By This is Derbyshire | Posted: May 09, 2011
THE Cokes of Trusley, a pretty village tucked away amid the twisty lanes between Derby and Ashbourne, go back in that exact spot for 600 years.
They're one of Derbyshire's most ancient families – so it's fitting that the current owner of the Trusley estate, David Coke-Steel, has been appointed to carry out the equally ancient role of High Sheriff of Derbyshire for the next 12 months.
"As it turns out I'm the first Coke from Trusley to be High Sheriff of the county, but for centuries my ancestors have been magistrates and deputy lieutenants of Derbyshire. In some cases they've also been at court in London," says David, 67, who was sworn in on April 7 at a ceremony in All Saints,Trusley, the small church built by his family in 1712.
He took over the role as High Sheriff from his predecessor, Fiona Cannon, of Brailsford.
David said: "My great-grandfather, General Talbot Coke, was due to be High Sheriff in 1909, but in the event, for reasons of poor health, he was unable to accept it. In his diary, there's a poignant little note that reads: 'Visited the doctor, who advised me to seek to be excused from taking up the Shrievalty'. ''
In 1964, David's father, Ronald Coke-Steel, was also due to become High Sheriff, but again fate intervened.
"Sadly, he died in 1963 before he could succeed to the office."
David and his wife, Jane, live at Trusley Old Hall, a late-18th-century farmhouse, with Elizabethan remnants, built on the site of an earlier manor house.
A charming and engaging couple, they have entered into the spirit of the role as a hard-working, dedicated team and expect to fulfil many engagements over the next year.
As the Queen's representative in Derbyshire for all matters relating to the judiciary and law and order, David is well aware of the importance of this 1,000-year-old ceremonial role.
It is unpaid and non-political and David's duties will include attending royal visits to the county and sitting in court with judges.
Among the causes David will be supporting as High Sheriff is Derbyshire Crimebeat, a charity that encourages young people to come up with practical ideas to help reduce crime in their area.
"Another charity Jane and I are keen to promote during our year is The Samaritans, who are very good people doing invaluable work in the community," David says.
The Salvation Army's work is something else they admire and, in addition, both will continue their existing support of Marie Curie Cancer Care. Both serve on fund-raising committees and Jane is a committee member of Age UK in Derbyshire.
The couple are also keen supporters of the arts, especially theatre and opera, and aim to promote these as much as possible.
David says: "There are some wonderful arts projects in Derbyshire, the Buxton Festival and the Kinder Choir being just two examples."
Alongside the role of High Sheriff, David Coke-Steel is very busy running the Trusley Estate. "It's a relatively modest size by Derbyshire standards," he says, "but there are quite a number of dwellings on the estate, which means I spend more time restoring and repairing buildings than I do on blades of grass and husbandry."
But David thoroughly enjoys the task of the upkeep of these old buildings.
He accepts, though, that these challenges may have to take a back seat in favour of the duties of High Sheriff.
"I'll be spending much of my time supporting and encouraging people who do excellent work in the community in all aspects of law and order," he says. "This year will give me a wonderful opportunity to thank them for what they do."
When I arrive to meet the new High Sheriff at his country home, David is wearing the ceremonial uniform of which he is justly proud.
He cuts a resplendent figure in his "kit", more correctly known as "court dress". It comprises a dark blue velvet tailcoat and breeches with cut steel buttons and ceremonial sword. Completing the outfit is a lace jabot, cuffs, black patent buckled shoes and tights.
As we retire to the sitting room for coffee and some of Jane's delicious homemade cake, David explains, with humour, the perils of sitting down with a ceremonial sword at his side.
With a twinkle in his eye, he says: "It's not quite as uncomfortable as I feared it would be. But it's a bit difficult in church pews, especially at Derby Cathedral, a skill one has to practise!"
As for the tights, David tells me they have something of a history. "They were passed on to me by a cousin whose father wore them when he was High Sheriff of Yorkshire many years ago."
David has lived at Trusley Old Hall "on and off" since he was a small child.
He says Trusley Old Hall became his home by a "quirk of fate". "My mother, Frances, inherited the Trusley Estate in 1945 following the tragic deaths of her two brothers, John and Edward Coke, who died in the final throes of the Second World War.
"So it was up to my mother, who married a Yorkshireman, Ronald Steel, to keep the line going here at Trusley. This entailed a change of name for the family from Steel to Coke-Steel when I was just one year old."
David is a direct descendant of the first Cokes of Trusley and his ancestors include Sir John Coke, known as "The Last Elizabethan".
"Sir John was a younger son from Trusley, who was Secretary of State to King Charles I at court in London in the 1620s. When he retired, he bought Melbourne Hall and the house you see there now is partly his creation."
An ancestor, also John Coke, became High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire and another, Daniel Parker Coke, was elected MP for Derby and for Nottingham in the late-18th/early-19th centuries.
David says: "Interestingly enough, he lived in a house called The College right next door to Derby Cathedral, which is still standing and, in recent years, was used as the diocesan offices. There is a monument to him in Derby Cathedral."
Before taking on the estate, David read estate management at London University, then worked as a surveyor in London.
"When events dictated that I should get involved at Trusley, I went to study at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. Then I moved back to Trusley and took over the running of the estate in 1978, which I still do today."
David has been married to New Zealand-born Jane, 62, for 32 years. She is from Auckland, from a prominent political and diplomatic family. "My father was a cabinet minister there for defence, police and tourism, among other portfolios," she says.
Recalling when they met, David tells me: "What I found enchanting was that her name was Jane Eyre. Although it can't be proved, it's possible her family's roots go back centuries ago to Derbyshire. It has been said that Charlotte Bronte was inspired to call her heroine Jane Eyre after visiting Hathersage in Derbyshire where there are a number of Eyre tombs in the church."
David and Jane have three children, the eldest being Celia, 31, who is married to designer and art dealer Guy Tobin. They live in London and have a daughter, Iris, five months, who is the first Coke-Steel grandchild. Celia recently set up her own business, www.offthelist.co.uk, selling small antiques.
Daughter Sophie, 28, is marketing manager at The Bush Theatre in Shepherd's Bush. Son Edward, 27, is currently setting up his own business and lives between London and Derbyshire.
Jane says: "Although all our children are in London, we're very lucky because they love Derbyshire and never tire of visiting us here.