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Council Information  (see additional update at the end)

Very Brief History of Parish/Town Councils   Got a few minutes...then read on..

Here we transport ourselves back to the Middle Ages. Manors formed the nucleus, money was seldom used, agriculture was primitive and the countryside almost empty of inhabitants. No effective central authority existed to enforce daily order. The Manor was simultaneously a farm, a unit of local administration and police and a defensive organisation, its inhabitants were the lord and his family, retainers and free and unfree tenants bound to each other by services. In this moneyless society the all-important business was management of the land, rotation of agriculture and regulation of agricultural jobs. 

Tenants had holdings, a waste or common ground belonging to the lord. These were often divided into strips scattered about the open field and intermingled with the holdings of other tenants. Disputes were rife. Officialdom was a duty rather than a profession and the lord was under an obligation to hold committees or assemblies, known as courts to appoint the constable, the hayward, the pinder and other officials to keep order.

Sometimes in these early times a priest came with the settlers,or ‘tenants’. More usually he arrived after the Manor was established. He could not live on the Manor unless he was given a holding and he could not have a Church unless the Manor provided the labour and materials to build it. In the beginning the lord was in a strong position and so the right to appoint a priest was in his hands, but the priest kept a certain independence because he had the support of the Church, which soon became more powerful than the greatest noble in the realm.

Agriculture moved steadily forward, leaving the manor courts behind them, when the first Tudor ascended the throne the manor courts had already ceased to be important. The influence, wealth and responsibility of the Church increased. Although the chancel of the parish Church was sacred the body of the building was the parish hall and the only sheltered public meeting place of the inhabitants.   Therefore it is not surprising that the inhabitants began to meet there for social and administrative purposes. Such meetings were often held in the vestry after which they became known. * 

The old civil obligation of the lord of the manor to maintain his starving tenants was matched by the religious obligation of charity. Here was borne the first generally recognised ‘unemployment relief’ and it was the parson’s duty to gather ‘alms’ from his flock. Therefore in 1601 the power of levying a poor rate was conferred upon the vestries. 

As the population expanded meetings became unwieldily large and smaller committees were set up, but in the absence of any auditing system they became notoriously corrupt. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars reform was needed. Vestries were beginning to administer huge sums of money.   

In the meantime the countryside was being transformed by Enclosures. Manors resembled islands of cultivation in a sea of common wasteland. Private ownership spread across the wastes and the commoners of the manor were compensated for their extinquished rights with smallholdings and allotments for food, fuel and recreation.  Such allotments existed mainly for the relief of poverty and it was natural for them to be placed under the control of the vestry. The Enclosure awards, in redistributing property, made extensive redistributions of public obligations and usually committed their supervision to the vestries. As a result the awards became, and in many places still are, the fundamental documents of any parish or community administration.  

The Church rate was abolished in 1868 and parish administration reduced to the barest minimum. The Poor Law cried out for reform. Public opinion turned against the parish as Local Government, notorious in the 1820’s for inefficiency and corruption became notorious half a century later for inefficiency and complication. Confusion was spectacular and took twenty years of legislation and experiment to straighten out resulting in the Local Government Act of 1894. This Act took a year to pass with 800 amendments and much controversy both in Parliament and outside.   The cause of this controversy was the proposal to create parish councils.

The parish affairs of the Act of 1894 was based on two principles, the parish meeting and the parish council and as a result the church was excluded from formal participation in local government – this caused much bitterness and it was expected that the new parish councils would embark on a stormy career. Parish councils then fell rapidly into an undeserved obscurity from which they only began to emerge 60 years later.

In 1894 the squire, the parson and the schoolmaster were the leaders of the village. Their influence depended on their traditional prestige, superior education and relative wealth and in a hierarchical society, upon their social standing. The parish councils were regarded as an intrusion. Most of them began without the co-operation of the influential and even had to face their active opposition. This in an age when higher education was the privilege of a class was a serious matter.

Revenues of parish councils came mainly from rates on agricultural land. Within 18 months of their creation agricultural land was derated by 50 per cent. Until 1914 parish councils were locally opposed, often derided and poor. Nevertheless Parliament saw fit to increase their functions and it was in this period that they acquired their modern powers in relation to allotments, postal facilities and open spaces.

In the meantime English social life had altered. The sons of the Big Houses went away to the wars and were killed. Taxation uprooted the squires and impoverished the clergy and educational policy drove away schoolmasters from the villages. Agriculture declined.  On the other hand the general standard of living and education rose and the commuter appeared. New methods were introduced for collecting rates from nationalised industries.

Despite their absurdities the useful work done by the parish councils increased steadily after the 2nd World War and on 1 April 1974, as a result of the Local Government Act 1972 *( see note below), could call themselves a Town Council with a Town Mayor………..and here we are today………..  

* NOTE:  Local Government Re-organisation in 1972 resulted in all Urban, Parish and Rural District Councils being taken over by the larger authorities.  In Wivenhoe's case Colchester Borough Council absorbed all of Wivenhoe Urban District Council's assets - this included the Council Offices, yard, public conveniences, car park, Rosabelle Avenue and Britannia Crescent council houses, Rectory Road council houses and the prefabs in Stanley Road; all of the Urban District's plant - digger, truck, machinery and tools, in fact everything.  In turn Wivenhoe was designated a Successor Parish/Town Council and were allowed to have User Rights in a building that was originally theirs and given back one lawn mower and an old tractor!!    Walter Trickett, then Clerk to the Council battled diligently to have these few tools and machinery returned. 

The William Loveless Hall (then called the Public Hall) was not included in the takeover as CBC did not want the hassle of dealing with it, nor was the King George V Playing Fields, or the Cemeteries.


click here to see a photo of the Wivenhoe UDC at one of their meetings in 1967 [ courtesy Don Sweeting 2016]

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40 years on sees the Town Council gradually growing from strength to strength, building up their assets and looking to the future, now they could be in a position to re-acquire what was originally Wivenhoe's.   Wivenhoe Town Council has had a remarkable journey - and the journey is not over yet............  and I am proud to say that I have been part of it all the way!! 
Antoinette Stinson 2014