Saturday 24 April 2010

A Roadshow a Sheriff and a coconut.

Viewers of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow (Sunday 18th April 2010 - all images courtesy of the BBC) will have seen the Sheriff of Chester Cllr Andrew Storrar proudly wearing his official robes and sporting what has undoubtedly become accepted as  the Sheriff’s Chain of Office. He described the armorial jewel as those of the Office of Sheriff. 

Badge of office

Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry describes Arms of Office as those borne by holders of certain offices which designate that office. For instance, the ancestors of the Dukes of Ormond, being hereditary butlers of Ireland, bore three covered cups. Garter, the principal king-at-arms of England, bears "Argent, a cross Gules, on a chief Azure a crown Or, encircled with a garter of the order buckled and nowed between a lion of England and a lily of France."

The Sheriff and his good lady wife were pleased to present to the antiques expert a rather splendid gold ring sporting the same armorial bearings as the Chain of Office.  Mrs Storrar explained that they had heard that the ring was due to be auctioned locally and they had successfully bid in the region of £400 to £450.  The ring shows an inscription indicating that it belonged to "Robert Gregg, Sheriff of Chester".  Robert Gregg held the office of Sheriff in 1869/70 and went on to become Mayor in 1872-73.  The expert informed us that a price of upwards of £500 was a bargain when compared to the cost of commissioning a new one which, to match the workmanship on the one before him, would cost "thousands".

“Sheriff’s Ring”

Harold Storey, Chairman of the Cheshire Heraldry Society, also saw the show and stated that:
“We did not get a clear view of the arms, but it seemed to be - a chevron per pale and per chevron, between three garbs, and there might have been something in Chief.  I cannot find any Gregg arms anything like this, but to have been sheriff he will have had to belong to one of the Guilds.  The Guilds all used Coats of Arms which are on display in the Guild Hall, Chester.  Most were copies of, or fairly similar to, those of the London Guilds. The arms of The London INNHOLDERS are - Azure a chevron Argent between 3 oatsheaves Or, on a chief argent a "St. Julian's Cross" Sable.  The Cross (drawn as a saltire to fit on the chief) was an addition in 1634.  We can be sure the Chester Innholders used something very similar, and I guess that Robert Gregg was a member of the Innkeepers Guild and his ring bore the arms of his Guild.  It seems probable that either he or the guild itself had the medal made with the Guild arms for future use by Chester Sheriffs who were members of that guild, and now it is used by all sheriffs.”

Closer examination of the arms on the “Sheriff’s Chain of Office” show that they are surrounded by what might be a garter and are surmounted by a coronet - the lions grasping the jewel may (or may not) be supporters. I am intrigued by the inclusion of a coronet which might indicate the arms of a peer rather than a guild however I am not aware of any peer holding the office of Sheriff of Chester. It is of course pure conjecture but it is possible that Mr. Gregg took it upon himself to assume  the coronet of the earls of Chester because the office of sheriff, first recorded for the City of Chester in the 1120s, was originally appointed by the earl.  I noticed also that Mrs Storrar had what for want of better description was a "consorts jewel" which, if accurate, might indicate that the shield is Gules (see screen shot).

Consort’s Jewel

Harold has subsequently written to the present Sheriff, Cllr. Hilarie McNae, requesting further details and stating that “Robert Gregg was Sheriff 1869-70 and Mayor 1872-73. In order to reach these offices he will have had to have been a member of one of the Chester Guilds.  The Guilds all claimed to have Coats of Arms, but in fact most Guilds used as their arms those of the corresponding London Guild or a simple variation on those.  The arms used by the Chester Guilds are on display in the Chester Guild Hall.  I have not gone to Chester to check on this, but the arms of the London Innholders in 1588 were - “Azure a chevron quarterly Or and Argent between three oatsheaves Or”.   I suspect that The Chester Guild copied these, perhaps just changing the oatsheaves to garbs (wheat sheaves).  The London Guild later added a chief to their shield, a panel above the garbs with a cross of St. Julian.

It seems to me therefore that these medals were made for officers of the Innholders Guild.  With the demise of the Guilds they will have been inherited by the City of Chester and allocated by them at some date for use by successive Sheriffs.

It would be interesting to know if they bear an assay letter, of Chester or elsewhere, and if so what date this indicates.  If this is around 1870 this will confirm a connection with Robert Gregg, maybe he had all three items made for the Innholders.”

I hope to be able to bring my reader further information should a reply be forthcoming. In the mean time, whoever the arms belonged to and whatever they have morphed into, we can be fairly certain that they are not actually arms of office.  
Also featured on the same roadshow was a mazer made from a coconut, with arms carved onto the nut.  Difficult to be sure but they seemed to be simply Vair or Vairy, with the motto "veritas et concordia" and the initials J.B. It was suggested by the expert that that, although the present value was in the low hundreds, if the present owner could identify owner of the arms and the initials JB it would add a couple of thousands to the value!

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