Ceremonial and by Royal appointment, today’s High Sheriff doesn’t keep law and order and collect taxes.
But the job, in helping to represent the Queen in Oxfordshire, does involve raising money and lending credibility to good causes across the county.
He or she turns up to civic dinners and major military events, hands out trophies and cuts ribbons, so organisations can then say the High Sheriff has endorsed their event.
But they also have a more pro-active role.
Each sheriff chooses a theme for their year of office, and tries to leave a legacy behind them that will run on long after they have gone.
The next High Sherrif is Tony Stratton, former CEO of international marketing firm CPM, non-executive director of several other companies and board member of cultural charity Oxford Inspires.
His grand dream for his year in the post, which starts next month, is to set up a coterie of county businesses who will act as a union for funding local charities and community groups in perpetuity.
Mr Stratton said: “If I phone someone up and say ‘it’s Tony, I want to talk about an issue’ you might say ‘that’s interesting’, but if I say ‘this is the High Sheriff’, your ears prick up.
“You do an awful lot of turning up, but by turning up, the role can grace an occasion.
“It adds glamour, heritage and a traditional consistency to thing that happen in the county.
“It is no good just shaking the tin at businesses, you have to be able to deliver something.”
He has already set the wheels in motion for his Business Cares initiative by creating The Sheriff’s Challenge.
Mr Stratton has invited 20 businesses to take part in three fundraising events – a sports day at Iffley Road Sports Ground in Oxford, a choral afternoon at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock and a business lecture at the Said Business School.
He hopes to raise £100,000 just from firms attending each of the events, to go to his chosen charities – Oxfordshire Community Foundation, Music for Autism and Access Sport.
He is also hoping to work with Oxford City Council to help them create an Access Sport officer for Oxford, who will help clubs recruit more members.
But in the long term he hopes that bringing businesses together will fuel interest in his vision for the Business Cares initiative.
He said: “I wanted to find a different source of support, so the business community seemed sensible.
“While the economy is recovering we all know the county council is having to reduce the money they spend on non-statutory activities, charity or voluntary.
“I thought if I can get 20 or so businesses to make a decent contribution we could get things done that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”
The role, which is unpaid and entirely voluntary, also requires the incumbent to host a High Court judge who comes to Oxford to judge particularly difficult cases.
He will also host the High Sheriff’s Awards, which this year were held in Oxford in March.
Mr Stratton said: “If there was no High Sheriff in Oxfordshire, the world wouldn’t stop turning but there would be a vacuum.
“Something would be created to fill that vacuum, and it would probably be a government-created position.
“Having a non-political role, just focused on supporting and encouraging good causes, seems like a better way to do that.”
OUTGOING Sheriff, Professor Graham Upton, spent his year in office celebrating diversity.
He raised £10,000 for Cowley Road Carnival with a charity dinner at Aziz on Cowley Road and followed it up by leading the parade on the day, worked with homelessness charity Emmaus in East Oxford, supported Oxford United women’s side and visited refugees at Kidlington’s Campsfield House immigration detention centre.
Graham Upton, right, with Oxford Playhouse member Andrew Pepper at a panto launch in November
“Because of it, we were able to go into Campsfield, when otherwise they would have said ‘no thanks’.
“It is a platform to say ‘I am investing in you’, it gives you that bit more legitimacy and authority to do things which an individual doesn’t have.”
Mr Upton said one of the big lessons he had learnt from his year in office was how many charity and voluntary groups there are in Oxfordshire – in the region of 3,000.
“I was hoping to contribute a range of things in the county to help bring greater community integration and support initiatives aimed at improving diversity and I have achieved quite a lot.
“It is a role that has got relevance today in civic and social functions.
“It does matter that there is someone to go and say ‘thank you’ to people for their hard work.”
A year in office.
THE Office of High Sheriff is a non-political Royal appointment for a single year.
It is the oldest secular office in the country outside the monarchy.
The origins of the office date back to Saxon times, when the Shire Reeve, from which we get our word sheriff, was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire, or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the crown.
Current Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire Tim Stevenson OBE talking to Banbury mayor Nicholas Turner at a Remembrance parade in November
Today, there are 55 High Sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales each year.
The former, very extensive powers which the office once enjoyed have gone and the role now involves a mix of ceremonial, charitable and community functions of which supporting the crown and the judiciary remain central elements.
Many High Sheriffs also assist community foundations and charities working with vulnerable and other people both in endorsing and helping to raise the profile of their work.
High Sheriff John Barkley Schuster, left, at a ceremony in Burford for the best kept village competition in 1964
High Sheriffs are voluntary and unfunded, with no part of the expense of a High Sheriff’s year falling on the public purse.
The Royal Warrant issued to each Sheriff tells the holder he performs the roll “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”, the inference being, says Tony Stratton, “if you displease Her Majesty, you end up in the tower.”
Showcasing Freemen of Oxford.
WHAT is the point of the Freemen of Oxford? Find out at a new exhibition.
The Freemen of Oxford have existed since feudal times and they currently number about 400, but few people know what they do.
High Sheriff Colin Cook, light jacket, carrying out an inpsection of Port Meadow in 2010
The Freemen of Oxford launched an exhibition on Saturday at the Town Hall Gallery, to showcase their proud tradition.
Formerly, the Freemen performed duties now taken by city and county councillors as well as the police, the army and the courts.
However their powers and responsibilities have gradually been whittled away to nothing.
High Sheriff Penelope Glen handing an award to Bicester volunteer Louis Clarence in 2011
Now, with some degree of pageantry, the Freemen perform some ceremonial ancient rites, such as putting cows and horses on Port Meadow and fishing in the Thames in Port Meadow.
People become Freemen by inheriting the role, although it is only in the past 10 years that it has become possible for fathers to pass the title onto their daughters as well as sons.
Each Lord Mayor of Oxford can also name a Childe, who becomes a Freeman.
The exhibition runs until April 19.