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Lord-Lieutenant appointed Abbey’s High Bailiff

Friday, 19th February 2021

Lord-Lieutenant appointed Abbey’s High Bailiff

Sir Kenneth Olisa, HM Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, has been appointed the new High Bailiff of Westminster Abbey. He succeeds Sir Roy Strong, who retired in 2019.

Sir Kenneth, who as Lord-Lieutenant is Her Majesty The Queen’s representative in Greater London (excluding the City), will also become Searcher of the Sanctuary. Both are historic roles, but today the High Bailiff acts as one of the principal external advisers to the Dean & Chapter and takes part in the Abbey’s most significant ceremonial occasions.

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle said:

'I am delighted that Chapter has accepted my nomination of Sir Kenneth as our new High Bailiff. We have been well served in the past by some distinguished office holders. We will be looking to the High Bailiff for advice and wisdom as we recover from the huge challenges of the last year and open the doors on our deep history, determined to offer hope for the future. We could look to no one better.'

Sir Kenneth said:

'I have visited Westminster Abbey many times as Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London and I am delighted and honoured now to be asked to become High Bailiff. I look forward to working closely with the Dean and Chapter; and all the clergy and staff of this iconic, historic, Royal church at the heart of our great city, the nation and the Commonwealth.'

The High Steward of the Abbey, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, added:

'This is wonderful news. These historic roles will be imbued with fresh relevance and purpose thanks to his appointment. With his distinguished record of supporting the welfare and development of people across the UK’s communities and now especially in London, Sir Kenneth brings insight and energy that will greatly enrich the work of the Abbey in the future.'

Born in Nottingham and educated in state schools and at Cambridge University, Sir Kenneth worked at IBM and Wang, after which he founded two merchant banks focused on the technology sector. His charitable work includes being president of the London homeless charity Thames Reach (for which he received an OBE), chair of the welfare-to-work charity Shaw Trust, and founding chair of the Aleto Foundation, which supports future leaders from tough backgrounds.

Historical note

The High Bailiff of the Abbey and the Searcher of the Sanctuary were officers of local government in Westminster whose roles evolved from responsibilities and jurisdictions originally exercised by the medieval abbot and convent.

The High Bailiff’s jurisdiction covered not only the precincts of Westminster Abbey and the parish of St Margaret, Westminster, but also Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Soho. Within this area the High Bailiff was responsible for serving writs and warrants, committing prisoners to the Gatehouse prison (which stood within the Abbey precincts), and the confiscation of forfeited goods. The Searcher of the Sanctuary (or Bailiff of the Precincts) had a similar authority to the High Bailiff, but within a smaller area, confined principally to the Close of Westminster Abbey, the area around Parliament Square and St Margaret's Churchyard, and the area between Tothill Street, the Thames, and Horseferry Road. 

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