Last weekend was an interesting one, starting with a dash to Liverpool Street for the daily train to Needham Market, where I was met and driven to Nedging Hall for a reception hosted by the High Sheriff of Suffolk. The haute monde of the county set were all there, plus the mayors of the various towns in their regalia. All very pleasant, with some rather fine deep-fried oysters washed down with some equally good champagne. I did find out what a High Sheriff does, although their powers are somewhat less than once they were (courtesy of the High Sheriffs' Association of England and Wales);
The Office of High Sheriff is at least 1,000 years old having its roots in Saxon times before the Norman Conquest. It is the oldest continuous secular Office under the Crown.
Originally the Office held many of the powers now vested in Lord Lieutenants, High Court Judges, Magistrates, Local Authorities, Coroners and even the Inland Revenue.
The Office of High Sheriff remained first in precedence in the Counties until the reign of Edward VII when an Order in Council in 1908 gave the Lord Lieutenant the prime Office under the Crown as the Sovereign's personal representative. Lord Lieutenants were created in 1547 for military duties in the Shires. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereign's representative in the County for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.
Sunday dawned rather gloomy, but we had plans for the day, a lunch cruise on the River Ore. A pretty drive across East Suffolk brought us to Orford, just as the sun was burning off the last of the cloud.
The Lady Florence is a very civilised way to spend a summer afternoon, as it takes just twelve passengers, feeds them a three course meal, and journeys up and down the river, passing Aldeburgh and travelling as far as Iken before retracing its steps past Orford to a point near the river mouth at Shingle Street. The birdlife is worth attention, as the area is a well known habitat for the avocet, which appears on the logo of the RSPB and is quite a rare sight in this country (just 877 nesting pairs).
Ironically, its presence opposite Orford is due to an error by the British Army. A misplaced shell from a tank training exercise breached the sea wall of Havergate Island, allowing the island to be flooded by about four inches of water, and forming a perfect habitat for avocets.
It was a lovely afternoon, and as we drove back to Creeting St Peter, we were agreed that it had been a really rather nice day...