The role of Town Reeve dates back to Saxon times, when the tun-gerefa was the headsman of his tribe. In the period after the Romans departed and the Saxons gradually gained control of Britain, c. 440 - 1066, the country was divided into administrative units, comprising shires, and towns or ‘tuns'. The ‘tun' was administered by an assembly with a tun-gerefa, or Town Reeve, as its leader.
After the Norman invasion in 1066, this system was superseded by the introduction of Majors, Bailiffs and Stewards, to manage the larger towns. By the Tudor period, most towns and cities were electing a Major, or ‘Mayor', as their official representative, but Bungay has always liked to “dew different” and decided to retain the Reeve as the community's figure-head.
In early documents, the Reeve is referred to as Primer Feoffee, and headed a group of elected feoffees. They were responsible for dealing with property and bequests given by local benefactors, and administrating the income to benefit the townspeople. They also dealt with maintaining law and order, street lighting, water-supply, sanitation, fire fighting, road repairs, night watchmen, and many other aspects of public life. The administration of charitable funds and the maintenance of almshouses remains an important part of the Trust's activities today.
The Town Mayor and the Town Reeve are familiar figures at civic events throughout the region, clad in their red and purple gowns, eccentric hats, and glittering chains of office.
The Town Reeve's Dinner, at the end of November, remains the highlight of Bungay's social calendar, and is followed by the annual Town Meeting on the first Tuesday in December when the new Reeve is announced. The quaint tradition, in which the Reeve personally chooses his or her successor, remains one of Bungay's best kept secrets. There is always a buzz of excitement in December when people start asking - “Who's the new Town Reeve ?”
And long may these ancient traditions prosper, in keeping with all the other rich aspects of Bungay's sparkling heritage.