THE HISTORY OF THE MAYOR AND CHARTER TRUSTEES OF HIGH WYCOMBE
In England and Wales, charter trustees are set up to maintain the continuity of a town charter or city charter after a district with the status of a borough or city has been abolished, until such time as a parish council is established. Duties are limited to ceremonial activities such as the election of a mayor, and various other functions depending upon local customs and laws.
The charter trustees are made up of local councillors in the district representing wards within the boundaries of the town/city. If there are fewer than three district councillors for the former borough, then qualified local electors may be co-opted to make the number up to three.
Charter trustees must hold an annual meeting within twenty-one days of the annual meeting of the district council. The first item of business is the election of a town or city mayor and deputy mayor for the next year.
The first Mayor in Wycombe is thought to have been Roger Outred, elected around 1285. Although now the Mayor’s role is civic instead of political, originally the Mayor served as Chief Magistrate, and presided over local law courts. However, this was potentially problematic, as often the Mayor would be lacking in knowledge or experience of the law; this prompted the creation of the role of Town Clerk. In the past, the Town Clerk, a role in existence since the end of the 17th century was often a solicitor who served as a legal adviser to the Mayor.
Other historic roles that have existed in Wycombe since the 17th century include the Beadle, whose original job was to keep local children away from the Mayor. The most famous example of a Beadle is probably Mr Bumble from Charles’ Dickens novel Oliver Twist, who was in charge of the local orphanage and workhouse. The Beadle’s Badge, made in 1685 from solid silver, is worn on the Beadle’s arm during civic ceremonies. However, this is not by any means the most arresting piece of regalia; the Mace Bearer, whose original duty was to protect the Mayor, carries the ceremonial Mace across his shoulder during processions. Wycombe’s is thought to be the second largest in England, second only to that of the House of Lords! All these positions are still in existence, and the current holders can be seen at various civic ceremonies throughout the year.
Another aspect of Wycombe’s history associated with the Mayor is his role as Secretary of the Charter Market. There has been a Charter Market in Wycombe since 1553, when the first one was authorised by Mary I. The Charter continued to be renewed through to the reign of Charles II in 1675.
Many changes have occurred over time, altering the role of the Mayor within Wycombe; the role that originated in the 13th century is very different to the one held today. A key change occurred in 1974: before that date, the Mayor played a more important role in the affairs of the town, but the Town and Country Act meant that Wycombe changed from a borough to a district, meaning Wycombe had a District Council that was responsible for managing the services in Wycombe. In 2020, Wycombe District Council was dissolved and Wycombe became part of Buckinghamshire Council. Another significant change took place when the District Council was formed: originally, the borough of High Wycombe was able to bestow the title of Honorary Freeman on members of the community who were judged to have carried out a considerable service to the town. However, after 1972 this right was revoked due to re-organisation of local government, and so the Charter Trustees created their own title, Honorary Burgess.
These alterations to rules and roles have led to where the Mayoralty currently stands in Wycombe. A new Mayor is chosen each year from and by the 23 Charter Trustees, who are elected councillors from the 13 wards of Wycombe. The investiture of the new Mayor takes place on the 3rd Saturday in May as part of a closed session in the Guildhall, which is then followed by the famous weighing in ceremony. This widely renowned tradition is truly unique to Wycombe.
While the Mayor now has no political power, the role is still hugely important within the local community. The annual Mayor’s Appeal raises money for nominated charities.