The first references to the duties of the town sergeants are in the Oak Book, the ancient volume that outlined the ordinances that governed the medieval Gild Merchant.
There were two types of sergeant; those of the gild and those of the town. The four gild sergeants worked for the various gild officers, whilst the town sergeants assisted the town officers, and executed all attachments and arrests within the town. A charter of 1447 confirmed their role to appoint brokers, packers, carriers and porters. In the 16th century there were four in number and were now referred to as sergeants-at-mace. By the 17th century, they were also referred to as biddles or beadles. By the 18th century there were still four sergeants, the most senior of whom was also the keeper of the town’s prison. The others were, respectively, the keeper of the bridewell, the keeper of the Bargate lockup and the water bailiff. They also had powers of arrest, and helped to regulate trades and crafts.
After the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 they lost many of their duties and powers and their role became gradually more ceremonial, although they still act as security men in the Civic Centre.


Further reading:
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p211-212. (HS/h)
Southampton’s Town Sergeants: A Short History, by Paul Tickner. (HS/lf)


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