Home eBooks London Miscellany Maps Contact



These notes are taken from the January 1929 edition of Philips' Handy Administrative Atlas of England and Wales. They give, as concisely as possible, the history and current state of the governance and administration of England and Wales, including the peculiarities of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

There is also a brief summary of the changes due to be brought about by the Local Government Act of 1929 and a very short note about reducing the voting age for women from 30 to 21 in 1928.

Taking up 28 pages of the Atlas they are reproduced here verbatim, but on one page, the original page numbering being retained only for the hyperlinked references.


     Election to Parliament
     Local Government
               London Government
     Poor Law
     Administration of justice
     Ecclesiastical organization
     Registration of births, deaths and marriages
     Isle of Man and the Channel Islands
     Local Government Act 1929
     Representation of the People Act 1928


The important changes effected by the Industrial Revolution, which converted England and Wales from an agricultural to an industrial country, rendered obsolete the whole system of administration which had formerly served. Thus the 19th century witnessed a drastic reorganization, still proceeding, which has very materially benefited the health, happiness and general social conditions of the whole community. The Reform Act, 1832, and the Acts of 1867, 1884 and 1918 dealt with parliamentary reform.

The great landmarks of local government are the Municipal Corporations Acts, 1835, 1882, the Public Health Act, 1848, the Local Government Board Act, 1871, the Local Government Acts, 1888 1894, the Ministry of Health Act, 1919, the Poor Law Act, 1834, and the Education Acts, 1870, 1902 and 1918. In addition to these formative acts laying down the principles upon which the system of local government has been based, there are a host of others which have widened and extended its field. The reorganization effected in the country was accomplished in London by separate treatment beginning with the Metropolis Management Act, 1855, and continued by the Local Government Act, 1888, the London Government Act, 1899, and others. The special features of the reconstruction were the preservation of the spirit of local independence in administering local affairs based upon a broader democratic franchise and the institution of a central bureaucratic control which permitted local development and fostered the growth of civic pride while insisting that certain standards should be general throughout the country.

The same process of coordinating existing practice and abolishing anomalies which characterized the sphere of local government during the 19th century operated also in the administration of justice. By a number of acts such as the Judicature Act, 1875, the Assizes and Quarter Sessions Act, 1908, and others, the system of judicature was re-created, new circuits devised, quarter-sessions reorganized and petty sessions established - all of which, with minor changes, constitute the judicial system as it exists to-day.

The orders of the ecclesiastical organization have not varied in the least in the erection of its new administrative system. On the contrary, the finances of the Church were placed upon a new basis by the institution of the Ecclesiastical Commission, 1836, and with the creation of the Church Assembly the laity obtained a larger voice in ecclesiastical government. A radical change was brought about by the disestablishment of the Welsh Church. The local administrative powers formerly resident in ecclesiastical parishes have been completely abolished. The awakening of the national conscience in the matter of public health led also to the realization of more accurate and adequate methods of registering births, deaths and marriages, and to the transfer of these and other powers from the ecclesiastical to the civil power.


Evolution of Parliamentary Functions. - Parliament was first summoned by Simon de Montfort in 1265, and embodied, though incompletely, the principle of representation which can be traced in the institutions of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers. It was given more complete form by Edward I in the parliaments of 1275 and 1295. To these were summoned the earls, barons, bishops and abbots, two knights from every shire, two burgesses from every borough and representatives of the lower clergy. The latter never came, preferring to legislate for themselves in Convocation (see page 20), and eventually their right of representation became obsolete. The separation into the two legislative Houses of the Lords and the Commons took place under Edward III, and has survived until the present day.

The Act of Union, 1707, incorporated the English and Scottish parliaments. In 1801 a further Act of Union dissolved the Irish parliament and gave representation to Ireland in a parliament of the United Kingdom. This was undone by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and the Irish Free State Acts, 1922. By these a separate parliament and executive were established for Northern Ireland, which still retains membership of the Imperial Parliament, and Dominion status was given to the Irish Free State.

The franchise was widened by the various Reform Acts passed during the 19th and 20th centuries. Centuries of struggle were necessary before the liberties, powers and privileges enjoyed by both Houses to-day were fully established.

From the small council constantly surrounding the Norman and Angevin kings later developed the Privy Council. While possessing some legislative powers it acted principally in an advisory capacity to the sovereign, its chief members being the executive instruments of his policy. Their actions were frequently opposed to the wishes of parliament, but after the Revolution, 1688, the doctrine of the responsibility of ministers to parliament was recognized. The growth of the party system naturally contributed to the development of the Cabinet during the 18th century. The Cabinet includes the principal ministers presiding over the various state departments, and is chosen by the Prime Minister, who usually holds office as First Lord of the Treasury. Its members are dependent for support upon a majority in the House of Commons. They are the executive, and give effect to the legislation passed in Parliament through the statutory powers held by the Privy Council. This is, in reality themselves, since they automatically become members of it upon assuming office, though at the same time a large number of important persons are also Privy Councillors. The Privy Council working through committees - now largely state departments - authorizes the issue of Orders in Council which have the force of law. The Privy Council, mainly through specially appointed committees of its legal members, also exercises a certain appellate jurisdiction.

Parliament is the supreme legislative authority of the kingdom and sits almost continuously. The Parliament Act, 1911, fixed its maximum duration at five years. It consists of the Crown, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The Crown is the legal fount of parliamentary authority and summons, prorogues and dissolves parliament. Its assent is necessary to all bills before they become law.

The House of Lords consists of peers holding their seats by -

   (1) Hereditary right.
   (2) Creation of the Sovereign.
   (3) Office, viz., spiritual lords, two archbishops and 24 bishops, and law lords.
   (4) Election for the duration of parliament, viz., 16 Scottish peers.
   (5) Election for life, viz., 28 Irish peers.

