shire | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Policing

Shire is an old English term for a geographical area equivalent to a modern county.

The term shire has a long history in the development of policing in England. In Anglo-Saxon times, it represented a geographic area that was overseen by a shire-reeve or sheriff, who was responsible for maintaining law and order within the shire. The shire-reeve was appointed by the king and was responsible for collecting taxes, maintaining the peace, and carrying out the orders of the king.

In the early Middle Ages, the shire-reeve was assisted by a group of men known as the hundred, which was a group of ten tithings or groups of ten households. The hundred was responsible for apprehending criminals and keeping the peace within the area. The concept of the shire-reeve and the hundred laid the foundation for the modern police force in England.

The shire-reeve system evolved over time, with the Norman Conquest in 1066 bringing changes to the system. The Normans appointed a high sheriff to oversee the shire-reeves, and the shire-reeves were given more power and responsibilities. The high sheriff was appointed by the king and was responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in the jurisdiction.

In the 19th century, the shire-reeve system was reformed with the introduction of the County Police Act of 1839, which established a professional police force in England. The act allowed for the creation of police forces in each county, with the chief constable appointed by a police committee made up of local officials. This system of county police forces replaced the old shire-reeve system, which had become outdated.

The creation of the professional police force in England was a major milestone in the development of modern policing. The police were now a public service, paid for by taxes, and responsible for maintaining law and order in the community. The police were also given specific powers, such as the power to arrest and detain suspects and the power to use force if necessary.

Today, the old system has largely been replaced by modern county and local government structures. However, the legacy of the shire-reeve system can still be seen in the appointment of sheriffs in some areas of England, such as the City of London, who perform ceremonial duties and represent the crown.

In conclusion, the shire system played an important role in the early history of policing in England. The system laid the foundation for the modern police force, and its legacy can still be seen today in the appointment of sheriffs in certain areas.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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