Staines: Local government

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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'Staines: Local government', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington, (London, 1962) pp. 25-27. British History Online [accessed 18 April 2024]


In 1294 the Abbot of Westminster claimed to hold all pleas in Staines and its members which the sheriff held in the county court, except for appeals and outlawry. (fn. 1) The claim was made under a charter of 1265, which had granted the abbey wide liberties. (fn. 2) Though this charter purported to be a renewal of an earlier one, it was apparently only from the year 1265 that the abbot's tenants at Staines and Yeoveney ceased to attend the county courts. (fn. 3) In 1274 neither vill apparently attended the hundred court. (fn. 4) From the late 13th century to the early 16th the abbey held yearly views of frankpledge at Staines, in addition to other courts whose number declined from about a dozen at the beginning of the period to two or three at the end. (fn. 5) In the 14th century the tenants of Yeoveney attended the Staines court and probably continued to do so until the ownership of the two manors was divided at the Dissolution. (fn. 6) Courts for Yeoveney continued to be held until the 17th century, though by the later part of it they dealt only with the conveyance of copyhold. (fn. 7) The Staines court leet has survived to modern times, and sessions were held in 1951 and 1954, (fn. 8) though as early as the 17th century it occasionally met less than once a year, and its business declined. (fn. 9) In 1764 the vestry appointed the constables and headboroughs as the leet had not met, and later they did so quite often without recording the reason for their action. (fn. 10) In the same way, long before the Metropolitan Commons Supplemental Act, 1880, vested the regulation of the commons in the local board, (fn. 11) the parish had tended to usurp the manor's control of them. (fn. 12) The court leet, however, has continued to appoint the moor-masters, and virtually all its few duties are now concerned with the commons. (fn. 13)

The lord of the manor had a prison in Staines in 1274, (fn. 14) and he may have had gallows there in the 15th century. (fn. 15) A new pillory and cucking-stool were provided in 1335. (fn. 16) In 1430 the abbot failed to maintain his stocks at Staines, but there were stocks at Staines in the 16th century and as late as 1790. (fn. 17) The lord's bailiff fulfilled many of the functions of local government in the Middle Ages, and the election of two constables at the view of frankpledge is recorded in 1504. (fn. 18) By 1593 there were two constables and four headboroughs, who, though they were appointed by the manor, had jurisdiction over the whole parish. (fn. 19) The constables were superseded when Staines became part of the Metropolitan Police district in 1840: (fn. 20) some police had in fact been stationed in the town for a year or two before this. (fn. 21) The old parish cage, which stood on the west corner of the High Street and Thames Street, was demolished about 1830, (fn. 22) and the present police station in the London Road was built in 1885. (fn. 23) Other manorial officers were the ale-tasters, who were still appointed along with the constables and headboroughs in 1805. (fn. 24)

From 1615, and presumably earlier, the parish had two churchwardens, two overseers of the poor, and two or three surveyors of highways. (fn. 25) From 1615 to 1619 two men were also appointed to destroy noisome fowl. The annual vestry was generally attended by six to a dozen people in the early 17th century, and by rather more in the middle of the century. From 1759, when two-monthly and then monthly meetings became the rule, there were rarely more than twelve persons present except when elections were made or questions of policy discussed. The vicar or his deputy generally attended the 17thcentury meetings: in the late 18th and early 19th century he came less often and there seems to have been no dominant member of the vestry. Nonconformist influence is perhaps apparent in the occasional attempts to prevent sabbath-breaking by the shop-keepers. Ad hoc vestry committees were appointed from the 17th century, and committees for the workhouse and management of the poor were frequent later. Poor relief was naturally the vestry's chief preoccupation, though it also maintained fire engines from the 18th century, and a parish cage, stocks, engine house, and pound. The pound, which stood near Pound Mill, was sold in 1824 with the workhouse, but a new one was in existence by 1895 beside the bridge leading over the railway to the moor. (fn. 26) The vestry also supervised the commons and protested vigorously when inclosures were threatened in 1812, 1814, and 1819. It appointed several minor officials including a bellman and beadle.

The poor rates rose from about £40 a year in the 1640's to about £1,900 in 1821. Thereafter they dropped to under £1,400 in the last years before the new poor law came into force. (fn. 27) As early as 1630 an attempt to restrict costs was made by a group of parishioners who resolved that no one should let a house without giving security, and in 1660 six persons were appointed to notify the churchwardens and overseers of new arrivals in the parish. In the mid17th century the rates were spent on weekly stipends, occasional relief in sickness, clothes, shoes, medical attention, and burial, and in apprenticing poor children.

The overseers repaired the 'almshouses' on several occasions in the 1670's. In 1760 the vestry resolved to convert the parish houses into a workhouse to receive the poor: possibly this constituted an addition to another workhouse, since one was referred to in 1759. A new workhouse may have been bought or built in 1774. Whether this happened or not, the workhouse in use was enlarged a year later, and altered so as to separate men and women in 1818. A house at 'Hale Bridge' (fn. 28) which the parish had formerly rented as a poorhouse was mentioned in 1818. At that time, and probably since 1774 or earlier, the workhouse stood near Pound Mill, while the parish also owned cottages at Shooting Off (now Thames St.). In 1824 both properties were sold and a new workhouse was built on Shortwood Common. This was apparently still used by the union in 1841 (fn. 29) but was sold in 1842.