FUNCTIONS. - Its ancient powers of preventing the passage of any bill into law without its consent were restricted by the Parliament Act, 1911. Under this all money bills passed by the House of Commons, if not passed by the House of Lords without amendment, may be presented to the Sovereign for his assent. Similarly all other bills, after passage in the House of Commons and rejection by the House of Lords in three successive sessions respectively, may be presented provided that two years have elapsed between the date of the first introduction of the bill in the House of Commons and the date on which it passes the House of Commons for the third time. All bills coming under this Act must be sent to the House of Lords at least one month before the end of the session. The judicial powers of the House of Lords comprise -

   (1) The trial of peers.
   (2) The determination of claims of peerage and offices of honour.
   (3) The trial of controverted elections of Scottish and Irish peers.
   (4) The determination of final appeals.
   (5) The trial of impeachments.

The House of Commons consists of members of either sex, who must not be younger than 21, representing county, borough and university constituencies.


   (1) English and Scottish peers, and Irish representative peers.
   (2) Clergy of the Church of England, Church of Scotland and Roman Catholic Church.
   (3) Government servants and contractors, sheriffs and returning officers (for the places in which they act).
   (4) Infants, lunatics, bankrupts and aliens.

PAYMENT. - All members other than ministers, whose salaries vary with their office, receive an annual salary of £400.

RESIGNATION. - Members may not resign their seats, but in practice they secure the same result by applying for the Chiltern Hundreds or some similar office of profit under the Crown which may not be held without re-election.


   (1) Bills must be passed by it before being sent to the House of Lords. Under the Parliament Act, 1911, certain bills under specified conditions are exempted from passage by the House of Lords before receiving the royal assent (see above).
   (2) Taxation is initiated and supplies for the service of the state granted by it.
   (3) Election and sitting of members are governed by it in a limited degree.

PRIVILEGES. - At the commencement of every parliament the Commons lay claim "to their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges," including –

   (1) The right of dealing with breaches of privilege.
   (2) Freedom of speech.
   (3) Freedom from arrest (now limited to civil causes).

ELECTIONS are governed by the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which also introduced a redistribution of seats. Equal electoral constituencies were arranged, based approximately on the unit of one member to every 70,000 of the population. This led to an increase of 31 members in England and 2 in Wales, bringing the totals up to 492 and 36 respectively. The members for the universities complete the total of 528. The inclusion of Scottish and Irish members gives the full complement of 615ftor the House of Commons.

FRANCHISE. - Apart from certain legal incapacities the franchise may be exercised by -

   (1) Men of 21 years of age possessing a qualification arising from (a) residence, or (b) the occupation of business premises of an annual value of not less than £10 in the same parliamentary borough or county, or one contiguous thereto, for a period of six months ending on January l5th or July 15th.
   (2) Women of 30 years of age, if entitled to be registered for the local government franchise or the wives of husbands so entitled.

REGISTERS of electors are prepared twice yearly in the spring and autumn, and the expenses ensuing are shared equally by the treasury and the local authorities upon whom the duty devolves.


The whole subject of local government, the relations between the various local authorities, and especially the extension of existing county boroughs and the creation of new ones, is now under the consideration of a Royal Commission appointed in 1923.

The County. - The Local Government Act, 1888, divided England and Wales into 62 administrative counties, including London, and 61 county boroughs. A few of these counties are coterminous with the ancient counties, but most of them differ in some respect. Certain of the ancient counties have administrative counties within their boundaries, e.g. Yorkshire. Within its area the administrative county includes all places, with the exception of certain counties of cities or towns, such as Norwich, Exeter, Bristol and Berwick, which are entirely independent and possess their own sheriffs, and county boroughs. Municipal boroughs, urban districts, rural districts and civil parishes are subject to the authority of the county council in varying degrees, but enjoy absolute independence in certain specified spheres.

CONSTITUTION. - Each administrative county possesses an elected county council consisting of a chairman, aldermen and councillors; the number of the latter being regulated by the Ministry of Health. Each councillor is elected for a period of three years to represent the enrolled electors of one of the divisions into which the county is divided for this purpose. Aldermen are elected by the councillors themselves for a period of six years, halt of them retiring triennially. The chairman is elected at the first quarterly meeting of the newly elected council and holds office for the ensuing year. By virtue of his office he is a justice of the peace for the county.

FUNCTIONS - Committees. The business of the council is chiefly done through committees who report their proceedings to the council Certain of them are statutory under various acts of parliament, which clearly reveal the gradual widening of the province of local government. There are too standing and standing joint committees, the latter co-operating with other bodies.

The committees are as follows : -

      Statutory Committees :
Public Health and Housing.
Maternity and Child Welfare.
Local Pensions (2).
Shops Acts.
Small Holdings.
Land Drainage.

      Standing Committees :
Local Government.
Main Roads and Bridges.
Weights and Measures.
General Purposes.

      Standing Joint Committees :
Police (with justices in quarter-sessions).
The Inebriates Act.
Rivers Pollution Prevention.
Others determined by the specific circumstances of particular counties.

Powers. - The Local Government Act, 1888, transferred to the county councils the various powers previously exercised by the justices in quarter-sessions, some of which were augmented, and also imposed further duties. Since then various acts have granted additional powers and extended the scope of those already existing. Among these may be mentioned the following : -

   Local Government Act, 1894.
   Education Acts, 1902, 1918.
   Housing and Town Planning Acts.
   Agricultural Rates Act, 1923.
   Small Holdings and Allotments Acts.
   National Health Insurance Acts, 1911, 1922, 1924.
   Roads Act, 1920.
   Cinematograph Act, 1909.

The county council makes, assesses and levies rates, which are of two kinds - the general county rate and the special county rate. The former is assessed upon all local authorities except county boroughs and is utilized for general county purposes. The latter is levied for special purposes only on those areas of the county affected by the same. Thus a municipal borough possessing and maintaining a separate police force would not be •liable for the county police rate. The remaining revenue of a county council is derived from exchequer grants, which must be sanctioned by the Ministry of Health unless borrowed under the special provisions of a local act, and income from property, fees, rents and tolls. The audit of the accounts is carried out by the Ministry of Health through its district auditors.

