A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1957.
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In this section
- THE COUNTY COUNCIL, 1888–1929
- Developments in county government since 1929
- Appendix I: Chairmen of quarter sessions
- Appendix II: Poor Law Unions, 1835
- Appendix III: Effect of county review order (1934) upon population and rateable values
THE COUNTY COUNCIL, 1888–1929
The Acts of 1888 and 1894—welding together on a common basis of representative democracy the older administrative system with the recent creations of 19th-century legislation—gave Wiltshire a coherent, intelligible structure of county and district government. 'Hardly any County in England would appear to be a more homogeneous area of administration than the County of Wilts', the finance committee observed complacently. (fn. 1) In the absence of any county borough to share the inheritance of quarter sessions, the county council entered into full possession of the revenues and administrative functions of its predecessor, with great additions to its powers, and the certain prospect of still greater now that it was clearly marked out as a principal instrument for the active social policy of the legislature. Beneath it, and responding in an important degree to its supervision and control, were ranged the 7 municipal boroughs, only one of which (Salisbury) maintained a separate police jurisdiction; and the 5 urban districts and 18 rural districts, as the former sanitary authorities now became. Below these again, in the rural districts, were the parishes, each with its representative organ of parish council or parish meeting, the decline in their vigour checked, it was hoped, by the wider powers and duties entrusted to them. The last of the improvement commissions (Bradford) and the 10 remaining highway boards were now extinguished, their functions being absorbed by the general purpose local authorities. (fn. 2) Two important services and systems, however, still lay outside this framework in 1888, disturbing the simple administrative pattern: elementary education under the school boards and poor relief under the unions. The former of these preserved their independent existence only a few more years; but the latter survived a generation longer, perpetuating in the provision of educational, medical, and welfare services a dichotomy which characterized social administration until 1929.
The new county council had 80 members, 60 councillors (including 3 for Salisbury and one each for Devizes, Malmesbury, and Marlborough), elected triennially on a household franchise, and 20 aldermen, chosen by the councillors and holding office for 6 years. The first election, held in January 1889, was fought on party lines, 26 liberals, 25 conservatives, and 9 liberal unionists being returned; 5 labour candidates are reported to have stood, presumably under the liberal banner, one of whom (Isaac Dalley) was elected. (fn. 3) But the spirit of party, finding little to feed on in local affairs, soon languished, until within the last twenty years or so it has been revived by the emergence of a well-organized labour group, the so-called 'Swindon caucus', to confront the majority of unlabelled independents. In the elections of March 1946 27 of the 30 divisions were contested; while most candidates described themselves as independent, 19 were labour, one a communist, and one a representative of the Civic Rights Association. Even so, the depths of electoral apathy rested undisturbed; in several con stituencies only one in four of the electorate voted, in one no more than one in ten. (fn. 4) The constitutional revolution brought with it at first little observable change in the character and social status of the county's rulers, though even in 1889 there was the portent of councillor Isaac Dalley and, amongst the aldermen, John King, a Devizes builder. The new county council was remarkably like the old quarter sessions; and in fact membership of the two bodies overlapped to a considerable extent. In 1895 thirty of the councillors and ten of the aldermen—exactly half the council—were also justices of the peace, and the county councillors included the Marquess of Bath, the Earls of Pembroke and Suffolk, Lord Frederick Bruce and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, the Hon. P. S. Wyndham, and three baronets. (fn. 5) The continuity between the two bodies was emphasized by the fact that the first chairman of the county council, the Marquess of Bath, had been chairman of the Salisbury and Warminster sessions since 1880; while the vice-chairman, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, had been second chairman of the Devizes and Marlborough sessions since 1887; and both continued to perform these duties.
Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice was chairman from 1896 to 1906, ten vital years during which the foundations were laid of the county's educational and public health services. A whig cadet with radical outlook and popular sympathies, a fine historical scholar, Grey's under-secretary at the Foreign Office (and there were many who thought their positions should be reversed), Fitzmaurice stood high in national politics, and might well have stood higher if ill health had not interrupted and later cut short his parliamentary career. Member of the committee which drafted the liberal local government bill of 1884, and one of the five Local Government Boundary Commissioners appointed in 1887, he was described by the President of the Local Government Board, Sir Charles Dilke, as 'the only man I know who is fit to be the President of this Board' (fn. 6) —and Dilke was the friend of Chamberlain as well as of Fitzmaurice. By knowledge, breadth of view, and insight into the problems of local administration, Fitzmaurice was superbly equipped for his task. On every field of the council's activity in these early formative years, as the record shows, he left his impress; but above all, on education. The county technical school at Trowbridge, for example, and the grammar school at Calne owed much to his interest and generosity; and to the grammar school of Bradford-on-Avon he gave its science laboratory, its gymnasium and playing-field, and an endowment of £10,000. (fn. 7)
Wiltshire was hardly less fortunate in Fitzmaurice's successor, Thomas Henry Thynne, 5th Marquess of Bath. He had been a well-liked member of the House of Commons and figured briefly as under-secretary of state for India (1905); but his local interests, as lord lieutenant of Somerset and chairman of the Wiltshire quarter sessions (1906–29) and county council, soon absorbed his time and his considerable abilities. For half a century he was a member of the county council, and only twice in that period was he absent from its meetings; for 40 years, from 1906 until a few months before his death in 1946, he was chairman, attending almost daily at the council offices, and controlling the proceedings in the chamber with a gentle but unquestioned authority- His remarkable ascendancy, strengthening as the years passed and his experience lengthened, was the fruit of a complete knowledge of the details of policy and the niceties of committee procedure, coupled with personal qualities of courtesy and unwavering fairness which earned him the respect of every member. At a time of growing party feeling, his impartiality was never in dispute. This was Lord Bath's unique contribution—the atmosphere of cordiality which slackened the tension between opposing groups, the smooth-running harmony which maintained good humour and expedited business. He was at the end, as he presided in the characteristic pose caught by the Frank Salisbury portrait which now hangs in the council chamber, a wise and venerated figure, 'our beloved Lord Bath', as his immediate successor described him. (fn. 8) His vice-chairman was A. E. Withy, with whom he worked in close partnership for 30 years; a solicitor, clerk to the Swindon borough magistrates, Withy had seen even longer service than his chairman, and at his retirement in 1945 was the last of the 60 members who had assembled in the assize courts at Devizes in January 1889. (fn. 9)
Lord Bath's successor, Colonel R. W. Awdry, had rendered notable service as chairman of the finance committee for fifteen years, and chairman of the council's wartime emergency committee which the Government pointed to as a model for the instruction of other local authorities. To his interest in adult education the county largely owes the founding of the county college at Urchfont Manor; to his interest in county history the scheme for the preservation of Avebury, and the appointment of a county archivist and the establishment of a record office in 1947. (fn. 10)
Like its predecessor, the new county authority held four quarterly meetings, in February, May, July, and November. It was a legacy of the peripatetic sessions that no recognized centre existed for the transaction of county business; the clerk had his office at Marlborough, the treasurer at Devizes, the surveyor at Bradford. (fn. 11) Proposals to concentrate council meetings and departmental offices at one centre early came under sharp discussion, stirring up old loyalties and rivalries. The council approved a resolution in 1889 that its quarterly meetings should be held in February and November at Trowbridge, in May at Salisbury, in July at Swindon; an attempt to fix one meeting in Devizes was defeated. (fn. 12) Five years later it had been decided that the various offices should be collected together in Trowbridge, and already the surveyor, the accountant, and the secretary to the technical education committee had moved there, while provision for the clerk was being considered. 'It is time', observed Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, appalled by the insanitary condition of the town and river, 'that the Trowbridge Urban District Council should be asked what it intends to do as a Local Authority, to make itself worthy of the claim of being the county town.' (fn. 13) After the purchase of Arlington House in 1896 the question slumbered till 1929, when the enormous growth in county business made it imperative to build new county offices. A final struggle took place between the advocates of Trowbridge and Devizes. In 1930 a motion that the offices should be built at Trowbridge was lost by 27 votes to 45, and Devizes was fixed on instead; but three years later the offer of a site 'free of expense' at Trowbridge swung opinion again in its favour, and Devizes was defeated by 27 votes to 40. (fn. 14) The site was eventually bought from the Trowbridge football club, and the new build ing erected there at a total cost of £150,000. (fn. 15)
The growth in the functions of the county council, which will presently be described, affected its administrative structure in two important ways. It resulted, first, in a great proliferation of committees. The half-dozen standing committees of quarter sessions had by 1952 become seventeen; (fn. 16) and in addition the council had its representatives on a wide variety of joint committees and boards. Nor is this the whole story, because many of the individual committees have a significant constitutional history of their own, developing, dividing or combining, or expiring, under the pressure of changing demands and responsibilities. It is indeed in the minutes and papers of the committees that the real history of the county council is now to be read. In its quarterly meetings the council can do no more than deliberate on the principles of policy and give its sanction and approval. It is through the committees that the council controls the departments; it is the committees which, in contact with the day-to-day problems of business, shape policy into a practicable programme and issue the orders to the council's servants by which that programme is implemented—subject always to the confirmation of the council and to the overall veto which bars any committee from raising a loan or levying a rate.
