What does the Remembrancer do?

Past Master Dr Trevor Brignall interviewed Paul Double, who recently retired as the Remembrancer, to find out what this key City role entails

Could you explain the origins of the role and any tantalising intrigue?

In 1570 or 1571 the Corporation of the City of London created the office of Remembrancer,  responsible for keeping in remembrance the important affairs of the Corporation.   That was not, however, the whole story.   As with so many developments of the period, the Elizabethan Court was implicated. The new position gave access to the City's papers and the first Remembrancer, Thomas Norton, was closely associated with its most prominent members, including Lord Burghley and Elizabeth's spymaster, Francis Walsingham. Norton had been an amanuensis to Protector Somerset, and married to the daughter of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Various intrigues led to his downfall, and his imprisonment in the Tower, and he died soon after his release in 1584.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Corporation decided not to replace Norton, but it is indicative of the provenance of the office that Elizabeth I had other ideas and suggested that Dr Giles Fletcher be appointed to the role, which he duly was.  Fletcher also served while Remembrancer as Ambassador to the Court of the Czar of Russia. 

The position evolved into one dealing with important Mayoral and Corporation correspondence, much of which was with Parliament. However, again, the Corporation questioned the need for the role, and it remained vacant between 1643 and 1646, until the need increased for the Corporation to keep close to the seat of power when King Charles I was put under house arrest and Parliament’s star was in the ascendancy. 

In 1760 the role was made available for purchase. Brass Crosby, the highest bidder, paying £3,600 (£900,000 today).  A radical and future Lord Mayor, he was at the centre of the battle to allow the reporting of parliamentary proceedings, the birth of the modern Hansard. The role subsequently reverted to being by election with fees and a daily allowance when Parliament was sitting and it became salaried City Law office in 1821.

How did your background equip you for the role?

My early life was at the Bar and rather specialised government service.  I was asked to act as Counsel to the City to promote a City private bill in 1985 and have acted in that role  since, but in 2002 was also privileged to be elected as City Remembrancer. My election was just after the City's parliamentary bill to reform the City's franchise had passed its last hurdle.  The bill was very controversial, and my election was not straightforward! I took office in 2003.  Before that, I had been given the opportunity by the Corporation through various positions as Counsel to the City Remembrancer to participate  in the broader work of the Office and that  appealed to my interest in public affairs  and protocol. I consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be part of major national events which the City organises including, at an early stage, back in 1986, the granting of the Honorary Freedom of the City of London to Diana Princess of Wales and the State Visit of the  King and Queen of Spain, (the latter of which I again experienced , but as Remembrancer, in 2017). 

What are the key elements of the role?

The traditional role is described as the channel of communications between the Lord Mayor and the City of London and the Sovereign, Royal Households and Parliament.  The Remembrancer is also the City's Ceremonial Officer and Chief of Protocol. Practically speaking, on a day to day basis it is an eyes and ears position and a guardian of the  City's constitution with law, parliamentary drafting and protocol thrown in.

 There are several myths about the role, are they true?

Beliefs persist that the Remembrancer has special access to or authority over the Commons, for example, that the Remembrancer  sits behind or near the Speaker, is entitled to access the floor of the Commons, intervene in proceedings, or see parliamentary bills or other papers before they are available to members of the House and publicly, or to amend laws.

The Remembrancer's responsibilities include monitoring legislation introduced into Parliament and reporting to the Corporation anything that is likely to influence the City of London's interests.

Offering briefings to MPs and submitting evidence when select committees are investigating matters of interest to the Corporation is part of the Remembrancer's work, as is seeking  amendments to parliamentary bills on matters of interest to the City.  Many organisations are engaged in this sort of work, not just the Remembrancer.  The Remembrancer is admitted to the Speaker of the House of Commons'  parliamentary "roll A" which confers an entitlement to act as an agent to promote and oppose private parliamentary bills.  That confers an entitlement to access to the under gallery of the House (which is near to the Serjeant at Arms but not beyond the bar of the House).   Having been admitted to Mr Speaker's parliamentary roll,  the Remembrancer has the right of audience before parliamentary committees on private bills but, contrary to the popular myths, does not speak on the floor of the House, or have authority over the Commons or its procedures, yet alone the Speaker.   Mr Speaker Hoyle would have a few choice things to say if it were to be suggested that the Remembrancer influenced him! 

What attracted you to the role?

Despite a high degree of preparedness, which is a necessity the need, when things do not happen as planned at short (or no) notice, there is the need to work in a condensed period of activity often in parallel on disparate issues.  That can of course be fraught, but it is a position which gives great opportunities to 'do things' and that is a considerable privilege.   As I leave office as Remembrancer and revert to being Counsel to the City, I am sure that my extremely able successor as Remembrancer, Paul Wright, will find it equally rewarding.