Besides its financial powers the county council is responsible for –

   (1) The control of the county police jointly with the justices in quarter-sessions.
   (2) The regulation of the fees charged by its officials except the clerk of the peace and the clerks of the justices.
   (3) The appointment, removal and determination of the salaries of its officials including coroners, other than those above mentioned.
   (4) The management of county buildings.
   (5) The licensing under general acts of places for music and dancing, theatres, cinemas and racecourses.
   (6) The provision and maintenance of main roads and county bridges.
   (7) The regulation of locomotives on highways.
   (8) The division of the county into polling districts and the selection of polling places for parliamentary elections.
   (9) The execution of acts relating to contagious diseases of animals, destructive insects, fish conservancy, the protection of wild birds the destruction of rats and mice, weights and measures, and gas meters.
   (10) The regulation of hours of labour in shops.
   (11) The making of bye-laws for good government, the suppression of nuisances and the enforcement of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Acts.
   (12) The appointment of a medical officer of health and the establishment of isolation hospitals.
   (13) Public education excepting elementary education in municipal boroughs and urban districts with populations exceeding 10,000 and 20,000 respectively.
   (14) Promoting or opposing bills in parliament relevant to the protection of the interests of the county inhabitants.

Some of the multitudinous duties imposed upon county councils may be delegated by them to local authorities within their jurisdiction.

London Government. - Reference has already been made (see page 1) to the principal acts formulating the government of London in its present shape. Within London are represented county, city and borough government, the chief authorities being the county council, the city council, 28 borough councils and 29 boards of guardians. Each of these bodies is elected by the local government electors registered under the Representation of the People Act, 1918. In addition there are bodies possessing special jurisdiction regarding certain aspects of administration. These include –

   (1) The Metropolitan Asylums Board appointed by the Ministry of Health and the Boards of Guardians to provide asylums for imbeciles, hospitals and other institutions.
   (2) The Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police appointed by the Home Office.
   (3) The Thames Conservancy and Lee Conservancy Boards whose jurisdiction however extends beyond the confines of London.
   (4) The Metropolitan Water Board whose statutory area covers the administrative county of London and parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent.
   (5) The Port of London Authority consisting of a chairman, vice-chairman, 18 elected and 10 appointed members.
   (6) An Advisory Committee to improve the regulation of traffic in and near London.

The administrative areas of these authorities differ widely in extent.

The London County Council was created by the Local Government Act, 1888, and was granted extensive powers of town management transferred from the abolished Metropolitan Board of Works.

The CONSTITUTION of the council is similar to that of other county councils (see page 6).

FUNCTIONS. - Special causes have given rise to considerable variations between the powers and duties of the London County Council and Metropolitan Borough Councils and those of other county and borough councils. They are chiefly due to legislation, such as the London Public Health Act, 1891, and several Building Acts, and an assessment system peculiar to London (see page 11). Broadly speaking the county council is vested with such powers and duties as require uniformity of action throughout the whole of London Regarding finance it maintains an equalization fund raised from a rate levied upon each borough and the city and then disbursed among them according to their respective night populations. This is authorized by the London Equalization of Rates Act, 1894, on the principle that money spent on public health, the sewering, maintenance and construction of streets is for the general good and should not therefore be a local charge. The county council sanctions loans promoted by the boroughs but the latter have the right of an appeal to the Ministry of Health which itself sanctions loans promoted by the larger body.

The London County Council is the sole administrative authority for -

   (1) The licensing of music halls, cinemas and theatres, apart from those under the Lord Chamberlain.
   (2) Tramways.
   (3) The execution of acts relating to contagious diseases of animals.
   (4) The provision of hospitals for consumptives.
   (5) Education and technical instruction.
   (6) Reformatory and industrial schools.
   (7) Administering the town planning provisions of the Housing and Town Planning Acts, 1909, 1919.
   (8) Registering and inspecting common lodging-houses.
   (9) Main drainage and sewerage.
   (10) The fire brigade.
   (11) The maintenance of public parks and open spaces excepting royal parks (under the Office of Works).

Outside the area of the city, which in these respects is administered by the city council itself, it is the sole administrative authority for -

   (1) The maintenance of bridges
   (2) Making bye-laws concerned with the regulation of traffic, such as- the registration of motor cars.
   (3) The execution of acts relating to weights and measures.
   (4) The execution of the Gas Regulation Act, 1920.
   (5) The execution of the Shops Acts, a duty which may be delegated to the borough councils.
   (6) The regulation of offensive businesses.
   (7) The provision of lunatic asylums.
   (8) Administering the Building Acts.
   (9) Ensuring the provision of a constant water supply.

In conjunction with the borough councils, whose powers and duties are confined practically to matters of local concern only, it shares the responsibility for –

   (1) Street maintenance and lighting.
   (2) Electric lighting.
   (3) The making of bye-laws for good government.
   (4) The regulation of various matters affecting public health, such as -
        (a) The removal of refuse.
        (b) Infectious diseases.
        (c) The clearance of insanitary areas.
        (d) Slaughter-houses.
        (e) Inquests.
        (f) The sanitation of factories and workshops.
   (5) The execution of the housing provisions under the Housing and Town Planning Acts, 1919, 1923, 1924.

In addition to those enumerated above, both the county council and the borough councils possess many other duties under various acts.

The City of London Corporation possesses singular historical interest and unusual powers under its present constitution. It is more than a deliberative assembly since it can legislate and remodel its constitution. It has always been a county in itself and though for some purposes it now comes under the authority of the county council (see page 9) it still possesses in many matters a distinct jurisdiction. Legally it is entitled "The Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London."

CONSTITUTION. - The Common Council consists of the lord mayor, 25 aldermen elected for life, and 206 common councilmen.

The lord mayor is nominated by the livery voters of the city guilds and elected by the court of aldermen. The ratepayers elect the common councilmen annually. The lord mayor and aldermen possess judicial authority. The lord mayor has certain unique privileges of great antiquity, which may be briefly stated as follows -

   (1) The closing of Temple Bar to the Sovereign.
   (2) His position in the city where he is second only to the King.
   (3) His summons to the Privy Council on the accession of a new Sovereign.

