Ancient Court Appoints First Ever Lady Steward

One of the country’s oldest sitting courts continues to update its ancient custom and practice, with the appointment this month of its first ever lady Steward, Mrs Suzanne Margaret Porter. Suzanne, who is a solicitor with Sheffield firm, Wake Smith and Company, is the first female to hold the position under the provisions of the 1851 and 1852 Derbyshire Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Acts. She takes over the role from Mr Michael Cockerton who is retiring after 40 years of service.

The 700-year old Barmote Court was set up to preside over disputes arising from lead mining rights across Derbyshire’s Peak District. There were originally two Courts – one at Monyash (High Peak) and one at Wirksworth (Low Peak).  However, the two Courts merged in 1814, becoming the Great Barmote Court for the Sope and Wapentake of Wirksworth. Meetings then began to take place at Wirksworth’s Moot Hall which was built in the same year.

The Court consists of the Steward, the Barmaster, the Deputy Barmaster and twelve Grand Jury members. The Steward, who is appointed by The Monarch as Duke of Lancaster, must be a barrister of five years’ standing or a solicitor of seven years’ standing. His/her role is to receive complaints, issue summonses and preside over the meetings of the Court. The Grand Jury is formed of twelve men who must be resident within the jurisdiction of the Court. A peculiarity of the Court is that Members of the Jury are sworn in and serve until the next Court; this is typically 12 months, but may be longer. At this year’s sitting, each Member of the Court was presented with a pewter tankard in celebration of the coronation of King Charles III.

The Duke of Lancaster, who is referred to during the Court’s proceedings as the ‘Lord of the Field’, is traditionally represented at the annual Court sitting by a senior Duchy representative. This year, the honour fell to the Palatinate Under-Sheriff, David Cam, himself a highly respected and experienced barrister appointed by The King to support the High Sheriffs of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Commenting on the day’s proceedings, Barmaster Eddie Tennant said: “It is always an absolute pleasure to be able to share in this ancient and much-loved tradition.  The Barmote Court is not just an example of living history, but also a Court whose jurisdiction remains active with a valid role to play, even today. On behalf of everyone involved with the Barmote Court and the Moot Hall, I should like to thank Michael for his years of service, congratulate Suzanne on her appointment as Steward and congratulate Mr Cam on proving an excellent ‘Lord of the Field’ on the day!”

At a formal luncheon which took place immediately after the Court proceedings, Michael Cockerton was presented with a framed and mounted gilded clay pipe in commemoration of his loyal and exemplary years of service.