The Local Government Act 1894 created elected urban district councils (UDCs) and rural district councils (RDCs). The act also created elected parish councils as the third tier of local government, except in small parishes of under 300 electors where parishioners could simply have meetings of all parishioners. Hampshire Archives and Local Studies is the official repository for the records of local government in Hampshire. However, local government records for Portsmouth and Southampton are held in those cities. Records for Bournemouth and Christchurch are at Dorset History Centre and records for the Isle of Wight are at the Isle of Wight County Record Office.In Hampshire, around 250 civil parish councils were established in 1894 to take over the administrative functions of the parish. Responsibilities can include allotments, burial grounds, drainage, lighting, recreation, street furniture, village halls and war memorials. A read through a parish council minute book gives a fascinating insight into the history and development of a parish. Family historians may also find the lists of those attending meetings, making declarations of acceptance of office, renting an allotment or subscribing to the war memorial as a useful source of information.
As you will see from the image below, some minute books even give snippets of information about ancestor’s occupation and address.
Highclere Parish Council minute book, 1894-1934 (ref: 100A02/A1)
Appleshaw Parish Council’s register of allotment gardens (ref: 54M96/PX1)
Registers of declarations of acceptance of public office record people accepting the office of councillor and you can see the original signature of each councillor. This can be a nice way of getting a bit closer to ancestors to see their handwriting.
Book of declarations of acceptance of office for West Tytherley parish council, 1895-1963 (ref: 97M85/7)
Although parish councils are not responsible for planning (this is a district council function) they are consulted on planning matters. Planning issues can cause a lot of controversy and debate. Often the battle is with another layer of local government or even national government at Westminster. Our records are full of instances of parish councils being in dispute with other bodies as they strive to represent the views of the local community.
Wonston Parish Council, for example, was consulted in the planning and delivery of the A34 by-pass. The Department of Transport wrote to Mrs Pickett, Clerk to Wonston Parish Council on 19 Nov 1979, giving the council and residents the bad news that “No properties were shown as having predicted noise level (within 15 years of the road first being used by public traffic) of 68dB (A) which as shown in the attached booklet is the minimum level at which consideration can be given to providing double glazing. However, a Public Notice will be placed in local newspapers outlining the fact that no properties are considered eligible for insulation but that people will have a right to appeal against this decision.” It goes on to say that “there is provision under Part 1 of the Land Compensation Act 1973 for people to claim compensation for depreciation in the value of property caused by the use of public works.” Clearly the parish council were not happy with this response as there is correspondence between D W Thompson and the clerk asking for an agenda item at the next meeting relating to the proposed by-pass.
File of correspondence relating to the A34 Sutton Scotney by-pass, 1973-1980 (ref: 29M92/PX32)
Disputes between parishoners are also common features of the parish council minute book. For example, West Tytherley Parish Council was asked to intervene in a dispute between two parishoners over the status of a footpath in the parish. The right of Mr Edney to use a footpath as a bridleway was challenged. At the parish council meeting on 25 Jun 1895 the minute book notes that, “the Council were of the opinion that if this path was used for purposes other than that of a footpath that the proper steps should be taken to stop it & it was left to the Chairman to see Mr Edney on the subject.” (ref: 97M85/1). One can imagine how pleased Mr Edney must have been!
West Tytherley Parish Council minute book, 1894-1919 (ref: 97M85/1)
Sometimes disputes between parishoners got quite heated and you can find protracted debates about the same issues cropping up time after time in parish council minute books. Favourite sources of disagreement are footpaths, rights of way and the up keep (and cost thereof) of public places. The parishoners of Boldre even spent months debating the intention of a Mr Alexander when he donated £25 to the fund for a memorial to the fallen of World War One. Mr Firth insisted that the donation was supposed to go to a memorial in the church, whilst Mr Goddard was equally insistent that Mr Alexander had donated the money for a memorial in the church and toward the foundation of a new village hall. The minute book records the ebb and flow of the debate concerning the £25 donation. On 18 Jun 1919 the minute book finally records that “the committee recommends to the subscribers, the erection of a suitable brass tablet to be placed in Boldre Church, bearing the names, rank etc of all men in the parish who lost their lives in, of by reason of, the war. And also: That a granite cross be erected in the churchyard as a memorial to the fallen. The total cost expected out of the subscribed funds to be £150” (ref: 12M80/PX2)
This and many more illuminating episodes of village life can be seen through the pages of local parish council minute books. Why not come and have a look yourself? We always welcome new researchers.
Please do consider depositing any parish council records you have in your possession too! What may be quite mundane and prosaic issues at the time can provide fascinating insights to future historians. I have deposited some for my parish council recently and I hope they will be of interest to future generations.