The earliest reference to a Charter for the Borough of the Town and County of Haverfordwest is in 1171, when Henry II, on his way to Ireland, confirmed the liberties granted by his father, Henry I, to “the town and inhabitants of Haverford”.
On 30th April 1479 Edward, Prince of Wales decreed that the town should have a Mayor and a Sheriff and two Bailiffs, and conferred on the town the status of a county. That status was confirmed by the Act of Union of England and Wales in 1543, which gave it the right to hold its own Assize. In 1545 it was granted the right to have its own Custos Rotulorum, or master of the rolls and its own Member of Parliament. In 1761 it was granted its own Lord Lieutenant. However these privileges have disappeared with time.
As a county, Haverfordwest had its own Sheriff and that office continues, as one of the fifteen City and Town Sheriffs in England and Wales, to be part of the national Association and alone with Carmarthen, in Wales.
In early times the Sheriff was involved with the legal process, from the courts to the gaol. He was also instrumental in conducting Parliamentary elections in the Borough.
A well documented story dating back from 1741 regarding the capacity of the Sheriff’s powers involved a woman called Dorothy Rees from Prendergast who was caught stealing a flannel petticoat worth sixpence. The Sheriff had to arrange her transportation to America for seven years and before this she was stripped to the waist and marched through the streets from the gaol near St Thomas Green to her home in Prendergast. This punishment had to be supervised by the Sheriff.
The Sheriff was elected at the first Hundred Court held after the Feast of St Michael, either from the 24 common council-men or from the burgesses at large, and was as often chosen from the one body as from the other.
The Sheriff waited upon the Judge of Assize and when no crime had been committed in the Borough, he presented the Judge with a pair of white gloves, a ceremony last performed in 1995. He appointed an Under Sheriff who carried out the judicial work.
The Sheriff received £10 to provide a breakfast on Whit Monday for important citizens of the Town and would see that donkeys and ponies were at hand to be ridden later in the day to Portfield for special races and sports. At Cuckoo Lane novices went through an initiation ceremony at the Bumping Stone, where a fee was demanded. They later rode back through the streets of the town to a special dinner provided by the Mayor. He also received a quota of 200 apples from each shipload of apples arriving at the quay – usually from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
The Shrievalty Association of Haverfordwest was formed in 1996. A Sheriffs Service is held at St Mary’s Church in April each year and this is followed by a Sheriffs breakfast.