Derbyshire's new High Sheriff David Coke-Steel

PUBLISHED: 12:37 19 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013

Derbyshire's new High Sheriff David Coke-Steel

Derbyshire's new High Sheriff David Coke-Steel

Pat Ashworth talks to David Coke-Steel who was sworn in as High"Sheriff of Derbyshire on 7th April

David Coke-Steel estimates that despite having exceeded retirement age, he is probably three times busier than when last interviewed by Derbyshire Life. That was 15 years ago, when he was still running three of the nine farms in hand on the Trusley Estate.

This is still an agricultural estate, but with so many of the listed buildings needing renovation, Im more involved with the bricks and mortar than the blades of grass and the husbandry, he says. Its an ever busier proposition. So careful management is going to be the watchword as he combines his work with the role of Derbyshires High Sheriff, but he is encouraged by predecessors who have successfully done the same.

Wearing a sword is unfamiliar and getting it through the right bits of the velvet regalia is proving slightly tricky as he gets ready for the photographs. The sword gets passed about the place a bit, though those who are feeling extravagant buy their own, he says cheerfully, owning: We all beg and borrow from each other. I borrowed the shoes from one former High Sheriff, the sword and the tights from another, the breeches and the jacket from another and the jabot from another. Everybody has been so supportive.

The surroundings of the familys 18th century farmhouse, built on the site of the ancient Trusley Hall, are a perfect foil for the dress, a visible symbol of the continuity of the 1,000-year-old office. It is the oldest continuous secular office under the Crown, and the High Sheriff remains the sovereigns representative and accounted for all matters relating to the judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.

There are one or two wonderfully quirky things about it, David acknowledges. It gives one the sense of history while one is swearing ones allegiance to the Crown in Old English. Thats all part of the process of continuing an ancient role into the present day, and I hope it manages to continue that way. He describes the pricking of the names of High Sheriffs at the Royal Courts of Justice, announced three years in advance, as a wonderful ancient ceremony straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

A Red Admiral flutters by in the warm spring sunshine, and the two dogs, Maud and Walnut, race across the grass towards the distinctive monument, once a corner pavilion, which stands in the garden. Davids love of old buildings dates from his childhood years at Trusley. He read estate management at London University and his subsequent work with a firm of London surveyors involved him in the selling and valuation of country houses and estates. He has retired from Christies, for whom he was a regional representative, but retains a love of collecting and also of the arts.

His primary charitable interest will be specifically to support Crimebeat, the young peoples charity founded by David Wrigglesworth, a former High Sheriff. David and his wife, Jane, also want to help raise the profile of the Samaritans locally, whom they describe as having probably more to cope with than at any other time. When the economic belt is being tightened, that leads to more despair and more unhappiness.

That interest has come about through the work of the couples former neighbour, the late and much mourned Betsy Innes-Smith, wife of Robert, whose Lambs Tales column was a popular feature of Derbyshire Life. Few knew that she was a Samaritan.

Many a New Years Eve, we would ask where Betsy was. Robert never said much and Betsy never told anybody what she was doing. She was modest about what was a very, very major achievement and a worthwhile cause, David says. There are some very good people involved, whom we met at Betsys funeral, and we would like to help where we can.

He wants to see more of the work of the prison service in Derbyshire during his year of office, and places he wants to visit include East Midlands Airport and some of Derbys major employers, such as Adtrans, Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota: Id like to feel we could see a little bit of what theyre up to and see how they work and contribute towards the local community, he says.

David married Jane, who comes originally from New Zealand, in 1979. The couples three children all work in London but value their Derbyshire roots and love coming back to Trusley. They come back a lot, with their laundry, their friends, their dogs, and now a grandchild, Jane says. They are an enormous support whatever we do. All three were planning to return home for the legal ceremony on 7th April that will mark the start of Davids year of office. The family share a love of the arts and Jane was hoping they might all be able to get seats for The Mountaintop at Derbys Guildhall Theatre.

Trusley is a parish of just 70 souls. Its tiny 18th century church still has all itshigh, dark, box pews intact and still numbered, like rows of stable doors. The churchs regular congregation just runs to double figures, so if David and Jane Coke-Steel are absent, there will be a hole. David has been churchwarden here for as long as he can remember: inevitable, he suggests, with the church just 25 yards from the Hall.

Our usual Sunday attendance as a percentage of the population is one of the highest if not the highest in the whole of Derbyshire, of which we are justly proud, he says. One of the great claims to fame of Trusley Church is that we only use the 1662 Prayer Book. As were a bit of an ageing population, we definitely have the ancient without the modern.

The year of office is a challenge that I look forward to embracing. I hope that well be able to do some good here and there, he says. Its very encouraging, to have had a welcoming approach by all the people in civic life whom Ive rubbed shoulders with prior to taking on the position. That was a definite plus.

Theres been plenty of advice from other High Sheriffs, an awful lot of advice, some of it unprintable. I think the advice Ive had most uniformly from everybody is dont take too much notice of what the rest of us say: do it your own way, what you are comfortable with and you feel is most appropriate to your way of life. The invitations are already rolling in, and with the prospect of many formal dinners during the year, he reflects in conclusion, Ill have to learn to say no to even the first cupcake let alone the second or the third.

The Office of High"Sheriff The Office of High Sheriff is at least 1,000 years old having its roots in Saxon times before the Norman conquest. It is the oldest continuous secular office under
the Crown.

Originally the office held many of the powers now vested in Lords Lieutenant, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue.

The Office of High Sheriff remained first in precedence in the Counties until the reign of Edward VII when an Order in Council in 1908 gave the Lord Lieutenant the prime office under the Crown as the Sovereigns personal representative. Lords Lieutenant were created in 1547 for military duties in the Shires. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereigns representative in the county for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.

The selection of new High Sheriffs is made annually in a meeting of the Privy Council by the Sovereign when the custom of pricking the appointees name with a bodkin is perpetuated.

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