From 1759 until 1834 the poor were generally farmed. The workhouse-keeper was generally responsible for giving out-relief on the orders of the vestry, as well as for managing the workhouse. Deterrents from poverty were attempted on several occasions: in 1775 it was resolved to set the poor to work, and in 1785 oakum-picking and sack-weaving were begun. By 1818 basket-making had been added. In 1775 it was also resolved that no children over five were to be relieved unless they were taken into the workhouse, and in 1818 no out-relief was to be given except in food, and even then those who kept a pig were disqualified. In spite of this the numbers in the workhouse continued to rise and reached 40 in 1815, in addition to those receiving out-relief. (fn. 30) In 1834, although it was admitted that nothing could be saved out of the average wages paid in the parish, no relief was ever given to the able-bodied. (fn. 31) The stringency of measures to discourage poverty is also perhaps reflected in the vestry's resolution of 1790 to prosecute the workhouse master for causing the death of a pauper by moving him out of the house.

A select vestry was formed as soon as the Sturges Bourne Act was passed. It immediately used its new powers to provide allotments for the poor, and also appointed a salaried assistant overseer in 1820. In 1836 Staines was joined with twelve other west Middlesex parishes to form the Staines union, (fn. 32) and the vestry's business naturally fell off, but the parish had already in 1832 adopted the Lighting and Watching Act of 1830, and a burial board was formed when the churchyard and Congregational burial ground were closed in 1854. The board opened its first cemetery in 1855. The rebuilding of the church in 1828 (fn. 33) and of the bridge and surrounding area in 1828-32 were accomplished by boards appointed under private Acts. (fn. 34) In 1872 another local commission was appointed to clear the Market Square area, build the Town Hall, and establish a market, (fn. 35) but it was superseded by the local board of health formed in the same year. (fn. 36)

The Urban District of Staines

Gules, a fess barry wauy of four pieces argent and azure, and thereon a representation of Staines Bridge in gold; in chief two swans proper facing one another, and in base a representation of London Stone gold between two seaxes erect, their blades sliver and their blades silver and their pommels and hilts gold. (Granted 1951.)

The local board, which became an urban district council under the Local Government Act, 1894, consisted of twelve members. (fn. 37) In 1930, when Ashford, Laleham, and Stanwell were added to the district, the councillors were increased to 24. (fn. 38) Some adjustments were made in the wards in 1956. (fn. 39) The names of national political parties were first adopted by councillors within a few years after the enlargement of the council, but independents remained in a majority until after the Second World War. The last independent was defeated in 1949. Since the Second World War there has been a Conservative majority. (fn. 40) The council met fortnightly until 1897, and since then has generally met once a month. (fn. 41) In 1886 there were seven committees, for the town hall, commons, cemetery, highways, hospital, finance, and drainage. (fn. 42) The provision of a sewerage system was the first major task confronting the local board, and was finally accomplished in 1896: (fn. 43) its importance in the council's affairs is reflected in the fact that 'general purposes' became associated in the title of the drainage committee in 1897 and the two were not divided until 1930. (fn. 44) The hospital committee was dissolved soon after it was formed, without having provided a hospital. (fn. 45) In 1957 the council had ten committees, and two standing sub-committees. (fn. 46) By 1939 the enlarged urban district contained 500 council houses, of which 94 were in Staines itself. Between 1947 and 1957 a further 1,369 were built, of which only 2, which were sold, were in Staines parish. (fn. 47)

In 1896-7 the council spent nearly £8,000, (fn. 48) and in 1955-6 nearly £624,000, of which £525,000 went to the county council and Metropolitan Police. (fn. 49) Apart from those employed on the roads, cemeteries, &c., the original staff comprised the clerk, surveyor, and medical officer of health. By 1957 there was also a treasurer, and the four principal officers had a subordinate staff of about 100. (fn. 50) The local firm of solicitors latterly known as Horne, Engall, and Freeman provided the clerks to the select vestry, local board, and council, as well as to most of the other local bodies, from 1823 to 1946, when a fulltime clerk was appointed. (fn. 51) After the First World War the town hall became too small for the council's offices, which were transferred to buildings in Clarence Street, given up in 1952, and in Bridge Street. The surveyor's department moved to the London Road in 1950 and the clerk's department to no. 73, High Street in 1952. (fn. 52)

A school board of five members was formed for Staines in 1885. It took over all the existing elementary schools, but did not build any new ones until 1896. Its functions were transferred to the county council in 1902. (fn. 53)


