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  • Richard Hanks

Summer Social

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the violet grows.


Shakespeare’s lines may not literally fit the garden of the Wells and Mendip museum, but in spirit they surely do, as this oasis has been brought back to delightful life by a small band of volunteers, who are clearly dedicated and skilled in equal measure. As such, it made a perfect setting for the annual summer social of the Wells civic society, who enjoyed, also probably in equal measure, luscious local strawberries and cream and prosecco.

The Wells Civic Society's summer social

Back to Shakespeare: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May. Well, it was June actually and the winds were not all that rough, but the all too familiar evening chill of this non-event of a summer told the assembled company that it was time to move indoors, where the evening continued.


First, the society’s chair, Chris Winter, was able to announce and demonstrate that the society’s new web-site is up and running. That is not to say it is yet perfect or complete, but it is already useful. It aims to be both generally informative and to attract new members. Its atmospheric illustrations plus the factual information about the city and the society surely give it a splendid chance of being successful on both counts. is the address to access this very interesting source of information, and to find out how one may join the society, and what the benefits (free strawberries and prosecco) of membership are.

The Wells Civic Society's summer social

This full evening continued with a fascinating talk by Robbie Drewett, the immediate past High Sheriff of Somerset, who explained the role in general terms and what this had meant for him in his one year in the position. Theoretically, the High Sheriff is the Sovereign’s judicial representative in the county and, thus, responsible for the maintenance of law and order, that is for “keeping the king’s peace”. It is the oldest secular office in the United Kingdom; growing out of Saxon customs, and thus over 1000 years old.  The High Sheriff is required to make a public declaration that he will treat all equally and not be swayed by personal bias; it is a non-political post. Historically, the High Sheriff had significant powers and responsibilities, such as acting as a judge, collecting taxes on behalf of the Sovereign, and many other formal duties. Now, it is largely a ceremonial role but that, as became clear from Robbie’s description of the many activities he was involved with during his year, does not mean it is unimportant. There are still formal duties, such as: hosting local royal occasions; being a returning officer at parliamentary elections, in Robbie’s case for Frome and Somerton; supporting the judiciary and the police; conducting a proclamation in the event of a death of a sovereign. Over and above the range of formal duties, the High Sheriff then largely designs his own programme, this being somewhat shaped by the large number of invitations he receives. For Robbie, this meant driving some 15000 miles throughout Somerset and attending some 300 events. At the beginning of the year, Robbie did not know entirely what to expect; by the end of the year, he was pretty exhausted. Robbie was much involved with the High Sheriff of Somerset’s Charitable Trust, which aims to divert young people’s energies away from crime, and the High Sheriff’s Awards, which go to groups and individuals for great and valuable service within their communities. Robbie said that it was humbling to meet so many fine volunteers and charities within the county, and it was an honour to be able to recognise them.

The Wells Civic Society's summer social

Being appointed to the role of High Sheriff is a result of nominations, about which you know nothing but which go to the Privy Council and then the Sovereign, and then being asked if you will accept for one year. This brought Robbie to the anachronistic uniform, or court dress as it is known, that he had to wear. It is still largely the same as has been worn from the 1850s onwards, and consists of a black velvet coat, breeches, tights, shoes with buckles, a cocked hat, and a sword. Most of these Robbie was able to hand round for close inspection by the audience, whilst imparting the information that there is a second hand source of this apparel, his coat having come from Alan Titchmarsh, who had held the post on the Isle of Wight.

the role of High Sheriff

The High Sheriff  is, in principle, responsible for law and order, and so there is a close association with the police, and this caused Robbie to make some very serious comments. He had sadly observed: how young so many defendants were; that violence and knives were all too common; how blasé the defendants tended to be; the frequency of mental health issues; the number of dysfunctional families; and, on a different tack, the amount of paper work the police had to attend to.


This was a sombre note on which to end Robbie’s presentation, but he had basically enjoyed the year enormously and thought the position of High Sheriff within each county still fulfilled a useful function and never, in any year, cost the public purse a penny. But he did get a free pass to the cathedral car park.

And so, Our revels now are ended. Well, Shakespeare is not quite right in this case. This particular civic society year is over, but there are summer trips planned for members and friends: to the Romano-British excavations at Westbury-sub-Mendip; to Fenney Castle for a tour and wine tasting;

to learn more about Wells Art Contemporary. There may be places still available.  The society’s programme of talks and meetings will resume in the autumn, and all details can be found on the web-site or by e-mailing the chair, Chris Winter, on


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