The words Mayor and Major derive from the Latin word Magnus meaning great. The office of Mayor together with the Domesday Book and the feudal system were brought to this country by the Normans, as such an office had existed on the continent at least since the 5th century.
The Office of Mayor has lasted nearly as long as the Millennium.
The role of Mayor has changed throughout the centuries as illustrated below:
The Middle Ages
The Mayor held the position of Custodian of the Peace - the name for early Magistrates, and he would normally preside at the Borough’s civil and criminal courts.
The powers of Mayor as Chief Magistrate were greatly increased which included:
- Power to arrest those disturbing the peace.
- Powers to search premises suspected of unlawful gaming.
- The power to compel persons to go into service.
The 17th Century
The Mayor had in many Boroughs become all-powerful and in many instances his powers included:
- Chairman of the Council.
- Chief Magistrate.
- Borough Coroner.
- Clerk of the Market.
- Keeper of the Borough Jail.
- The appointment of the Town Clerk.
- The creation of freemen.
The 19th Century
By the 19th Century the Mayor had three roles:
- a constitutional monarch for the city - a type of role which has continued.
- a speaker for the Council - a role which continues through Mayor’s chairmanship of the Council and as a focus for city pride.
- a kind of Prime Minister - a role that is no longer recognisable today.
The 21st Century
However, the office of Mayor continues to have a central part to play in modern councils and modern society and many of the traditions of the past are featured today.
There are three important roles for the Mayor in today’s local authority and society:
- As a symbol of authority - robes, chains, etc. speak of authority. The Mayor speaks for the whole Borough and gives identity to the Borough.
- As a symbol of an open society - any class, religion, etc.
- As an expression of social cohesion - acts as a link between many organisations.