which seeks to keep young people from going into crime and the DebtCred scheme, which aims to improve standards of financial literacy, so that people are more aware of the dangers of debt, how to avoid it, and how to cope with it.

Before the newly-nominated sheriffs take up their offices next March, another ancient ceremony will take place, this time at the Privy Council in London.