Until the middle of the 13th century, Surrey’s law and administration was almost entirely in the hands of the Sheriff. The Boroughs, at this period only Guildford and Southwark, had a separate jurisdiction. The pre-eminence of the Sheriff and his courts began to be eroded with the appointment of ‘Keepers of the Peace’.
To the right is an image of a brass rubbing from the grave of Sir John D’Abernon of Stoke D’Abernon in Stoke D’Abernon church (reproduced courtesy of Surrey Archaeological Society). Sir John was Sherriff of Surrey in 1264.
In 1277 Surrey was one of the counties ordered by Edward I to elect a “powerful and upright man” to keep the peace. He was to inquire into crimes and arrest the disorderly. There survives from 1338 a list of four Surrey men nominated for the post of Keeper. It implies that the county proposed candidates to the King’s Council, which then selected one or two. The Chancellor would then issue Commissions by Letters Patent.
The 1344 Act introduced additional Keepers, some “wise and learned in the law”. Provision was also made for a custos rotulorum, a Keeper of the Rolls. He would take responsibility for keeping the records, written on parchment pages stitched together and rolled up.
By 1351 the Black Death had made labour scarce and so wages rose. Nine Surrey justices were appointed to enforce the Statute of Labourers, which attempted to limit wages to their pre-plague levels.