1) BEFORE 1834

no systematic local government - term "local government" not used;

each County had Quarter Sessions = assembly of local magistrates;
magistrates had to be freeholders, members of Church of England;
discharged both judicial and "business" functions;
levied rate on Parishes who = responsible for collecting quota of county rate from local occupiers of land;
rate paid for maintenance of roads, bridges; gaols; militia; coroner; policing and prosecution; office of Lord Lieutenant of County;

Parish = governed by vestry;
composition varies; elected from parishioners;
responsible for local established Church;
provide other local services - roads, control of vermin;
most important function = care of local poor for which levied own rate on occupiers of land;

Municipal Corporations govern incorporated towns;
unincorporated towns (those without royal charter) come under county jurisdiction;
method of election, composition varies widely according to charter;

Ad hoc bodies, set up under private Acts of Parliament;
1,114 Turnpike Trusts; 125 Boards of Guardians of the Poor; Drainage Boards; Paving Commissioners; Improvement Commissioners, etc.
powers to levy rate for specific purpose;
controlled by board of trustees, or commissioners


1834 Poor Law Amendment Act [amending the 1601 Poor Law Act] establishes uniform practice throughout country;
parishes grouped in unions;
managed by Poor Law Guardians = local magistrates + elected body with electors getting more votes the more they paid;
each union has to build workhouse;
no relief to poor outside workhouse (until 1847);
central control by Poor Law Commissioners in Somerset House in London supervise regulations, etc. e.g. diet;

1835 Municipal Corporations Act enables (but does not compel) 148 listed boroughs to establish Town Council;
elected by resident ratepayers, voting in wards;
sets local rates;
restrictions on what can spend money on;
empowered (but not compelled) to establish town police force (following Metropolitan Police Act 1829)


local authorities seek to increase powers by Local Acts
¨ prohibition of building houses without privies (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Burnley, 1846)
¨ provision of public lavatories (Northampton 1843; Chester 1845; Southport 1846)
¨ regulations for minimum size of cellar dwellings (Liverpool 1842, Wallasey 1845)
¨ prohibition on building houses without drains; authority to inspect new drains (Sr. Helens, 1845; Chester 1845; Wallasey 1845; Burnley 1846)
¨ appointment of local sanitary inspectors (Manchester 1845, Southport 1846)
¨ minimum height of rooms in new houses (Liverpool 1842, Wallasey 1845; Belfast 1845)
¨ inspection of lodging houses (Glasgow 1843, Manchester 1845
¨ provision of public parks and gardens (Chester 1845; Leicester 1846)
¨ regulation of gambling houses (Machester 1851; Birmingham 1851)
¨ regulation of brothels (Leeds 1866)
¨ prohibition of pawnbrokers taking pledges from children (Liverpool 1864)
¨ powers for police to arrest on suspicion (Birmingham 1851)
"Clauses Acts" (1845 ff.) provide model clauses which local authorities could adopt

1862 Highways Act unites parishes into unions (cf. Poor Law) for purposes of road building/maintenance

1869 votes in local elections given to women ratepayers

1871 Local Government Board established;
brings together local government functions hitherto discharged by the Board of Trade or the Home Office;

1888 Local Government Act
establishes County Councils;
responsible for roads, lunatics, bridges, lunatic asylums and poor relief;
replace Quarter Sessions in counties (though membership very similar);
vote given to all ratepayers;

1889 establishment of London County Council
London hitherto governed by Metropolitan Board of Works (established 1855)
London vestries created into borough councils under 1899 Local Government Act

1894 Local Government Act
creates rural and urban district councils;
vote given to all entitled to vote at parliamentary elections
civil functions of parish vestries given to parish councils;
women entitled to vote in parish council elections

Local Government included a large number of functions, outline details of a few of which will follow on this web site in due course, e.g.


permitted in towns under Municipal Reform Act, 1835 on model of Metropolitan Police, 1829
permitted in counties under Rural Constabulary Act, 1839
compulsory in boroughs and counties, County and Borough Police Act, 1856


Public Health Act 1848
established General Board of Health (on model of Poor Law Commissioners)
local Boards of Health could be established (a) if requested by 10% of local ratepayers; or (b) if local mortality exceeds 23 per 1000;
control sewerage, drainage, water supply, burial grounds, "offensive" trades;
local boards can levy rates;
local boards elected by ratepayers who get more votes (up to 6) the more they pay (up to maximum of £250)
Public Health Act 1875
incorporates 1848 Act + local powers granted by Local Acts;
incorporates Nuisance Removal Acts;
establishes local sanitary authorities;

+ more .....

For further reading, see under various headings - Poor Law, Police, Sanitary Reform, etc.under Local Government