  • 1. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 479.
  • 2. Cal. Chart. R. i. 208-9; ii. 238-9.
  • 3. J.I. 1/544, m. 54.
  • 4. J.I. 1/540, mm. 14d, 15.
  • 5. Court rolls and subsidiary documents penes Westm. Abbey: W.A.M. 16952-97. There is also a court roll for 1629 in Guildford Mun. Rm. (11/3/19); for the number of courts held see also manorial accts. passim, e.g. W.A.M. 16911, 16923, 16930, 16873, 16934, 16951.
  • 6. See p. 19.
  • 7. W.A.M. 16968-97.
  • 8. Staines and Egham News, 29 Oct. 1954.
  • 9. M.R.O., Cal. Mdx. Sess. Bks. 1679-82, 32.
  • 10. e.g. Par. Rec., Vestry Bk. 1758-73 (sub annis 1764, 1767); ibid. 1774-1802 (1780, 1792, 1798, 1800); ibid. 1802-20 (1805).
  • 11. 43 & 44 Vic. c. 37 (priv. act); see Staines Local Bd. Min. Bk. 1884-7, 132.
  • 12. Par. Rec., Vestry Bk. 1758-73 (sub anno 1771); ibid. 1802-20 (1805, 1814, 1819); ibid. 1820-70 (1828).
  • 13. Staines and Egham News, 29 Oct. 1954.
  • 14. J.I. 1/540, m. 15.
  • 15. W.A.M. 16892.
  • 16. W.A.M. 16864.
  • 17. W.A.M. 6623, 31854; M.R.O., Cal. Mdx. Recs. 1612 (2), 43; Parl. Rec., Vestry Bk. 1774-1802.
  • 18. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiii, p. 197; W.A.M. 16966.
  • 19. Norden, Spec. Brit. pt. 1, Mdx. p. 40; Norden's statement that 'the town is her majesty's land, and the officers chosen by her highness' steward' is followed by Newcourt, Cox, and others, although the manor passed from the Crown in 1613. Later writers further confused the issue by associating the alleged rights of the Crown with the fact that Staines was not incorporated: see, e.g. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1937).
  • 20. Lond. Gaz. 1840, p. 2249.
  • 21. Trotter, Sel. Topog. of 30 miles round Lond., 144.
  • 22. M.R.O., D.P., 103.
  • 23. Ex inf. police station.
  • 24. Par. Rec., Vestry Bk. 1802-20; see also Dowdell, 100 Yrs. of Quarter Sessions, 160.
  • 25. Except where otherwise stated the next two paragraphs are based on the vestry bks. in the parish records. They comprise 5 vols. (1611-81, 1759-73, 1774-1802, 1802-20, 1820-70), and are not foliated.
  • 26. O.S. Map 1/2,500 Mdx. xix. 15 (2nd edn.).
  • 27. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. B (2), H.C. 44, p. 176f (1834), xxxv; 2nd Annual Rep. Poor Law Com. H.C. 595, p. 534 (1836), xxix.
  • 28. See pp. 15-16.
  • 29. Census, 1841.
  • 30. Rets. on expense and maintenance of poor, H.C. 82 (1818), xix (demi-folio).
  • 31. Rep. Poor Law Com. App. B (2), 176g-h.
  • 32. 2nd Annual Rep. Poor Law Com. 534.
  • 33. Staines Church, Burial Ground, and Church Rates Act. 7 & 8 Geo. IV, c. 107 (priv. act); Par. Rec., Church Rebuilding Trustees Min. Bks. (1827-50); see p. 29.
  • 34. Staines Bridge Act, 9 Geo. IV, c. 100 (priv. act); Staines Bridge Amendment Acts, 10 Geo. IV, c. 44; 4 & 5 Wm. IV, c. 50 (priv. acts); see p. 14.
  • 35. Staines Town Hall and Market Act, 1872, 35 & 36 Vic. c. 22 (priv. act).
  • 36. Lond. Gaz. 1872, pp. 1935-6.
  • 37. The Min. Bks. of the U.D.C., together with those of the local board for 1884-7 and 1892-4, are in the custody of the Clerk, Staines U.D.C. They are printed from 1896.
  • 38. Staines U.D.C. Min. Bk. 1929-30, p. 667.
  • 39. Mdx. Cty. Co. Staines (Wards) Order, 1956.
  • 40. Ex inf. Mr. H. W. Green, Staines (formerly chairman, Staines U.D.C.). Between 1956 and 1959 this was considerably reduced: ex inf. Staines U.D.C.
  • 41. Staines U.D.C. Min. Bk. 1897-8, 23 June 1897.
  • 42. Staines Local Bd. Min. Bk. 1884-7, p. 238.
  • 43. Ibid. 1884-7, 1892-5 passim.
  • 44. Staines U.D.C. Min. Bk. 1929-30, p. 669.
  • 45. Staines Local Bd. Min. Bk. 1884-7, p. 6.
  • 46. Ibid. 1956-7, pp. 3-4.
  • 47. Ex inf. Staines U.D.C.
  • 48. Staines U.D.C. Min. Bk. 1897-8, 26 May 1897.
  • 49. Ibid. 1956-7, p. 628.
  • 50. Ibid. pp. 441-7.
  • 51. Par. Rec., Vestry Bk. 1820-70; Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845 and later edns.).
  • 52. Staines U.D.C. Min. Bk. 1949-50, p. 456; ex inf. Staines U.D.C.
  • 53. Par. Rec., Sch. Bd. Rep. 1885-8; and see p. 32.