There was, secondly, a parallel development of departmental organization, and a great increase in the number and variety of the paid servants of the council. The three or four senior officials who had been sufficient to handle the business of quarter sessions were joined by inspectors of weights and measures (1890), a public analyst (1897), a (full-time) medical officer of health (1899), a director of education (1903), a school medical officer (1914), a county land agent (1908), a chief agricultural officer (1921–26), an architect (1921), a librarian (1923), a valuation officer (1927), a public assistance officer (1929), a veterinary officer (1930), a planning officer (1947), a county archivist (1946), a civil defence officer (1950). A salary scale adopted in 1906 for the clerical grades of the council staff reveals an administrative organism at a very rudimentary stage of growth:
Table 8 (fn. 17) : Clerical Establishment, 1906
Comparison with the present-day establishment shows not only an enormous rise in numbers, but also the emergence of many assorted types of technically qualified specialists. In 1953 the staff employed in the departments of the county council numbered 1,031, distributed as follows: (fn. 18)
To these figures must also be added the 2,075 teachers employed by the county council (421 of them in the Swindon Excepted District); 481 police; 71 full-time and 303 parttime firemen; 58 ambulance men; 680 roadmen. In 1949–50 the bill for salaries and wages amounted to £1,681,869 out of a total expenditure of £4,296,458; of this education accounted for 55.9 per cent., highways and bridges 13.6 per cent., police (in the 19th century the biggest item in the wage-bill) 10.6 per cent. and local health authority services 7.1 per cent. (fn. 19)
The Standing Joint Committee
Until 1929 the chairman of the county council was also chairman of quarter sessions; and besides this personal tie, the legislature had provided a somewhat curious administrative link between the two authorities. The county police force was controlled by a standing joint committee of 34 members, drawn equally from the councillors and the justices, and deriving its revenue by precept on the county council; this committee appointed the chief constable and the clerk of the peace, who combined with this post the duties of clerk of the county council. This division of authority inevitably led to friction. When in 1911 the County Councils Association urged a change in the law to vest the appointment of the clerk solely in the hands of the county council, the Wiltshire council expressed its approval of this move; and a finance sub-committee in 1919 went further, recommending not only that the clerk should be appointed by the council, but also that the standing joint committee itself should be replaced by a statutory police committee, composed of members of the county council with power to co-opt noncounty-council members. (fn. 20) However, the standing joint committee remains; and though since 1931 it has been legally possible for the two offices to be held separately, (fn. 21) the clerk of the county council still performs the functions of clerk of the peace, for which he is paid an additional salary.