FUNCTIONS. - The city corporation does much of its business through committees which always consist of 6 aldermen and 29 common councilmen, and serve for four years subject to the annual re-election of the latter. The chief are the City Lands Committee, the Bridge House Estates Committee and the Coal, Corn and Finance Committee.

Reference has already been made to some of the powers and duties of the city council (see page 10). In addition to these it is the responsible authority for -

   (1) Public health generally within its area.
   (2) Port sanitation in the Port of London.
   (3) Markets for the whole of London.
   (4) Police within its area.
   (5) The maintenance of certain parks and open spaces outside London owned by it.

One of its ancient privileges is the holding of fire inquests for outbreaks of fire within the city.

The Metropolitan Borough Councils were created by the London Government Act, 1899, and assumed the powers and duties previously exercised by vestries and district boards.

The CONSTITUTION of the councils is similar to that of other borough councils (see page 12).

FUNCTIONS. - The London Government Act, 1899, made each borough council the overseers of every parish within its area. The rates previously levied were consolidated into a single rate known as the "general rate" which is made, assessed and levied as the poor rate. The "general rate" meets the expenses incurred by the borough itself and also the precepts of other governing bodies in London such as the London County Council. These are sent direct to the borough councils with the exception of precepts relating to poor law administration, such as those made by the Ministry of Health for the upkeep of the Metropolitan Common Poor Fund, which are first sent to the boards of guardians.

The borough councils possess absolute authority over -

   (1) Public Libraries.
   (2) Baths and wash-houses.
   (3) Cemeteries.
   (4) Maternity and child welfare administration. 

Other powers and duties have been treated separately (see page 10).

Municipal Corporations. - Apart from the division into county and municipal boroughs distinctions may be drawn between all municipal corporations in other ways. Many of them particularly the larger boroughs possess a separate court of Quarter sessions while others have a separate commission of the peace in which however justices of the county have a concurrent jurisdiction. Certain small and usually ancient boroughs of a population of less than 10,000 at the Census, 1881, were permitted the option of adhering to their courts of quarter-sessions and commissions of the peace, but were obliged to maintain the officials connected with them from their borough fund as well as contributing towards the cost of county sessions. They were not allowed a separate police force - a privilege possessed by many of the larger boroughs. A few boroughs have by prescription borough courts of civil jurisdiction such as the Mayor's Court of London, the Court of Passage at Liverpool, the Court of Record at Salford and the Tolzey Court at Bristol.

County Borough. - The Local Government Act, 1888 created 61 county boroughs, whose number has now been increased to 83. Their councils enjoy the powers of county councils (see pages 6-8) If however they are not themselves assize towns they make a small contribution to the county assize. In addition to the above their constitution and further powers are governed by being municipal corporations (see under).

Municipal Boroughs were originally governed by the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, but now derive their powers entirely from the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, and a number of other special acts.

CONSTITUTION. - The councils of municipal corporations are popularly elected and have the same composition and serve for the same periods as county councils. The mayor presides and by virtue of his office acts as a justice of the peace in the borough.

FUNCTIONS. - Much of the council business is done through committees whose resolutions must be approved by the whole council. An exception to this rule is found in the Watch Committee of a borough possessing a separate police force, but in this case too financial resolutions are subject to approval by the whole council.

The finance and powers of municipal corporations may be broadly treated under two heads, namely as -

   (1) An urban sanitary district under the Public Health Act, 1872, and earlier and subsequent acts (see under Urban District Councils, page 14) and
   (2) A borough under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, Education Acts, 1902 - 1921, and general or local acts.

Its revenue under this latter heading is paid into a borough fund and is derived from the property of the corporation and the borough rate which is assessed upon property on the basis of the poor rate valuation and is collected by the overseers of the poor. It is utilized for –

   (1) The maintenance of borough buildings.
   (2) The payment of salaries of borough officials.
   (3) The expenses of borough police where they exist.
   (4) Education costs, together with grants received from the Board of Education.
   (5) Various other statutory purposes. 

It is empowered to borrow money subject to the approval of the Ministry of Health.

Among the general powers of borough councils are the following -

   (1) The appointment of a town clerk, treasurer and other necessary officials.
   (2) The acquisition of land for the erection of municipal buildings.
   (3) The repair of bridges not repairable by the county for whose repair the inhabitants are liable by immemorial usage or custom.
   (4) The making of bye-laws for good government and the prevention and suppression of nuisances.
   (5)    (a) The provision of public elementary education where the population is over 10,000.
            (b) The provision of higher education concurrently within the county.
   (6) Promoting or opposing bills in parliament.
   (7) Promoting trading enterprises relating to water, gas, electricity, tramways, light railways, ferries and markets.

Borough councils possess certain miscellaneous powers some of which are compulsory under various acts, such as -

   Housing and Town Planning Acts.
   Allotments Acts.
   Pensions Acts.
   National Health Insurance Acts.
   Notification of Births Act.
   Shops Acts.
   Adoptive Acts relating to libraries, baths and wash houses, and burial grounds.

Urban District Councils came into being under the Local Government Act, 1894.

CONSTITUTION. - The council consists of councillors popularly elected for a period of three years, one-third of whom usually retire annually. It is presided over by a chairman annually elected by the councillors.

FUNCTIONS. - The principal powers of an urban district council are derived through its being an urban sanitary authority. Such district councils including borough councils (see page 13) make, assess and levy a general district rate on property assessable to the poor rate excepting certain kinds of property including rail-ways, canals and tithes This rate is paid into a general district fund to which are credited also the proceeds from rents, fines for breach of bye-laws, and treasury grants. From the fund are defrayed all expenses incurred as sanitary authorities. As such they are required -

   (1) To appoint a medical officer of health and sanitary inspectors.
   (2) To provide sewers for the effectual drainage of the district and to enforce the provision of proper sanitary accommodation for all dwelling-houses and factories.
   (3) To deal with cellar-dwellings, common lodging-houses and houses let in lodgings, nuisances, unsound meat, infectious diseases, epidemics, mortuaries, cemeteries, public parks, and slaughter-houses.
   (4) To provide hospital accommodation for the reception of the sick.

