John Spencer was sworn in for a second term as mayor of Winchelsea on Easter Monday (March 28).
The traditional ceremony was held in a packed Court Hall as it has been for 700 years and Cynthia Feast became deputy mayor.
Although Winchelsea Corporation ceased to have a local government role a century and a half ago, this historic body is custodian of the medieval monuments of the town, including the gates and well, and continues to play a full part in the life of the Cinque Ports, several of whose mayors were present.
The unelected body does split opinion in the town as some see it as a historic tradition to be cherished while others believe it disenfranchises residents.
However, the corporation does do a lot of charitable fundraising and members pay for the ceremony and all its functions.
Members of the corporation, or jurats, choose the mayor and deputy mayor, as they have done since 1292 when King Edward I granted the town the right to its own mayor and corporation.
Later Winchelsea was also accorded the status of head port as one of the two Antient Towns within the Confederation of the Cinque Ports, which includes Rye and Hastings.
The organisation is the last unreformed corporation in the country after the 1883 Municipal Corporations Act abolished the rest.
It is also one of only two remaining ‘rotten boroughs’ – constituencies where small towns had an unrepresentative amount of MPs – with the City of London, which were changed by the 1832 Reform Act.
Among the honoured guests was former Hastings and Rye MP Michael Foster in his first official function since taking up the post of High Sheriff of East Sussex.
The former Labour MP was a regular visitor to the ceremony as MP, attending 13 times while representing the constituency from 1997 until 2010. For more on Mr Foster’s new role, turn to page 28.
A new freeman of the town was appointed at the ceremony, David Merrifield.
John McKendrick was supposed to be appointed as well but unfortunately he could not attend the ceremony, so it was postponed.
Freemen become jurats of Winchelsea and help with the running of the corporation as well as choosing the mayor, but they must be residents of Winchelsea.
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