The first clerk of the council, R. W. Merriman, had followed his father as clerk of the peace in 1875, and he was thus—as a memorial tablet in Salisbury cathedral reminds us—the last clerk of the peace to be nominated by a lord lieutenant. (fn. 22) He was succeeded in 1912 by his deputy, W. L. Bown, an excellent highway lawyer, who collaborated with Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice in a useful study of the historical development of the county boundary and county areas. Like the first chief constable, the second, Captain Robert Sterne, was a former naval officer (he had seen service off Sebastopol and was the first English officer to be wounded in the Crimean war), (fn. 23) and on his retirement in 1908 the standing joint committee again looked to the fighting services for his successor. In Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Hoel Llewellyn, D.S.O., they selected an officer of great personal courage and considerable experience in the South African constabulary; he made an outstanding commanding officer, whose work in improving the efficiency of the county police gained him a knighthood in 1943. (fn. 24)
While the administrative situation was clarified by the changes of 1888 and 1894, the same could not be said of the financial arrangements. The system of annual grants, which had grown up piece-meal in the previous half-century, came to an end (the education grants excepted); henceforth local authorities were to derive financial aid from a Local Taxation Account established at the Bank of England, into which was paid a share of the probate duty and the proceeds of a variety of excise licences. Balancing the forfeited grants against the new income from the Local Taxation Account, the finance committee noted with satisfaction in 1892 that the county had benefited to the amount of about £31,000 a year, equivalent to a rate of 51/8. in the pound. (fn. 25) The satisfaction soon evaporated. It was Goschen's aim in introducing the new scheme to separate the spheres of local and central finance, and to choke off the continually growing demands of local authorities on the central funds by giving them an independent income, fed from sources which it was hoped would expand step by step as their responsibilities developed. Goschen's system failed in Wiltshire as it failed everywhere else. Within a few years of its inception, the revenue from the Local Taxation Account was plainly falling short of the county's needs; and the specific grants which had been abolished came back in ever increasing volume. Between 1890 and 1894 the Local Taxation Account supplied 98.3 per cent, of the total grant aid from central sources, and 43 per cent, of the county income from grants and rates together. Twenty years later, in 1910–14, only 33.3 per cent, of the government grants came through this channel; and in the last few years of the system, 1926–30, it provided no more than 12.9 per cent, of the grants total, and 7.8 per cent. of the total income from rates and grants.
Anxiety at the huge increase in the county rates—expressed, for example, in a petition from the parish of Tollard Royal commenting on the unfavourable comparison Wiltshire bore in this respect to the ten other counties south of the Thames (fn. 26) —inspired in 1908 an inquiry into the possibility of diminishing the expenditure of the chief spending committees. No fewer than 84 statutes, the finance committee pointed out in their report, had been passed since 1888 which affected the powers and duties of the county council. (fn. 27) Comparing the figures at ten-yearly intervals, we note that the average expenditure for 1900–4 was 56 per cent, higher than that for 1890–94; ten years later, 1910–14, it had risen a further 122 per cent.; in the post-war period, 1920–5, it was running at a level 184 per cent, above the pre-war; and in 1931–5 it was up again by 83 per cent.
Table 9 (fn. 28) : County Council Expenditure, 1890–1935
|Service||1890–4||1900–4||1910–4||1920–5 (fn. 174)||1931–5|
|Highways and Bridges||218,141||289,517||402,400||1,234,537||2,742,990|
|Police and Justice||112,449||132,390||175,880||546,289||664,491|
|Small Holdings and other Agricultural Services||1,684||3,681||17,144||266,688||324,825|
|Lunacy and Mental Deficiency||7,720||20,279||16,860||93,941||216,270|
|Relief of the Poor||1,096,838|
|Administrative and Legal||30,561||40,059||32,862||43,350||47,824|
|Payments to other Local Authorities||1,271||8,633||15,297|
|Totals (five-yearly periods)||425,662||664,892||1,477,276||4,196,639||7,671,768|
|Average Annual Expenditure||85,132||132,978||295,455||839,328||1,532,354|
As the range of county functions widened, each new development was fostered by government aid, and an increasing share of the burden was shifted to the shoulders of the taxpayer Grants were received for education, road maintenance, small holdings, housing, the maternity and child welfare services, the erection of tuberculosis sanatoria and dispensaries, the prevention and treatment of venereal diseases, the care of the blind and mentally deficient (fn. 29) Fast as the rates figure rose, the grants figure rose faster. In 1890–4 government grants supplied little more than three-quarters of the sum derived from rates; on the eve of the First World War the amounts contributed by each source were roughly equal; by 1931–5 50 per cent, more came from grants than from the rates.