Also they may undertake the removal of house refuse and provide for the proper cleansing and watering of the streets.

Besides its powers as a sanitary authority an urban district council exercises certain other powers which are –

   (1) Borrowing subject to the Ministry of Health's approval.
   (2) The appointment of a clerk and other officers for the execution of its business.
   (3) The acquisition of land for public purposes.
   (4) The maintenance of highways outside the jurisdiction of county councils.
   (5)    (a) The provision of public elementary education where the population is over 20,000, the expenses being defrayed from the poor rate.
            (b) The provision of higher education concurrently with the county, the expenses being defrayed as above.
   (6) Promoting or opposing bills in parliament subject to several important restrictions by the Ministry of Health.
   (7) Promoting trading enterprises relating to water, gas, electricity, and tramways.

In some instances it enjoys powers under the following acts-

   Housing and Town Planning Acts.
   Allotments Acts.
   Pensions Acts.
   National Health Insurance Acts.
   Shops Acts.
   Gas Regulation Act, 1920.
   Adoptive Acts relating to libraries, baths and wash-houses, and burial grounds.

Rural District Councils were created by the Local Government Act, 1894, by which the councillors became ex-officio poor law guardians. Rural sanitary districts were established under the Public Health Act, 1872, and comprised those areas out-side the urban sanitary districts. In the main their boundaries are coterminous with the poor law unions except where the latter form part of a borough or urban district.

CONSTITUTION. - The council is similarly constituted to an urban district council. The number of councillors in each ward is determined by the county council. 

FUNCTIONS. - There are wide divergences in the powers exercised by rural district councils which depend to a certain degree upon the public spirit of the various bodies and to a greater degree upon differences in area and population. Their expenses are of two kinds -

   (1) General.
   (2) Special.

General expenses are chargeable to the district at large and cover the expenses of establishment, disinfection and highways, and various others. These are payable out of a common fund raised out of the poor rate of the several parishes in the district according to the rateable value of each. It is levied by means of a precept on the overseers of the poor and not by the council itself.

Special expenses include those in connection with sewerage water supply, and all others incurred or payable in respect of a parish or contributory place within the district, determined by the Ministry of Health to be special. Accounts are audited by district auditors appointed by the Ministry of Health.

As a sanitary authority a rural district council enjoys most of the powers exercised by urban district councils (see page 14). To a certain degree its sanitary functions may be supplemented, regulated and even assumed by the county council if unsatisfactorily performed. Further it is the highway authority in its district outside the county council sphere but unlike an urban district council possesses no powers respecting streets unless specially conferred by the Ministry of Health. Certain other powers expressly confined to urban district councils may also be exercised under a like condition. Subject to the assent of the Ministry of Health a rural district may be converted into an urban district by the county council.

Parish Councils. - Within the rural district and marking it off distinctly from the urban district is the area known as the civil parish, which has been defined by act of parliament as "a place for which a separate poor rate is or can be made or for which a separate overseer is or can be appointed." Under the Local Government Act, 1894, in every parish which has a population exceeding 300 there must be elected a parish council and also in every parish which has a population between 100 and 300 if the parish meeting so resolves. The parish meeting is an assembly decreed by the above act consisting of the parochial electors of the parish. Where there is no parish council there must be at least an annual parish meeting.

CONSTITUTION. - The parish council is elected in the manner provided by the rules of the Ministry of Health, the number of councillors being decided by the county council.

FUNCTIONS. - The parish council appoints the overseers and the assistant overseer, who generally acts as clerk and rate collector and unites in himself many other responsible duties. The chief officers of civil parishes are the overseers of the poor, whose main duty is to make and levy the poor rate and others according to the precepts of the authorities so empowered. Among the responsibilities of parish councils are the following -

   (1) The provision of offices and fire engines and the maintenance of parish property.
   (2) The care of wells for the water supply, the removal of nuisances and acquisition of rights of way.
   (3) The administration of certain adoptive acts when adopted, including -
             (a) The Lighting and Watching Act.
             (b) The Public Libraries Acts.
             (c) The Baths and Wash-houses Acts.
             (d) The Burial Acts.
             (e) The Public Improvement Act.
   (4) The maintenance of village greens and open spaces.

N.B. - For notes on the Assessment Areas see page 24.


In English usage "poor law" denotes the legislation embodying the measures taken by the state for the relief of the poor and its administration. For this purpose the whole of England and Wales is divided into more than 600 poor law unions.

Boards of Guardians.

CONSTITUTION. - For every union there is a board of guardians popularly elected by persons enrolled under the Representation of the People Act, 1918. Each board is presided over by a chairman. In the conduct of its business the precise method of voting on any matter on which a difference of opinion exists is carefully regulated.

FUNCTIONS. - The fundamental principle upon which the poor law rests is that the condition of a pauper should be less eligible than that of an independent labourer. Yet in the execution of their duties considerable differences and wide discrepancies exist among the various boards of guardians, owing chiefly to the number of sources from which they derive their authority and powers. These include numerous acts of parliament and countless orders and circulars issued by the old Local Government Board and the Ministry of Health. The latter possesses a more complete jurisdiction over poor law authorities than over any other local government bodies. It sanctions loans, prescribes the form of accounts, and audits them through its district auditors. It has the power of dismissing poor law officers whose qualifications for their duties do not reach the standard required. This entails obedience on the part of poor law officers to regulations issued by the central authority even where they are contrary to the policy of the individual boards of guardians employing them. Lastly the guardians themselves have a wide latitude and discretion in the interpretation of both acts and circulars in many instances in addition to the particular form given to their administration by their own conception of public policy.

Their principal officers are the overseers of the poor who make and levy the poor rate on all assessable property. This is apportioned among the various parishes. The guardians are responsible for the administration of relief and the erection and management of workhouses. Further they have certain other powers relating to -

   (1) Indoor relief to the able-bodied.
   (2) Outdoor relief to the aged and infirm.
   (3) The boarding out of orphan children.
   (4) Medical relief to the sick.
   (5) Casual wayfarers.
   (6) Unemployment.

