The office of Sheriff is of recent creation, although historically related to that of the former Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Since re-organisation in 1974 the office is solely an honorary one, the holder being “a local officer of dignity”, for which provision was made in the Local Government Act of 1972.
The office prior to 1974 existed under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which enacted that the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was to be a county and town corporate. The Berwick-upon-Tweed Act, 1836, further declared and enacted that the borough and town of Berwick-upon-Tweed was to be a county in itself to all intents and purposes, except only in so far as it related to the return of a Member or Members of Parliament. Although the Office then had certain legal and administrative functions these were gradually eroded and for many years have been mainly of a ceremonial nature. Such legal functions as were left to the Sheriff were exercised by his Under-Sheriff, whom he was obliged to appoint, along with a London Deputy. The present Shrievalty has no such duty. For ceremonial purposes, when the Mayor is present the Sheriff is accorded precedence after the Mayor.
Although there is a line of individual Sheriffs since 1836, little of the history of the Office is known before then. The Office of Sheriff is referred to in the Charter of Edward I (1302) and it is known that there are references to the appointment of a Sheriff of Berwick by Edward III on 25th July 1333, following his victory at the battle of Halodon Hill.
Berwick is one of the few towns in which the Sheriff is appointed from outside the Council and is nominated by the Mayor Elect, who is the Deputy Mayor. The Sheriff is then appointed following the approval of the Town Council.
The most colourful event in the Civic calendar is the annual Riding of the Bounds. This reflects one of the most important original duties of Sheriff, i.e. to ensure boundaries were maintained and observed. This was of great importance in Berwick, due to the disputes over the border between England and Scotland. These boundaries were agreed in 1438. From 1542 the bounds were walked, and in 1550 they were ridden for the first time, by the Chief Marshall and the garrison soldiers.
In 1609 the Riding of the Bounds became a Civic event, with the Burgesses riding the bounds. At one time there were two Ridings annually, although now there is one, which takes place on 1st May each year, with some 100 riders taking part over a route of some 16 miles. There are various fun events at the half way point. As one of the Civic Party, the Sheriff is invited to attend, and some Sheriffs have taken to horseback to take part in the ride.