Table 10 (fn. 30) : County Council Revenue from Rates and Grants, 1890–1935
The years following the First World War—years both of inflation and of growth in the social services—saw a remarkable expansion in county expenditure, and a corresponding expansion in the amount of government aid. The grants total for 1920–5 was three times the size of that for 1910–14.
Table 11 (fn. 31) : Grants in Aid of County Services, 1920–30
|1920–5 (fn. 175)||1926–30|
|Service||Grants||Percentage of total expenditure on Service||Grants||Percentage of total expenditure on service|
|Highways and Bridges||389,557||31.5||708,490||42.6|
|Police and Justice.||234,034||42.9||263,649||42.4|
|Small Holdings, &c.||69,814||26.2||114,621||39.0|
|Lunacy and Mental Deficiency||18,039||19.1||34,831||25.7|
The yield of revenue from the rates has been affected since 1888 by two developments, one narrowing the rate-producing field, the other ensuring that this narrower field should be more efficiently cropped. In the national economic interest certain categories of property have been relieved entirely or in part of the obligation to contribute to the rates. By the Agricultural Rates Act of 1896 (fn. 32) the rateable value of agricultural land was lowered to one-half its net annual value; and the county assessment was thereby reduced by 17 per cent, from £1,431,168 to £1,188,981. In 1923 it was reduced still further to one-quarter of the net annual value; (fn. 33) and in 1929 agricultural land was derated completely, and at the same time the rateable value of industrial and freight transport hereditaments was lowered to a quarter of the net annual value. (fn. 34) In compensation for these losses special grants were made to the county council by the Exchequer. Secondly, steps were taken to check what Fitzmaurice once described as 'the disgraceful jobbery which goes on in regard to assessment—certainly in my own county, and I believe everywhere else'. (fn. 35) By the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 the work of assessment was taken out of the hands of the poor law unions—the prelude to their dissolution—and entrusted to nine assessment committees, under the co-ordinating authority of a county valuation committee. (fn. 36) Assessment areas still remained too small, however, and standards too variable; and eventually in 1948 the valuation machinery was nationalized completely, assessment being taken over by the Board of Inland Revenue. (fn. 37)
The debt which quarter sessions bequeathed to its successor was very modest in its dimensions: £10,690, of which the asylum accounted for £6,450 and the constabulary £4,240. (fn. 38) Within five years this had more than doubled; and by 1914, with education and the encouragement of small holdings now among the principal functions of the county council, it was not far short of a quarter of a million pounds. Twenty years later it had again trebled in size; and of the total in 1934 education was responsible for 16 and small holdings for 72 per cent.
Table 12 (fn. 39) : Loans Outstanding at the End of Various Years
After 1888 the finances of the county—and of the lesser authorities within the county, with the exception of the municipal boroughs—came under the annual scrutiny of a district auditor appointed by the Local Government Board. (fn. 40) The finance committee was charged with the duty of collating the estimates of the spending committees, and of framing an annual budget for presentation to the county council; and it was the clear intention of the Act that the finance committee, now given a statutory basis, should exercise firm control over all income and expenditure, other than for the police. In Wiltshire, however, this intention was partially frustrated by what the district auditor described as the 'obsolescence and unsuitability' of the county's financial methods, which were based on the old poor law accounts of 1867—a practice 'peculiar to Wiltshire'. (fn. 41) In consequence, there was a 'gradual decentralisation of finance', (fn. 42) and the spending committees achieved too great a measure of financial autonomy, receiving and disbursing county funds without adequate check or examination by the finance department. This process was facilitated by another circumstance. When in 1890 the treasurer, Alexander Meek, claimed a higher salary on the grounds of the additional work falling upon him, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice advised—on the example recently set by Oxfordshire—that he should be dismissed and replaced by a banker (E. B. Merriman, chairman of the Capital and Counties Banking Company), acting without salary; while the clerk of the council should henceforth be held responsible for the council's accounts, which were to be kept by an officer in his department. (fn. 43) This arrangement continued for thirty years, when a full-time treasurer was once more appointed; and at the same time the central control of the finance committee, as the district auditor had repeatedly urged, was at last tightened up. (fn. 44)
