Lady Emma Barnard is embarking on her year as High Sheriff of West Sussex. This ancient role, dating back to Saxon times, brings together important threads in the life of our nation and County.
We meet at Lady Emma’s Sussex home, Parham House. Thanks to Emma and her family’s stewardship Parham is a gathering and generous place. The April spring weather blesses us with a moment of warmth and light as we sit and talk. She is clearly excited about the coming year and says “I’m really looking forward to celebrating and acknowledging the quiet heroes in West Sussex; those people who add to the richness of life in our county by constantly contributing in so many ways without seeking praise or recognition.” I comment that the exceptional is so often to be found in the everyday and she agrees.
Lady Emma explains that she is not the first High Sheriff to live at Parham “There have only been three families who have lived at Parham and each family has fulfilled the office of High Sheriff. Thomas Palmer was the first in 1571. He inherited Parham from his father and was much regarded by Elizabeth I. The Bisshopps were next. Thomas Bisshopp was High Sheriff in 1583 before he bought Parham in 1601. His son, Sir Edward, held the office in 1636 under Charles I. The Hon. Robert Curzon followed under William IV in 1834. Then there was my great-grandfather, Clive Pearson, who fell in love with Parham and carefully restored this fine Elizabethan house during the 1920s and ‘30s. I have inherited his delight in sharing the joys of Parham with visitors. It is extraordinary to think that he was the High Sheriff in 1940 as the Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies over Sussex.”
Like Parham the role of High Sheriff is steeped in history. Originally known as Shire Reeves they were Royal officials appointed to enforce the King’s interests in the County. In particular they were responsible for the collection of revenues and the enforcement of law and order. Their extensive powers included the right to summon a ‘posse comitatus’, a military force, to enforce the law. It has often been suggested that it was Queen Elizabeth I who first marked the appointment of her High Sheriffs by pricking their names through on the Sheriff’s Roll. In fact there are earlier vellum examples dating back to the reign of Henry VII. Nevertheless the tradition of the Monarch pricking the names of the High Sheriffs continues to this day.
The role of the High Sheriff today is rooted in its history. Lady Emma will be called upon to support the Royal Family, the Lord-Lieutenant, the Judiciary, the Police, the emergency services, local authorities, and the Church and faith groups. Hospitality to visiting High Court Judges and promoting the voluntary organisations in West Sussex will also be central to Lady Emma’s shrieval year.
Despite the duties of High Sheriff Lady Emma and her team are excitedly preparing for the coming Easter weekend when Parham will once again welcome visitors, as it has done for centuries, as the House and Gardens once again open to the public.
In the grounds to the south of the house, beyond the ha-ha, is St Peter’s Church. The family’s pew still has its own fireplace but with beautiful weather forecast they shouldn’t need to light it this Easter. The Easter Sunday Holy Communion starts at 10am. The church remains open all day so you might decide to attend the service or perhaps just take time to be, to rest, to reflect and pray as part of your visit to Parham.
Parham House and Gardens opens this Easter Sunday 16th April 2017 at 2pm and 12pm respectively and last admissions are at 4.30pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.
By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.