One of the pillars of democracy serving local communities in this country are the parish councils. This year, 2019, it is 125 years since these councils were first formed.
Reorganisation of local government began in 1888 with an Act which carried out reforms at county level. Four years later the Local Government Act 1894 extended these reforms within the county structure in England and Wales outside the City of London.
The principal effects of the act were:
• To create a system of urban and rural districts with elected councils. These, along with the town councils of municipal boroughs created earlier in the century, formed a second tier of local government below the existing county councils.
• The establishment of elected parish councils in rural areas.
• To reform on the boards of guardians of poor law unions.
• The entitlement of women who owned property to vote in local elections, become poor law guardians, and act on school boards.
The new district councils were based on the existing urban and rural sanitary districts. Many of the latter had been in more than one ancient county, whereas the new rural districts were to be in a single administrative county.
The Act also reorganised civil parishes, so that none of them lay in more than one district and hence did not cross administrative boundaries.
The first meeting of Buckinghamshire County Council to consider the detailed implications of the Act was held at County Hall, Aylesbury on May 10, 1894. The meeting discussed the report of a Special Committee appointed for that purpose. Appended to that report was a long schedule of the Rural Parishes in the county with their populations. The section of that list dealing with Wycombe Rural Sanitary District, together with the totals for the county, is shown in the below picture.
This meeting had two main concerns. Firstly to decide how many councillors each parish council should elect. This was eventually agreed to be
• Five members for councils with a population of up to 499
• Seven for those whose population was 500 to 999
• Nine for those whose population was 1,000 to 1,999
• Eleven for those whose population was 2,000 to 3,999
• Thirteen for those whose population was 4,000 and over
The second concern was how to treat parishes which were situated partly in an urban sanitary district and partly in a rural sanitary district. The only local example of this was Chepping Wycombe Parish which was divided between Wycombe Municipal Borough and Rural Sanitary Districts. The Act had stated that in these cases the rural part should be constituted as a separate parish.
Individual meetings for the inhabitants of all the local parishes were then held simultaneously on the evening of Tuesday December 4 1894 in order to elect their councillors. If we consider Chepping Wycombe Parish Council (CWPC) as an example, their meeting was held at 6.30pm at the Board Schools in Back Lane (now called Kingsmead Road), Loudwater. Residents from the areas of Loudwater, Tylers Green, Wycombe Marsh, Flackwell Heath, Hazlemere (spelt Hazlemoor) Bassetsbury and Town were invited to attend. The Bucks Free Press reported “A suitable platform had been erected neatly covered with red baize, and efficient arrangements were made to see that none but parochial electors and candidates were present.”
The parish allocation for CWPC, with a population of just under 3,000, was for the election of eleven councillors. There were 31 nominations to fill these 11 seats. Mr Charles H Hunt was elected as chairman, and the results of the election were announced as follows - of the 31 nomination papers handed in two were decided to be invalid and five others being duplicates so 24 nominations remained. The 11 persons elected were William Clark, John Russell, Hewy Tilling, Charles Ashdown, Charles Saunders, Thomas Barnes, David Andrews, John Tapping, Saul Busby and Bertrum James, four representing Wycombe Marsh, three Loudwater, two Flackwell Heath and one each for Tylers Green and Hazlemoor (Hazlemere). Note that no women were elected !
The election was not without controversy. Not surprisingly because of the long-standing enmity between the inhabitants of Loudwater and Flackwell Heath, the latter village decided to organise a meeting in advance of the main meeting. This was held at the Temperance Hall in the village on the evening of the previous Saturday, but it was not well attended due to the lack of prior publicity. Mr John Saunders with 16 votes and Mr G Burnham with 15 were elected to be put forward as candidates to represent Flackwell Heath. Messrs Bates and Tapping were not elected, but that did not stop them putting their names forward at the parish meeting on the following Tuesday. Tapping, who was the Parish Clerk for Flackwell Heath, was then elected, as were Saunders and Burnham, but Bates was not.
Another nomination not elected at the Tuesday meeting was the Vicar of Tylers Green, the Rev R.F.Ashley Spencer. He challenged the election procedure, claiming that it had been illegally conducted. This was refuted and he then wrote a strongly worded letter to the Bucks Free Press.
Passions could run high even 125 years ago!