A glimpse into the Mayor’s Parlour with Bill Reid, Town Clerk, reveals that High Wycombe’s richest treasure is its history, and while a few of the facts are locally renowned, many aspects of our town’s history are not widely recognised.

It is likely you will have seen the current Mayor, Chauhdry Shafique, at local events, openings and meetings throughout the past year, wearing the recognisable mayoral chain. Yet what is not widely known is that the position is over 700 years old: 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. According to the current Town Clerk Bill Reid, in post for the past four years, his responsibilities are now more administrative.

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, with the most recent example being a procession through the town centre, followed by a civic service at All Saints Church,  that took place last Sunday.

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.

Beating the Bounds is another equally curious but perhaps less well known tradition; it was once prevalent throughout Britain but now is only carried out in a small number of parishes, including Wycombe. The tradition involves the Mayor and other dignitaries, such as the Beadle and the Charter Trustees, walking around various points of the boundary of the old borough, known as Chepping Wycombe, and beating the points marking the boundary. The most interesting part of the ceremony is the tradition of bumping the head of a young child – originally usually a choir boy – against the mark, having tipped them upside down. The origin of this part of the tradition is unknown, yet it is still carried out today, using a box from 1911 to mark the boundary at various points.

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, and now we have a District Council which is responsible for managing the services in Wycombe. Another significant change took place around this time: originally, the borough of High Wycombe was able to bestow the title of Honorary Freedman 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. In the last 14 years there have been two of these titles awarded, and those awarded the title join other dignitaries during civic ceremonies and processions.

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 12 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, and takes place on Frogmoor.

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 – the current charities are Wycombe Homeless Connection and Gulshan-e-Wycombe, a project working towards an Islamic Garden. Furthermore the Mayor is certainly kept busy, attending around 300 events throughout the year!

Back in the Mayor’s Parlour, a glance at the calendar reveals that there is much to look forward to in 2013: last year’s weighing in ceremony was filmed by ITV, and will feature on the third series of Ade Edmonson’s ‘Ade in Britain’ in March. The ceremony is also due to feature on a new BBC show called ‘I Love My Country’, which is set to air in May. And finally, June brings the Freedom Parade for the 7 Rifles, the local regiment formally known as the Royal Green Jackets, which will be a true celebration of Wycombe’s armed forces along with our town’s extensive historical traditions.