The object in administering unemployment relief is not to attach the "stigma of pauperism" to temporarily unemployed able bodied persons. At the present a decision has been reached to transfer the functions of boards of guardians to other local authorities and a bill to accomplish this purpose will shortly be introduced into parliament.


Judicial Circuits. - A circuit was (and still is) the term applied to the periodical progress made by judges throughout the several counties of England and Wales to hold courts and administer justice, where recourse could not be had to the king's court at Westminster. The Judicature Act, 1875, conferred upon the Crown the power of issuing regulations respecting circuits by Order in Council (see page 3). England and Wales are now divided into eight circuits, in which assizes are held three times a year in winter, summer and autumn. Both civil and criminal business are disposed of except during the autumn assize in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Glamorgan, Bristol, Devon, Sussex and Suffolk which is for criminal business only. Lancashire and Yorkshire have an additional assize held in May. In certain counties there are alternative assize towns.

Quarter Sessions originated in the provision made by statutes of 1326, 1344 and 1360, for justices and a commission of the peace. The name is derived from a statute of 1388 which directs that the "justices shall keep their sessions in every quarter of the year at the least."

To-day quarter-sessions is the name of a court held by justices of the peace in general or quarter-sessions assembled in any administrative county and county of a city or town, and is also applied to the court of a recorder in county and municipal boroughs possessing quarter-sessions. It is a local court of record having a limited criminal jurisdiction and to a certain extent civil jurisdiction, original and appellate in both instances. The court in counties is composed of two or more justices in the commission of the peace. A chairman and vice-chairman are elected but need not necessarily be lawyers except in the county of London where they must be barristers of ten years' standing and are appointed by the Crown. The court of sessions of the city of London arises from powers granted by the city charters and is held before the lord mayor and aldermen with the recorder. In this court all indictments are now tried in the Central Criminal Court. The court of quarter-sessions in county and municipal boroughs depends upon a grant by the Crown in Council under the Municipal Corporations Acts, 1835 and 1882, upon the petition of the borough council. The recorder is the sole judge of the court, is appointed by the Crown and must be a barrister of five years' standing.

Petty Sessions are courts held for purposes of summary jurisdiction in all places in which a commission of the peace exists. Their powers are held chiefly under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts and take cognizance of a large number of minor indictable offences.

Brewster Sessions are special sessions of local justices held annually for the issue of licences for the retail of intoxicating liquors.


The Church of England is the established Church of the State. By the Act of Supremacy, 1534, the Sovereign became the Supreme Head of the Church and has the power of appointing archbishops and bishops to vacant sees. It is now exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister after consultation by the latter with the two archbishops.

The Church of England Assembly came into being under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act, 1919.

CONSTITUTION. - It consists of -

   (1) The House of Bishops, comprising the two upper Houses of Convocation.
   (2) The House of Clergy, comprising the two lower Houses of Convocation.
       (see below).
   (3) The House of Laity, comprising a number of lay men and women elected from each diocese proportionate to its size.

These Houses may sit together or separately.

FUNCTIONS. - The Assembly is a legislative body and its enactments are known as measures. These after passage are forwarded to an ecclesiastical committee consisting of 15 members from the House of Lords appointed by the Lord Chancellor and 15 members from the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker. The committee reports upon the measure, and if its decision is favourable the measure receives the royal assent upon a resolution being carried in parliament by both Houses.

Diocesan Conferences elect the lay members of the Church Assembly in each diocese. They are also mainly responsible for transacting the financial business of dioceses.

Ruridecanal Conferences elect the representatives of the diocesan conferences in rural deaneries.

Parochial Church Councils were established under the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure, 1921.

CONSTITUTION. - They consist of members elected by the registered parishioners of each ecclesiastical parish, who must be of 18 years of age and baptized.

FUNCTIONS. - Among their powers the following are the chief -

   (1) To exercise the powers concerning parish buildings and other parochial matters formerly enjoyed by the church-wardens.
   (2) To raise and spend money for parochial purposes.
   (3) To co-operate with the incumbent.
   (4) To elect representatives for ruridecanal conferences.

Convocation is an assembly of the spirituality summoned in each province by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York respectively and usually meets three times a year.

CONSTITUTION. - Under the powers of the Enabling Act, 1919, Convocation drew up a new constitution to replace that which had previously existed since 1283. For each province it consists of -

   (1) The Upper House comprising all the diocesan bishops.
   (2) The Lower House comprising all the deans, the two senior archdeacons of each
diocese and a proctor for every 100 electors. The electors are clergy qualified in any one of the following ways, either -

       (a) beneficed, or
       (b) holding the bishop's licence, or
       (c) holding an office in a cathedral or collegiate church.

The Church in Wales was disestablished and disendowed by the Established Church (Wales) Act, 1914, and the Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act, 1919. In 1920 Wales and the county of Monmouth were created into a separate province and the number of Welsh bishoprics has since been increased to six.

THE GOVERNING BODY consists of -
   (1) The bishops, deans and archdeacons.
   (2) 25 elected clergy and 25 elected laity from each diocese.
   (3) 12 co-opted women.

   (1) It maintains the forms and doctrines of the church.
   (2) It makes canons.
   (3) It controls the Representative Body.

   (1) The diocesan bishops.
   (2) 4 clergy and 8 laymen from each diocese.
   (3) 12 co-opted members.
   (4) 8 members nominated by the bishops.

FUNCTIONS. - It acts as trustee of the Church's property. Bishops are elected by a board of electors and in the event of failure to obtain the necessary two thirds majority are appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ecclesiastical Areas. - For the purposes of ecclesiastical organization England and Wales are divided into the provinces of Canterbury, York and Wales each under archiepiscopal jurisdiction.

Diocese. - The diocese is the largest territorial area within a province and is under the pastoral care of a bishop. The latter takes his title from his see, the place in which his cathedral is located.

