History of Parish Councils

Some thousand years ago when communications were poor and central government weak or often non-existant villages were ruled by the Lord of the Manor and, as time progressed, Parish Priests and School Masters became involved in matters relating to the whole community as they were the only adult inhabitants with any form of education.

Around 1600 the church took on a more active role in the government of the community and Church Vestry Meetings were organised and introduced legislation to give themselves the responsibility of levying the poor rate. These were the first effective local taxes. Everyone in the parish was entitled to attend Church Vestry Meetings but in reality the work fell to a few individuals, rather like the Parish Councils of today.

In the 1800's the Poor Law Amendment Act removed from Parish Vestries the responsibility for poor relief and handed it to the Poor Law Unions who were the predecessors of what is now our District Councils.

Although the Squire, the Parson and sometimes the Schoolmaster were still the leaders in the village, popular education was spreading and more people wanted a say in managing local affairs and it was W.E. Gladstone, then Prime Minister, who introduced the 1894 Local Government Act which, although faced with considerable opposition, made its way through the Houses Of Parliament to became law and result in the formation of Parish Councils as we know them today.

This new legislation resulted in the Parish Council being responsible for civil matters whilst church affairs became the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council.

an mh-p website