Not much is known about Lawrence Sheriff's early life, but it thought that he was born either in a house near St. Andrew's Church in Rugby, Warwickshire, or in an extant house in the nearby village of Brownsover. His date of birth is unknown, but is believed to have been between 1510 and 1516. Sheriff was apprenticed by his father to a London grocer named William Walcott, at which point he went to London. His apprenticeship ended in 1541, and he became a London grocer during the reign of King Henry VIII. In 1554 he was elected to the 'Worshipful Company of Grocers'.
Sheriff became grocer to many of the great and good of the day including Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth. In 1559 he was granted a coat of arms, the main feature of which is a griffin, the traditional guardian of treasures. He bought extensive property near London and in the area of Rugby and Brownsover.
He earned a great fortune through his life, but remained childless, and upon his death in 1567, he stipulated in his will that his fortune should be used to found almshouses and a school "to serve chiefly for the children of Rugby and Brownsover... and next for such as be of other places hereunto adjoyneing." This endowment was not fully realized, however, for some time, due to a challenge over the provisions of the will from the Howkins family, to whom Sheriff was related through his sister, Bridget.
He requested to be buried at parish church of St Andrew's Church in Rugby, but this request was not carried out, and instead he was buried at GreyFriars in London. However no trace remains: the church and all its monuments were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. He is remembered today by the Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby. Both Rugby School and the Lawrence Sheriff School use versions of the coat of arms granted to Lawrence Sheriff in 1559.