High Sheriff for East Sussex

Wed, Mar 13th 2024 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Mr Richard Bickersteth tells us all about Ashburnham Place and what it means to be High Sheriff for East Sussex

“It’s voluntary, unpaid, hard work and you have to buy your own uniform but it’s very interesting and very rewarding”, so said the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Mr Richard Bickersteth who, with his wife Rachel, honoured the Rotary Clubs of Senlac and St Leonards by joining their meeting on 13th March. The High Sheriff spoke of the history of his ancestral home, Ashburnham Place and also of his role as a representative of King Charles III.

Ashburnham Place is believed to have been the home of the Ashburnham family for at least 950 years, following William the Conqueror’s arrival in 1066. Only the cellars remain from the earliest known house on the site, dating from the 15th century. This house was abandoned in the 16th century and confiscated by Queen Elizabeth I. The Ashburnham family recovered their estate under Charles I, and John Ashburnham was a loyal servant of the King. He was later forced to sell the estate to the Relf family in the English Commonwealth, to pay fines levied for supporting the King. John Ashburnham recovered the estate again after the English Restoration. His grandson and namesake, John Ashburnham, was created first Baron Ashburnham in 1689. Lady Catherine Ashburnham, daughter of the 5th Earl of Ashburnham, inherited the Estate in 1924, she moved to Ashburnham Place which was already beginning to deteriorate and lived there until her death in 1953. The last in this line of the Ashburnham family, it confirmed the end of an era and a start of a new vision for Ashburnham Place. John Bickersteth, the grandson of Lady Margaret Ashburnham, the 5th and 6th Earl’s sister and a 27 year old theological student inherited the vast estate and huge inheritance tax bill that accompanied it. John was forced to sell most of the estate and its treasures in order to pay the huge death duties. For several years, he was uncertain about what to do with his inheritance. He had no option, but to demolish most of the crumbling mansion, which resulted in the distinctively shaped building we see today. God spoke to john through the book of Haggai, to tell him of his plans for Ashburnham Place. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house”, says the LORD Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace”, declares the LORD Almighty – Haggai 2:8-9

On the 1st April 1960 John gave the house and 220 acres of grounds and gardens to the newly-formed Ashburnham Christian Trust, which he directed until his retirement in 1988. On John’s death in 1991 the estate passed to his son and the Clubs’ guest Richard.

Mr Bickersteth then spoke about the role of High Sheriff for East Sussex; he is personally appointed by the King for a period a one year as the King’s unpaid representative for law and order in the county. The history of High Sheriffs, once Shire Reeves, goes back many years, well before the Battle of Hastings; he was the chief magistrate for the county, raised taxes, raised “posses” to chase and catch criminals before judging and sentencing them, He continued, “Now my role as High Sheriff is primarily ceremonial and entails visiting and thanking on behalf of the King those involved with law and order, the emergency services and many other people who do such an amazing job where we live here in East Sussex.” He is very passionate about rural life and young people and has championed young people particularly as cadets such as police and fire cadets. The High Sheriff’s job has extended beyond supporting law and order and includes all those organisations, statutory and voluntary, that play such an important role in supporting the county and its residents. Since his appointment in April 2023, he has visited, amongst others, the police, fire and ambulance services, the RNLI, the prison service, the judiciary, schools, various voluntary agencies and charities and youth events He also attends such events as Mayor Making and royal visits.

Michael Foster, formerly a High Sheriff himself, thanked Mr Bickersteth for honouring the clubs with a visit and for a very interesting and informative talk about both the Ashburnham estate and his High Sheriff’s role.

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