Back in the middle ages, the mayor was acknowledged as the
'first citizen' of a town and his duties were similar to those of
today. However, he would also have been a custodian of the peace,
which was an early name for a magistrate.
By Tudor times, the powers of the mayor had increased
significantly. He was given the power to arrest those disturbing
the peace or carrying offensive weapons and could search premises
suspected of unlawful gaming. The mayor even had the power to
regulate the size of loaves of bread and seize any loaves of
In the 17th and 18th centuries the mayor
had, in many boroughs, become all powerful. For instance, he would
have been chief magistrate, borough coroner, keeper of the gaol,
clerk of the market and chairman of the council. But the Municipal
Corporation Acts of 1835 changed all that. The position became
regulated and restricted by parliament and the mayoral role became
mainly ceremonial and charitable.
Hanging on the wall in the Mayor's Parlour in the Town Hall are
all the past Mayors of Peterborough, except for three. Two,
including Peterborough's first mayor Henry Pearson Gates who took
on the role back in 1874, are in the council chamber and there is a
space left for G A Smith who refused to have his portrait hanging
in what he called the 'Rogues Gallery'.
The mayors are wearing the chain of office that has been passed
down through generations and is the one worn by the current mayor
of Peterborough. The first lady mayor was Lily Bryant in 1939 and a
number of well-known local names have taken on the role of 'first
citizen' over the years.