Bungay’s unique chain of office tells a story of its own
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
He is a Reeve by name and has held the ancient office three times before. Now Bungay man Terry Reeve explains the history of the Town Reeve’s unique chain which has evolved over nearly 200 years....
At civic events throughout Suffolk – evenings and services, chairman’s receptions, High Sheriff events and other engagements, leaders from towns throughout the county gather to represent their town.
The men and women are known informally as “the chain gang,” dressed as they are in their various chains of office, and often robes as well.
And the chain of office which attracts the greatest interest at these functions is undoubtedly that of the Town Reeve of Bungay. Like the ancient office itself, it is unique, and has evolved over nearly 200 years.
While most chains of office of mayors and chairman proudly bear the badge of their town or districts’ coast of arms, the Town Reeve’s chain is made up of a number of medallions, most of which have royal links – the oldest dating back to 1820.
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It is remarkable how, wherever you go, people spot the chain of office and want to know more about it. It draws the eye because it is completely different to the others – and of course it is a good ice-breaker if you are attending an event for the first time. There is so much history to it – every medallion has a story to it.
Until 1820, the Town Reeve had no official regalia. But one was created that year in the form of a medallion given by the Town Reeve, Richard Mann, to mark the accession to the throne of the United Kingdom of King George IV, and “to be worn by succeeding Town Reeves as an emblem of office.”
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The inscription on it says: “Presented to the feoffees and inhabitants of the Town of Bungay by Richard Mann, Town Reeve 1820, as a token of his esteem and to commemorate the accession of George the Fourth to the Throne of Great Britain.”
It remained the only medallion for over 115 years. Originally, it was believed, it was worn on a ribbon, but later it was held on a more substantial silver chain, with the first Town Reeve pictured wearing it being Frederick Smith, who was Town Reeve four times in 1885-86, 1893-94, 1894-95, and 1899-1900.
In 1935 the Town Reeve that year, Charles Philip Parry-Crooke, added a second medallion, and an additional chain, to mark the silver jubilee of King George V. And two years later, to mark the coronation of King George VI, the then Town Reeve Geoffrey Guy Sprake, added a third medallion to the chain – each of them thus commemorating a King George.
A year later, in 1938, the town had its first woman Town Reeve, Rosalind Messenger, and to commemorate her year of office and becoming the first woman to take the role, she added a fourth medallion, depicting the Butter Cross (Bungay’s iconic monument owned by the Trust) to the chain.
The fifth came in 1954, added by Town Reeve Percy Jeans Sprake – who was also clerk to the trust for nearly 60 years - and featuring Bungay’s newly granted coat-of-arms.
It was 23 years before a sixth medallion was added. It was in 1977, to mark the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne, and was added by Michael Belcher, Town Reeve that year. Four years later, in 1981, Town Reeve Mary Kent added another medallion, this time to commemorate the wedding of the heir to the throne, her eldest son, Prince Charles, to Lady Diana Spencer. Mrs Kent went on to be Town Reeve three times.
The 2000 Millennium was the next notable landmark to be marked with additions to the chain. Reginald McDaniel, in his second term in the office, added two small medallions, suitably inscribed, for a date change that will not be marked again for 1000 years
I added the final medallion 34 years later, in 2015, in my third term in the role, to commemorate the date in September 2015, on which Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in the country’s history. It incorporates a limited edition coin struck to mark the date, and is inscribed round its edge.
All of these make the chair of office the most asked about and talked about wherever the Town Reeve goes on civic duties, so much does it stand out from those worn by other dignitaries – a unique jewel in the Town Trust’s, and the town’s crown.