The Principal Functions of the County Council
(a)Areas and Boundaries
The constitution, the borrowing powers, and some of the functions—highway, sanitary, and allotments provision—of the new parish authorities were subject to a certain measure of control and supervision by the county council. We find it fixing the number of councillors for each parish, and authorizing the establishment of a parish council in parishes where the population fell below 300; increasing the number of parish councillors for Rodbourne Cheney from 11 to 13; (fn. 45) permitting Wroughton to acquire compulsorily land required for a recreation ground; (fn. 46) giving its consent to Lacock to raise £100 for a new burial ground, and to Bishopstone (N. Wilts.) to spend £70 on the purchase of a manual fire engine; (fn. 47) listening to complaints from Fovant that the Wilton rural district council had failed to provide a proper water-supply, and from Melksham Without that the Salisbury rural district council had neglected to remedy the sanitary defects of certain properties in the parish. (fn. 48) The district councils, as these last examples indicate, also functioned to some extent under the eye of the county council. Under the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 it possessed the power to act in default if a rural district council failed, after due notice, to demolish a house considered unfit for human habitation (fn. 49) —a power rarely exercised, however, since, as the county medical officer reported in 1900, most district councils ignored their statutory duty to supply information about their activities in this field. (fn. 50) Each district received from the Local Taxation Account half the salaries of its medical officer of health and inspector of nuisances, the payment of these sums being channelled through the county council; and the latter had power to withhold the grant if the district medical officer should fail to submit his annual report. Extracts from these reports were laid before the sanitary and general purposes committee, which addressed inquiries about them to the district councils and if necessary made representations to the Local Government Board.
It was a measure of the heightened prestige of the county authority that one function of first-class importance was transferred to it from the central government—the power to reshape the internal areas of the county, outside the chartered immunity of the municipal boroughs. The process of rationalization, begun ten years before by quarter sessions, was now pushed on more rapidly. In June and July 1894 joint committees formed by Wiltshire and its neighbours worked to carve away the overlapping unions and bring them within the county boundaries. (fn. 51) From Somerset Wiltshire acquired the parish of Kilmington, and parts of the parishes of Maiden Bradley-with-Yarnfield and Stourton-with-Gaspar; from Berkshire part of the parish of Shalbourne. To Hampshire were transferred South Damerham, Martin, Toyd Farm-with-Allenford, Melchet Park, Plaitford, West Wellow, Bramshaw, and part of Whitsbury; to Berkshire part of Hungerford; to Gloucestershire Kemble, Poole Keynes and Somerford Keynes (including Sharncote). (fn. 52) It was this last transfer which offered by far the greatest difficulty; and its solution gives an interesting insight into the nature of the obstacles encountered and the diplomacy required to circumvent them. The leading inhabitants of Kemble, members of old Wiltshire families, opposed the change on the ground that they had always been 'Moonrakers' and desired to remain so; but the working classes, who had to travel 9 or 10 miles to Malmesbury on their petty sessions business, did not feel the weight of this sentimental objection, and favoured affiliation with Cirencester, the poor law centre, which was much nearer. Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, who conducted the local inquiry, out-manoeuvred the opposition by holding two meetings, one in the morning and one in the evening.
