Hilarie McNae, Sheriff of Chester (with audio)

PUBLISHED: 11:57 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:43 20 February 2013

The sheriff of Chester, Hilarie McNae by the famous Eastgate clock

The sheriff of Chester, Hilarie McNae by the famous Eastgate clock

The world's first sheriff took up office in Chester almost 900 years ago. Paul Mackenzie catches up with latest person to wear the chains of office. Narration by Sandbach and District Talking Newspaper

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Think of a sheriff and you'll probably conjure up an image of a gun-toting chap in a big hat with stubble you could strike a match on, a fast horse and a shiny star-shaped badge.

You probably wouldn't picture Hilarie McNae. She's a petite 65-year-old mother of two with a deep love of Chester.

Hilarie is, though, the latest person to hold the ancient title in the city which gave sheriffs to the world. The first sheriff was installed in Chester in 1120 and from 1250 until 1835 the city had two sheriffs each year, one to be chosen by civic leaders, the other by the citizens.

These days there's only one and it's an appointment made by the council. Hilarie, who was installed in May at the same ceremony which saw the new Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor take office, said: 'The whole thing has been an amazing privilege. I have met a lot of wonderful people who work with such a passion for good causes. I am a sort of public thank you for their work.

'I am a Cestrian and I really love Chester but I felt it had become tarnished and unloved. I thought there were two things I could do; sit at home and moan to my husband or get elected and do something about it.

'I became a councillor in 2007 and I was totally surprised when less than two years later I was asked to be sheriff. I am very proud that our city can claim to having the earliest recorded sheriff in the world and I didn't think an opportunity like that would be likely to come along again so I accepted.

'I was installed at the same time as the Lord Mayor and deputy Lord Mayor - they had to read a four line modern English oath, I had to read two whole pages of middle English. That didn't seem very fair. And there was such a big chair to sit in - I'm only five feet tall, I needed a box to climb up on.'

Hilarie, a former student at the Queen's School who was born and bred in Chester and now lives in Upton, moved away in the 1970s when her husband Colin worked in the oil industry. 'We lived in Ecuador for a time and saw a few revolutions and upheavals and we also lived in Houston, Texas.

'I didn't have any dealings with the sheriff there but my cousin's husband now works helping the sheriff in San Francisco so I've put in a request for a sheriff's badge.'

Historically the sheriff of Chester would have been responsible for the city jail, courts and executions but it's now a ceremonial role and Hilarie has a full diary of social events and engagements, although she does still work as a magistrate.

She is also a Freeman of the city, having inherited the title from her 98-year-old father, the oldest surviving Freeman of the city and a former Lord Mayor of Chester.

'We can trace Freemen in our family back to at least the 1600s but from there the documents are rather hard to decipher,' she added. 'They only let the daughters of Freemen inherit the title in 1993 and I was one of the first batch of women but I don't know if any of my ancestors were sheriff.'

You will find more features about UK heritage and traditions by visiting www.greatbritishlife.co.uk

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