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Mayor's Sunday, May 29, 1967. Left to right; Frederick Ward, Town Clerk,
The Mayor, Alderman Chatteris; Alderman Molson.,
The Sergeant, George Wilkinson.


Robert de Grymsby was the first Mayor of the Borough in 1201. Councillor Colebrook was the 445th person to hold that office in 1996. He was also the last Mayor of the Borough, so bringing to an end eight centuries of history. The writing was on the wall in the local government re-organisation of 1974 when the town lost its County status. With the next bout of reorganisation, from midnight on Sunday, March 31, 1996, Grimsby ceased to exist as a Borough and was replaced by the new unitary authority of North-East Lincolnshire, which incorporates the neighbouring town of Cleethorpes.

It was King John who put quill to parchment to create the first charter for the Borough of Grimsby, the town being either the first or second in England to be granted a charter by King John in 1201. But he was, in effect, only acknowledging and formalising a situation which had existed for years. Grimsby is reputed to have been a borough as early as the 7th Century, and privileges were bestowed on the town during the life of its legendary Danish founder Grymm in the 9th century.

The ancient borough seal showed the legendary founders of the town, Grimm (also called Ghrime or Gryem), Havelok and Goldburgh. Grimm was depicted as a giant of a man, a drawn sword in his right hand, and a circular shield in his left. On his right was a youth with a crown on his head; the word Hablor near by, and on his left, a woman, over whose head is a royal diadem. Circling above is the word Goldeburgh.

According to legend, Grimm was a scullion in the kitchen of the King of Denmark who found an abandoned child, and brought it up, only afterwards discovering it was a foundling of Danish royal blood. His compassion was repaid when wealth and riches were heaped upon him, and he was allowed to marry the king’s daughter. The current existing coat of arms, a chevron between three boars heads are very ancient. They are said to commemorate the ancient right of the freeman burgesses to hunt wild boar in the local woods.

The town had a place on the Anglo-Saxon Council, which recorded that Grimsby was a borough before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Its inhabitants were being referred to as burgesses in 1189, indicating borough status, and by 1194 the emerging Pontefract had adopted Grimsby's borough customs as a model for their own. For charter-writers, however, 1201 was, a boom year, as King John, like his predecessor Richard I, acted to a create formal boroughs and so receive "farm" fees to fill coffers depleted by the huge costs of governing. Petitioners flocked from all corners of the kingdom to have their own local arrangements ratified, and the folk of Grimsby were among them.

All was formalised in the two charters of 1201, one granting the town permission to hold an annual 15-day fair, and the other granting certain legal and fiscal privileges. It was the right to set up a local court examining matters like debt and land issues that led to the foundations of the modern borough.

The court needed officers, and the burgesses were empowered to elected them, the first time local people had a direct input into the way the town was run. Within five years, the burgesses' powers had been extended further, when they won the right not to be answerable to the Sheriff of Lincoln except in the case of pleas to the Crown. From then on, they enjoyed financial and judicial independence from the shire, administering their own finances and court, and electing their own officers, who acted on behalf of the "communa" of Grimsby. A century on and they were petitioning again, this time to enclose spare land in the borough — the "king's waste" — and draw rents from it.

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The 'old' Town Hall, c 1830 (by James Jillott)

The borough court met every Tuesday and, as well as acting in judicial matters, became a focus for administration. With no merchant guilds to challenge its prestige, it assumed ever more importance, its juries discussing and deciding all manner of matters to do with the running and maintenance of the borough. In such a way, the first traffic management scheme came into being when the court agreed to ban carts from entering or leaving the town other than those using Cartergate or Canonbigh, in order to protect the roads.

The burgesses enjoyed a number of privileges — including cheap ferry crossings to Hull. They were also allowed to graze more animals on common ground than other residents; and were protected from outside competition by a variety of regulations affecting "foreigners" or outsiders.

In return, they gave an oath of loyalty to the king, the mayor and the commonalty, agreed to observe franchises and other regulations, and promised to take up arms on behalf of the mayor to protect the town.

