top of page

What is a Portreeve?

Ashburton has had a Portreeve for over 1200 years!

Portrait of John Brown (1155) by Robert Lenkiewicz
Portrait of John Brown, Portreeve in 1975, by Robert Lenkiewicz

In Anglo Saxon Britain, law and order was maintained by reeves who implemented the decisions of the local court. A port-reeve officiated within a town and a shire-reeve (later known as a “sheriff”) held administrative responsibility for a shire. In most places, Portreeves were replaced by Mayors however, some towns retain the office and sometimes the Mayor is also Portreeve.

This photo shows Pinkham Woods who was Portreeve in 1934 - the photo was kindly provided by the Ashburton History Museum.

Ashburton has had a Portreeve since 820AD and is the only town in England to retain that office through an act of parliament!

As they undertake their duties, the Portreeve is supported by their Master Bailiff who will take over the role of Portreeve at the end of their term. Historically the Master Bailiff ensured that the decisions of the court were actioned, and was responsible for summoning the Jury and performing any arrests ordered by the court.

These days, Ashburton's Portreeve is the head of one of only a very small number of ancient courts that have statutory authority to operate - the Courts Leet & Baron may sit for the appointment of a Portreeve and other officers and for the taking of Presentments. The Portreeve is also a social head of the town attending community or fund-raising events for the Courts and other organisations, and, together with the Mayor, representing the town.

For more information visit



bottom of page