History of the Council

A History of the Council

Before 1894, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants. These meetings were dominated by the Lord of the Manor, the parson or parish priest and the principle rate payers and some became ‘select vestries,’ only open to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve. 

By 1601, Church Vestry Meetings were given responsibility for levying the poor rate. These were the first effective local taxes. Everyone in the parish was entitled to attend Church Vestry Meetings but in practice the work fell to a few individuals, rather like Parish Councils today.

In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act removed Parish Vestries the responsibility for poor relief and handed it to Poor Law Unions (the origins of our present District Councils) parishes had naturally accumulated responsibility for administering local charities, managing commons under distribution of land as a consequence of the 18th Century Enclosure Acts. 

In 1894 although the Squire, the Parson and sometimes the Schoolmaster were still leaders in the village, popular education was spreading and more people wanted a say managing local affairs. W. E. Gladstone, piloted the 1894 Local Government Act proposing the creation of Parish Councils through the House of Commons. It met a lot of opposition, there were over eight hundred amendments moved during its passage through the House of Commons. Nevertheless, the Act became law and Parish Councils were formed. 

In 1894 on Friday the 14th December, the first Parish Council Meeting of Sutton was held at the Holme Bridge Board School. It was convened by Mr. John Bairstow Spencer and Mr. Alfred Clough, the Chairmen of the respective ward meetings of the Parish held for the election of Parish Councillors. Councillors duly elected were: James Bairstow, Ishamel Clough (junior), James Clough (Senior), Alfred Edwin Hopkinson, Nicholas Ogden, Arthur Smith, Isaac Thompson and Jonas Thompson. All the members signed the declaration of acceptance of office. 

Under the 1894 Act, Parish Councils were to receive their income from rates levied on agricultural land, but this was a time of agricultural depression and money raised was so low that soon this system was abandoned. Householders were then rated for the first time, this lead to opposition to Parish Councils. It wasn’t until after the First World War that Central Government began to give serious responsibilities to Parish Councils the earliest amongst them being the provision of allotments and playing fields. 

After the Second World War the National Association of Parish Council was formed, and by 1952 half of all parishes in the country were members. The Association became a national force and raised the profile and consequently the activity of parish councils. 

The 1965 Royal Commission on Local Government recommended that local councils should be empowered to do what they pleased for the benefit of their residents. The Royal Commission Report resulted in the 1972 Local Government Act, which removed many of the restrictions on the activities of the Parish Councils. 

Much has changed since 1894, Parish Councils are closely regulated and the amount of administrational bureaucracy and red tape has increased exponentially in the past few years, with an accompanying rise in costs of audit and insurance. The lines of responsibility are more clearly drawn now though. 

Parish Councils may only spend public money on projects or actions for which they have a Statutory Power. Breaking this rule is likely to result in a Parish Councils accounts being refused by the auditor and, possibly, the individual councillors being required to repay the money illegally expended.