Meet Jeannie France-Hayhurst - the High Sheriff of Cheshire for 2022 -2023

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

Jeannie France-Hayhurst's year as High Sheriff of Cheshire will be all about supporting the children, blue light services and judiciary of the county. But first, she has turned to local businesses to make sure she looks the part

By Jade Wright

When it comes to fitting the high sheriff's formal attire, a trip to a specialist London tailor is usually required. But, when Jeannie France-Hayhurst started to put her official wardrobe together, she was determined to get it tailored to fit in Cheshire.

'Why would I go anywhere else, when I could get exactly what I need here?'  says the new High Sheriff of Cheshire. 'I wanted to start my year as I mean to go on – by championing the brilliant people we have in the county.'

While the masculine version of the high sheriff's attire is a velvet dress court suit, with breeches and silk stockings, the feminine style can be a bit more flexible, so Jeannie looked through clothes she already had for things that could work.

'The selection of hats – summer, winter, black, navy – were either from eBay or exhumed from the top of my wardrobe, trimmed to perfection by a wonderful milliner, Sue Wood, who is based on the Wirral,' she says. 'She was a godsend as trying to buy a hat nowadays is simply impossible.

'Then the navy velvet coat was plagued by the disastrous early part of the process played by a regimental tailor in London who managed to make something so restrictive that it could only work on a statue with sciatica but, thankfully, we were miraculously saved by the skills of a lovely seamstress at Crichton’s of Chester who created a fluid, graceful coat, working just a treasured photograph from a V&A fashion exhibition.

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

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'A second dark green velvet trousers and tunic was created for less formal events by the talented Sally Ellis of SVE in Tarporley. I sourced a matching coat with masses of silver buttons from Guinea, which operates out of a barn in Market Drayton.

'I’ve just been so lucky to find these terrific people, using a local larder policy, and it just shows what craftsmanship is alive and well in Cheshire.

'Trimmings such as the lace jabot at cuff and neck came from a goth site on eBay and so many friends have given me the loan of antique cut-steel buttons, more lace, silver buckles, more hats, and surplus stationery. 
'Thankfully, the ceremonial sword isn’t needed by lady sheriffs. That sounds a little sexist, which is unfair as there’s complete equality of male and female high sheriffs this year. Perhaps our weaponry is more verbal – the pen is mightier than the sword – and some would say that our tongues are sharper than both.'

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst, at home in Bunbury - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

Rather than a single outfit, Jeannie has a range of options to suit, whether it's a ceremonial event or a hands-on activity that might need more movement.

'My hope is that I can be out and about as much as possible, meeting scouts and guides, going into primary schools, moving around in a way that simply wouldn't be possible in a very stiff suit,' she says. 'I need something with trousers so I can sit on the floor and join in with things, not be worrying about my clothes.'

The retired child protection barrister, she is keen to meet as many of the county's young people as she can: 'As a mother of four and grandmother to 10 I'm excited to work with young people, of course,' she says. 'But that's not to say that I'm not thrilled to be able to work with older people too. My role is to embrace the whole county, and I'm aiming to meet as many people as I can during the time I'm lucky enough to be given.

'I'm aware the year will race by quickly, so I'm trying to get as much done as I can as early as I can in the hope of fitting it all in.'

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

Even juggling a busy job with family life, Jeannie has always loved to meet people, and the home in Bunbury she shares with her husband James has always been a hive of activity.

'We love to have people over, and the house is at its best when there are lots of people enjoying it, drinks in hand,' she laughs. 'We are very lucky to live where we do – the village has wrapped itself around us over the years, something that reflects so many Cheshire towns and villages.'

A key event in Jeannie's year in office will be the Platinum Proms concert at Chester Cathedral on July 8.
'This will be my major fundraiser,' she says. 'All profits will go to Cheshire Community Foundation and tickets are on sale via the Chester Cathedral website.

'It will be compered by Gyles Brandreth with masses of wonderful local talent in the cast and a rousing finale with, hopefully, the entire audience and all performers singing their hearts out.'

Jeannie has no idea how she came to become Cheshire's high sheriff, as the nominations are dealt with by the presiding judge of the circuit and the privy council, before going to the sovereign in council.

'I do not know who nominated me, but I'm very grateful,' she says. 'I retired about seven years ago, and I have taken great joy in being part of as many fundraising groups and charities as would have me, often helping to organise events.

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst, at home, which she describes as a 'hub of activity' - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

'I’ve discovered the most selfless, energetic and astonishing individuals. I’m always humbled by their commitment and inspired by their unwavering focus. As a trustee of the charity at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital , and having served on the hospital trust board for six years, I see this generosity and dedication daily. It’s sometimes a rocky and painful path, but always illuminated by kindness and professionalism.

'It’s also a privilege to be part of the Cheshire Community Foundation team, witnessing the magic of philanthropy making a difference to the lives of so many hundreds of people across the county, creating a network of paths to better outcomes.'

Jeannie is also a governor at Chester University: 'It’s a pleasure to watch our students learn and mature in what must be one of the best city environments,' she says. 'It’s another step along the road from my years as a school governor,' she says.

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst, is always happiest in her garden - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

It would be easy, seeing Jeannie in those magnificent robes, to think that her life had been one of privilege. 'Far from it,' she says, candidly. 'My mother was widowed when she was just 23, and we had some very hard years. We moved to Wales to be near her family, and there were times that were tough, living in a single-parent household.

'Then, of course, working in family law, you see the most heartbreaking cases – things that stay with you. There's sometimes an idea that barristers live a rarefied life, but the reality is that day in day out, you are trying to help people whose lives have fallen apart.

'Spending time on this particular road has been a privilege, working alongside an array of dedicated professionals in courts across the region and seeking solutions to difficult and complex problems, often in harrowing situations.

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst

High Sheriff of Cheshire, Jeannie France-Hayhurst - Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant

'Somehow, my own family life slotted itself into the picture, married to my ever-patient James,' she says. 'Working mothers have to juggle a good deal and the balls have been kept in the air by good luck, good humour and good help. 

'At one stage all four children were at different schools and we skated on very thin organisational ice. Added to the mix was a procession of dogs, cats, hamsters, chickens, rabbits, ponies and it’s a relief now to have just two spaniels, an ancient but very affectionate cat, a pond full of unbothersome carp, and rabbits in the vegetable patch.

'The garden, once an untamed playground, is now open under the National Garden Scheme and is my sanctuary: there’s nothing better or more refreshing than toil and soil for a few hours.

'My year serving as high sheriff will focus on the importance of the early years of childhood, the blue light services and the judiciary will have my full and unstinting support and, in this special year of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, live performance and celebration,  music, drama and dance will also have a special place. We have all witnessed the values of friendship and support over the past couple of years.'

She has also been given lots of advice from former high sheriffs. 'The generosity of all the essential tips and advice has been so useful,' she says. 'Always have a pocket for your car key, a fiver for the inevitable raffle, a lipstick and an apple in the car if you miss lunch.'

And, of course, a Cheshire-tailored outfit suitable for every occasion.

What is a high sheriff?
The office of high sheriff is an independent non-political royal appointment for a single year. The origins of the office date back to Saxon times, when the shire reeve was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. Today, there are 55 high sheriffs serving the counties of England and Wales each year.

While the role has evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central elements. They can also lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector. They also work with community groups, voluntary organisations and local charities, helping to raise the profile of their valuable work.