Archdeaconry. - An archdeaconry is the largest territorial area within a diocese within which certain powers are exercised by an archdeacon. This official was formerly extremely important but his powers are now restricted to -

   (1) Presenting candidates for ordination to the bishop.
   (2) Inducting the clergy into their temporalities after they have been instituted by the bishop into their spiritualities.
   (3) Making visitations of the clergy.
   (4) Inspecting the fabrics of churches.

Parish. - The parish is an area assigned to the ministrations of a priest, the incumbent.


Registration Districts. - Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1836, a general register office was created in London presided over by the Registrar-General. England and Wales were divided into registration districts under a superintendent registrar. This system was consolidated by the Births and Deaths Act, 1874. To day the districts mainly but not invariably correspond in area with the poor law unions. They are divided into sub-districts in which the registrar acts as the chief official for registering births and deaths. A number of districts are united into so-called registration counties and the latter into 11 registration divisions. Certain statutory regulations bind the persons interested to certify births and deaths in a proper form to the registrar within a stipulated time. Registrars also possess the power of marrying persons under various Marriage Acts.


The Isle of Man is administered in accordance with its own laws, acts of the imperial parliament only taking effect when specifically applied to it. All legislation must receive the assent of the Sovereign in Council.

The Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Crown, shares with the Tynwald Court legislative and administrative functions. Among his powers and duties are the following -

   (1) Acting as chancellor of the exchequer and initiating all matters respecting public funds.
   (2) Exercising a veto upon the disposal of surplus revenue or proposals for harbour development.
   (3) Assenting to all bills.

The Council is the upper branch of the legislature and consists of -

   (1) The lieutenant-governor and two members appointed by him.
   (2) The Bishop of Sodor and Man, two deemsters and the attorney-general.
   (3) Four members elected by the House of Keys.

The House of Keys is the lower branch of the legislature and consists of 24 elected members representing the sheadings and municipalities.

The Tynwald Court consists of the Council and the House of Keys sitting as separate bodies but exercising joint powers in administration and legislation.


   (1) It appoints boards to manage local government, harbours, highways, education, lunatic and poor asylums.
   (2) In conjunction with the lieutenant-governor it shares the responsibility for the disposal of surplus revenue after meeting the charges for government and the contribution towards the imperial exchequer.
   (3) It may "impose, abolish or vary" the rates of customs duties which are fixed by the imperial parliament provided that the latter subsequently accepts the modifications. 


The Channel Islands are administered in accordance with their own laws, acts of the imperial parliament only taking effect when specifically applied to them. They are divided for purposes of government into -

   (1) Jersey.
   (2) The bailiwick of Guernsey, including Alderney, Sark, Herm and Jethou.

Alderney has a separate legal existence, but Sark is a dependency of Guernsey.

JERSEY. - The Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Crown, is a member of the Deliberative States but while lacking a vote may exercise a veto upon projected legislation.

The Deliberative States is a legislative body consisting of 12 jurats, 12 parish rectors, 12 parish constables (mayors'), 17 deputies, the vicomte (sheriff) and the judicial officers. The bailiff may dissent from any measure in which case it is referred to the Privy Council. The judicial officers may all speak but not vote.

The Royal Court administers justice and consists of the bailiff, 12 jurats elected for life, the rectors of parishes, the elected parish councils and certain other officials.

GUERNSEY. - The Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Crown, is always invited to attend the Deliberative States and may speak if he wishes.

The Deliberative States is a legislative body consisting of 12 jurats, 8 parish rectors, the deputies, the bailiff and the procureur (attorney-general).

The Royal Court administers justice and may also legislate for temporary measures. It consists of the bailiff, 12 jurats elected for life, the prev6t (sheriff) popularly elected, the rectors of parishes, the elected parish councils and certain other officials.

In both governments the bailiff and other judicial officers are appointed by the Crown. The former presides over the Royal Court which possesses original and appellate jurisdiction, and may advance legislative projects for the approval of the Deliberative States. These bodies conduct their administrative business chiefly through committees.


The Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, introduces a new system of rating and valuation intended to remove the anomalies and complexities of the present system (see pages 6-18). It is applicable to the whole country except London.

RATING. - The parish as the rating unit disappears, being displaced by urban (boroughs and urban districts) and rural (rural districts) rating areas Within the county different kinds of authorities are grouped together to form assessment areas. Local authorities will undertake the making, levying and collecting of rates, and will be responsible for meeting the demands of precept-making authorities (see pages 6-18). The general district and poor rates will be consolidated into a general rate. Special expenses incurred by the several rating authorities for particular services will be additional, but applicable only to their respective areas. Precept-making authorities are compelled to precept at so much in the pound instead of asking for a lump sum.

VALUATION. - To secure uniformity of principle and practice in valuation throughout the country is the main purpose of the newly established system. The chief co-ordinating agency, also directly advising the Ministry of Health, will be the central valuation committee. It will be constituted from the members of county valuation committees, assessment committees, rating authorities and some independent persons. County valuation committees will consist of members of assessment committees and nominated county councillors. Assessment committees will comprise nominated members of the county council, urban and rural rating authorities, and boards of guardians. They are responsible for revising and approving the valuation lists prepared by the various rating authorities.


This supplement briefly describes the profound changes in the system of local government following upon the passing of the Local Government Act, 1929. The act is a constructive attempt to harmonize institutions, originally established in the last century, with the conditions of modern life. Their development has not fully kept pace with the changes of modern requirements. To-day there is an increasing demand for a more rapid expansion of the various social services, particularly those relating to health and education, and also a greatly augmented mobility in the population due to the revolution in modern transport.

The chief principles underlying the changes in the structure and function of local government introduced by the act are the widening of the area over which numerous services will be administered, and the consequent spreading of the necessary charges over a wider population. The end in view has been to secure a fuller provision of services for each inhabitant of the larger area, a more rational organization of the work entailed, and a more equitable distribution of the costs as between the inhabitants of the various districts of each area.

The main changes introduced relate to Poor Law, Registration, Highways, Town Planning, Rating, and Exchequer Grants.