Anyone could become a burgess for a fee of 40s. Others were born to the post or obtained it through apprenticeships - while those who offended could be removed from the roll, only to be readmitted on payment of a substantial fine.

The earliest mayors of Grimsby, elected by the burgesses, were paid a substantial salary for a job, which was onerous in the extreme, incorporating the duties of chief magistrate with municipal responsibilities.

It was not always a popular job, and various inducements were offered to encourage mayors to come forward, like preferential grazing r-- 's and the right to decline jury service once the term of office was over.
The mayor of Grimsby ran the borough with a team of elected officers, including two bailiffs, two chamberlains and three sergeants.

As well as presiding at the borough court the mayor had some more bizarre duties, like parading around the town and its fields on Plough Monday — the first Monday after January 7 accompanied by all the burgesses; appearing with the burgesses on Midsummer Day; and leading a procession of burgesses, in' with the burgesses on Midsummer Day; art r leading a procession of burgesses to the hospital, at the chapel of St Mary Magdalene to the south of the town, just outside the ‘Bargate’.

His two chamberlains were the pre-runner of today's treasurers. They were responsible for receipts and expenditures of the borough revenue, collecting tolls and taxes, and paying the staff, as well as maintaining the town bars — highway rather than drinking — and the roads. They were also the earliest form of trading standards officers, keeping approved measures for salt, lime and coal imports and charging traders for their use. The common clerk gave administrative stability, keeping records and negotiating with outsiders on behalf of the commonalty, and was often legally trained, while the sergeants stole a march on Sir Robert Peel helping to apprehend and present offenders before the court. The teams used ceremony, religion and their dignity as representatives of the Crown to earn the respect and compliance of the ordinary people, underling the message with their colourful robes and livery, and the ornate maces that were carried at the head of processions.

IT was not until the 15th century that anything like a council sat in Grimsby. Before that time the borough court had been the seat of municipal affairs, burgesses forming juries to decide matters of policy and dissent. Court rolls show that 20 councillors were sworn in on October 16, 1403, the system evolving by 1422 to a team of 12, the numbers of which remained unchanged for a century. The townspeople referred to the group as a "secret" council, meaning confidential — advisers and supporters of the mayor. Its duties were the "disposing and ordaining all and singular articles and business in any manner touching the community of the town."

Many other boroughs had two councils, one of aldermen, senior to the other. In Grimsby, however, one was created, the title `alderman' being given originally to former mayors, who were empowered by law to keep the peace if the mayor himself was absent.

Until the first council, every burgess had a chance of becoming mayor or serving on the juries that decided local policy, and faces changed regularly. In 1389, four juries were convened, yet only five people served on all of them, the remainder being made up by short-term service. The 12-man council of 1475, however, include five former mayors and that of 1481, at least six. The level of popular involvement was diminishing. That growing power was encompassed by the council’s decision that it should nominate two candidates for the office of mayor, illustrating a growing distance between the officers and the rest of the community. Gradually, more power came to the town clerk who was the mayor’s ‘man of business’. For example, in the latter part of the 17th century the flow of patronage was channelled through Charles Bransby, the town clerk who was also deputy comptroller of the customs. Bransby was also tied up in litigation between the council and the burgesses and was disenfranchised for bringing actions against two of them. His privileges were restored on appeal in 1705 and Bransby went on to become an alderman and was elected mayor three times.

Civic corruption lasted until the Reform Act of 1832 ushered in a tighter system of representation for managing local and national elections. This also produced political and social stability necessary to usher in industrial commercialisation of trade, transport and general expansion of the town. The new corporation began by initiating gas lighting in 1838 and appointed twelve part-time constables. In 1845 the corporation petitioned in favour of railways to connect the town with Lincoln, Gainsborough, Sheffield, Louth and Boston. This went in hand with backing of the planning of a new dock and the merging of the railway and dock enterprises in one business. Grimsby was coming out of its centuries old geographical corner and by the end of the century the borough council, its officials, landowners and entrepreneurs had created the largest fishing port in the world.

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The 'new' Town Hall; designed by Bellamy, Hardy and Giles of Lincoln; opened by Queen Victoria in 1854