Development of Municipal Clerks Profession in England

The title "Clerk" as we know it developed from the Latin clericus. During the Middle Ages, when scholarship and writing were limited to the clergy, clerk came to mean a scholar, especially one who could read, write, and thus serve as notary, secretary, accountant and recorder.

In ancient England, the township (surrounded by its hedge or "tun") and the borough (an outpost fortified with a wall) developed a strong system of democratic local government. And one of the first officials these freemen elected was the "Clarke."

The beginning of the office of city clerk in England can be traced back to 1272 A.D. in the history of the Corporation of Old London. The "Remembrancer" was called upon to remind the councilors (members of the council) what had transpired at their previous meetings, since the meeting of early councils were not recorded in written minutes.

In 1354, the Mayor of Nottingham appointed the Clarke and provided for his remuneration. In 1439, Symkyn Birches was awarded the office of "Toun Clerk" in another community for the rest of his life. In 1477 Thomas Carton, a town clerk, was the first English printer, and served as diplomat for the King. In 1485, Nicholas Lancaster, the Clarke, became the Mayor of York.

In the 1500's in England, there were not only the "Town Clarke" but also the "Clerc Comptroller of the King's Honorable Household." In 1603, there was a "Clarke General of the Armie." Indeed, King Henry the Eighth had a "Clarke of the Spicery" and King Charles had his "Clarke of the Robes."

Perhaps the strongest statement of the unique position occupied by the Municipal Clerk is by an English Court in the Middle Ages ruling in the case, Hurle-Hobbs ex parte Riley and another. Concerning this case, Chief Justice Lord Caldecote, observed:

"The office of town clerk is an important part of the machinery of local government. He may be said to stand between the local Council and the ratepayers. He is there to assist by his advice and action the conduct of public affairs in the borough and, if there is a disposition on the part of the council, still more on the part of any member of the council, to ride roughshod over his opinions, the question must at once arise as to whether it is not his duty forthwith to resign his office or, at any rate, to do what he thinks right and await the consequences."

 

Colonial Development of Municipal Clerks Profession