Poor Law (see page 17). - The boards of guardians are superseded, and their functions transferred to the county and county borough councils, since the areas served by these have now become the new unit for poor law administration. The council is required to set up a public assistance committee to exercise all the transferred functions, except the raising of a rate or the borrowing of money. This committee consists of nominated county councillors and a minority of appointed or co-opted members including women. The council exercises entire control over the provision of institutions.

In the various districts of the county, such as the municipal borough, the urban and rural districts, a sub-committee of the public assistance committee known as the guardians committee functions. It consists of 12 - 24 members, who may be -

   (1) Councillors of county districts nominated by the district council.
   (2) Locally elected members of the county council.
   (3) Members appointed by the county council,
           not exceeding one-third of the whole committee.

The duties of the guardians committee may be described as -

   (1) The consideration of applications for relief.
   (2) The determination of the nature and amount of the relief granted.
   (3) The determination of the proportion of such relief recoverable from the recipient or those liable for his maintenance.
   (4) The inspection and management of poor law institutions when desired to do so by the public assistance committee.

The county borough similarly exercises its new duties through the establishment of a public assistance committee and sub-committees of the same. Accounts for poor law expenditure are still to be submitted to the district auditor for audit, as hitherto, by county councils and county borough councils.

Special arrangements, subject to approval by the Ministry of Health, are to be made by the London County Council for the administration of poor law relief. It is also to absorb the Metropolitan Asylums Board, while the city corporation and the metropolitan borough councils are to be responsible for registration and vaccination.

Registration (see page 22). - The functions previously exercised under the various Registration Acts by the boards of guardians are to be transferred to the councils of counties and county boroughs. They are required to prepare schemes for the re-organization of registration districts and sub-districts for the approval of the Minister of Health by the 1st April, 1932. To preserve continuity and uniformity of practice throughout the country, the performance of duties is to remain under the complete control of the Registrar General.

Highways (see pages 7, 15 and 16). - To county councils are transferred -

   (1) All the highway powers of rural district councils, and
   (2) All classified roads in municipal boroughs and urban districts.

At its discretion the county council may delegate the maintenance and repair of classified roads known as county roads to local authorities, who would act merely as agents, but must itself assume all financial liability and approve works executed.

Authorities for urban districts and municipal boroughs with a population greater than 20,000 may claim to maintain and repair any county road within their areas, or to relinquish such duties with the consent of the county council and with a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport. A district council may also apply to the county council to delegate to it the maintenance and repair of all unclassified roads in its area, to which the latter must accede unless no economy or increased efficiency would result thereby, when it may refuse. In the case of refusal the district council may renew the application at the end of a quinquennial period or at any other time with the consent of the Minister of Transport.

Town Planning. - County councils are empowered by agreement to act jointly with other local authorities in preparing and adopting town planning schemes.

Revision of Areas. - County councils are required to review the areas of all urban and rural districts within the county, and where necessary to submit proposals for the re-adjustment of the areas of these authorities and for the alteration of their status by 1st April, 1932 and thereafter decennially. Provision is also made for the agreed alteration of the boundaries of counties and county boroughs.

Health. - Additional powers are also given to the county councils for securing a wider distribution and a co-ordination of the various health services, such as maternity and child welfare, the provision of hospitals for infectious diseases, and the appointment of whole-time medical officers of health to serve all urban and rural districts.

Rating. - Agricultural land and buildings are to be wholly exempt from rates. Industrial and freight-transport properties are to be assessed on 25 per cent of what would otherwise have been their rateable value. Provision for the proper classification of these hereditaments entitled to this relief was made by the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928.

Exchequer Grants. - The act makes provision for a new grant, called the "general exchequer contribution," to make good the losses entailed (1) by the remission of rates referred to above, known popularly as "derating", and (2) by the discontinuance of former payments covering -

   (a) Various local taxation grants,
   (b) Grants in aid of various health services, and
   (c) Grants towards certain roads.

These losses have been calculated on a standard year (1928-29), and have been determined at £24,000,000 for estimated losses of rates and at £16,000,000 for estimated losses on account of discontinued grants. These amounts are fixed for all time, but the general exchequer contribution includes in addition to them a further amount which is to be reviewed quinquennially.

The allocation of the general exchequer contribution between counties and county boroughs will be determined solely by the needs of each area and its ability to meet them. To satisfy this requirement a formula of weighted population has been calculated which will result in affording greater assistance to necessitous areas than to prosperous ones. The factors upon which this formula for increasing population is based are -

   (1) The proportion of children under five years of age to the population,
   (2) The rateable value per head,
   (3) The proportion of unemployed insured men to the population (operating only where unemployment is abnormal), and
   (4) The population per mile of public roads (applying only to counties other than London).

So as not to disturb too severely the existing revenues of counties and county boroughs the scheme for the allocation of the general exchequer contribution will be gradually introduced, only coming finally into full effect in 1947. Distribution in the intervening years is arranged on a statutory basis. The allocation for each county and county borough during the first two periods of three years and four years respectively will be 75 per cent, during the third and fourth periods of five years each 50 per cent and 25 per cent respectively of the estimated loss of rates and grants for the standard year. The balance of the general exchequer contribution still remaining for each period will then be shared between them in accordance with the formula. Special provisions are made for mitigating changes in rate poundage over a period of nineteen years.


This is an act "to assimilate the franchise for men and women in respect of parliamentary and local government elections" (see page 5). To qualify for the franchise for counties and boroughs both men and women require three months' residence in premises, and for business three months' occupation of premises worth not less than £10 annual value. A woman at the age of twenty-one years is qualified to be registered by fulfilment of either or both of the above conditions. The right in respect of the occupation of business premises is reciprocal as regards both husband and wife where either one or the other occupies such premises. A voter may only vote in one constituency at a general election by virtue of a residence qualification, and for one other constituency only by virtue of any other qualification.


Home  eBooks   London Miscellany   Maps   Contact

Copyright Bruce Hunt

Valid XHTML 1.0     Valid CSS