The office of High Steward has existed in Southwold almost continuously since 1505 when Henry VII extensively amplified the first charter of 1490 by a subsequent grant. Amongst the provisions included a clause that “ the same Bayliffs and Commonality, and their Successors have, and appoint from Time to Time for ever, at their pleasure, by their Letters Patent sealed by their Seal, one fit person to be HIGH STEWARD of the Bayliffs and Commonality”. The duty of the High Steward was to preside over the local assizes.
Today as in the past, the High Steward is invited to accept office after a vote, no longer of the Burgesses as a whole, but of their elected representative, the Town Council. The appointment is ratified by the taking of the Oath and by the presentation to the new Steward of a scroll bearing the Letters Patent from the Council.
For as long as the High Steward was a barrister he would have worn the wig and gown appropriate to his rank, there is now no badge, robe or emoluments attached to his office but he does wear a bowler hat. He does however attend all Council Meetings together with other Committees and other civic functions and parades and he has a stall assigned to him in the chancel of St. Edmund’s. In all he is predominantly a silent and non-participating witness from five centuries of history.
Whilst upholding the oath the High Steward will engage with Councillors and the Town Clerk concerning any matter on which he considers he can make a contribution. He will help and support the Town Mayor, Town Clerk and Councillors whenever he is able to do so. On occasions he will address the Town Council at Council Meetings having obtained prior approval from the Town Mayor and Town Clerk. In the absence of any higher authority the High Steward is the Monarch’s representative in the Town.
It is a great honour and privilege to hold the office of High Steward of Southwold and serve the people and something that should not be considered lightly. It is an office steeped in the history of the town of Southwold and is deeply entrenched as a tradition which must be upheld and continued.