A portreeve or port warden is the title of an historical official in England and Wales possessing authority political, administrative, or fiscal over a town The details of the office have fluctuated and evolved considerably over time The term derives from the word port which historically meant a market town or walled town, and not specifically a seaport; and the word reeve, meaning a high-ranking supervisory official1
The origins of the position are in the reign of Edward the Elder, who, in order to ensure that taxes were correctly exacted, forbade the conducting of trades outside of a 'port' or duly appointed place for trading, and without the supervision of a portreeve or other trustworthy person At this time therefore, they had a role as a fiscal supervisor, much like modern customs and revenue officers2
By the late Middle Ages portreeves acted as representatives of the people to ensure that their duties to the mayor and community were fulfilled In some cases and usually more recently the role has been combined with that of mayor Portreeves may also have acted as returning officers at elections
Contemporary British towns which still nominally have or appoint a portreeve include Laugharne, Carmarthenshire; Ashburton, Devon the only town in the country where the office is still held by act of parliament; Beccles, Suffolk; Callington, Cornwall where the name is given to the council chairman;3 and Yeovil, Somerset
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary
- ^ Stow, John 1842 A Survey of London, pp 185–86; Stowe, John 1880 Three Fifteenth-century Chronicles JB Nichols and Sons, p31; Tait, James 1936 The Medieval English Borough Manchester University Press, pp 168–69; Davy, Sir Humphry 1827 A Chronicle of London, From 1089 to 1483 Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Greene, p 2
- ^ 1dead link
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