At the morning meeting the leading men came and they carried quite a unanimous resolution against the proposals of the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire County Councils. In the evening there was a meeting—it was a summer evening, a fine evening, and we held the meeting at half-past eight, and the people were able to come in from their allotment grounds. There were 200 or 300 people present, because Kemble is a considerable place, and there was the utmost enthusiasm shown for the proposals of the county council. The farmers and the clergyman were swept clean off their legs, and the whole thing was settled. (fn. 53)
Only two overlapping unions remained. In the Hungerford union the Wiltshire parishes were organized into one rural district, the Berkshire parishes into another. In the other case, two small Wiltshire parishes, Ashley and Long Newnton, successfully resisted transfer to Gloucestershire; and the Tetbury rural district retained this Wiltshire outgrowth till 1930—one of the eight cases in the whole country in which a rural district overlapped a county boundary. (fn. 54)
Within the county a thorough review of areas was undertaken, designed to eliminate overlapping, to abolish undersized and fragmentary parishes, and to provide additional living space for the developing urban areas. The boundaries of the boroughs of Calne and Chippenham were altered to make them co-extensive with the old urban sanitary districts. (fn. 55) The urban districts of Melksham, Old Swindon, Trowbridge, and Westbury, and the borough of Chippenham, gained territory from the rural districts which surrounded them. (fn. 56) Parish areas were revised. Of Wiltshire's 327 parishes, 150 in 1894 had a population of under 300; 101 of these had fewer than 200, and 14 fewer than 50. On the other hand, 40 parishes had a population of over1,000. (fn. 57) A double process of amalgamation and division went on, 22 parishes being divided into 44 new parishes, while about 43 of the smallest were amalgamated to form 18 larger units. (fn. 58) Thus the parish of Bradford-on-Avon was divided into the two parishes of Bradford-on-Avon and Bradford Without, and the latter was shortly afterwards again divided into Bradford Without, Holt, Limpley Stoke, South Wraxall, and Winsley. (fn. 59) Cricklade St. Mary and Cricklade St. Sampson, the boundary between which lay down the middle of the street, were united into a single parish. (fn. 60) At Chitterne, again, a single village contained two parishes. There had once been two churches, Fitzmaurice found when he conducted the local inquiry, 'but the absurdity of having two churches had at some time dawned on the minds of the inhabitants, so at last they got a faculty and they closed one church entirely and practically pulled it down, simply keeping it as a mortuary chapel for the other. Naturally that was one of the strong arguments I used, "What is good ecclesiastically might possibly be useful civilly.'" (fn. 61) By 1897 the county council programme had been virtually completed. Few counties in England had carried out more extensive alterations in boundaries and areas than had Wiltshire, under the leadership of a determined and well-informed group headed by Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, who over a period of twenty years had pursued patiently and cautiously a consistent policy in the face of much opposition.
Only two of the county districts changed their status in this period. Westbury was constituted an urban district in 1899, and a municipal charter was granted in the following year to the combined urban districts of Old and New Swindon. (fn. 62) In 1920 the county council declined to make an order converting the parish of Amesbury into an urban district; (fn. 63) and an application from the Trowbridge urban district council for a municipal charter was refused by the Ministry of Health in 1925. Swindon was the only place in the county which had sufficient population to qualify as a county borough by the standards laid down in 1888, and the growth of the size and aspirations of the town was viewed with apprehension by the county council. In 1913, when its population was 50,751, Swindon applied to the Local Government Board, but the application was rejected after a local inquiry 'owing to the insufficiency of the reasons brought forward for severance from the County'. Had it been successful, the rateable value of the county would have been reduced by nearly one-seventh and the population by nearly one-fifth. (fn. 64)
The maintenance of the highways formed by far the biggest head of expenditure at the beginning of the period. The Wiltshire quarter sessions had pursued a policy of extensive maining, and while Berkshire in 1889–90 spent £11,265 on 229 miles of main roads, and Hampshire £20,279 on 551 miles, Wiltshire had 742 miles and spent £34,754. (fn. 65) The 1888 Act added considerably to the responsibilities of the county authority. All main roads, including those of Devizes and Salisbury, were now vested in the county, together with all the bridges on those roads. Moreover, by the high court decision in the Warminster case of 1890 it became incumbent on the county council to defray the cost of maintaining and (within limits) improving the pavements of every town in the county. (fn. 66) The duties of the surveyor (C. S. Adye) were proportionately enlarged. For the previous ten years his duties had been merely to inspect the roads under district management once a year, and issue the certificate which entitled them to the county subvention; but now that the main roads were vested in the county, he enjoyed real control and responsibility for expenditure. His growing importance was marked by an increased salary and an embargo on private practice, and he was now required to live in Trowbridge, where offices were provided for him. (fn. 67)
The legislature had left open to the county council a choice of administrative arrangements for the maintenance of its main roads. It might itself undertake the direct management, or alternatively it might contract for the purpose with any borough or district council, its discretion being limited, however, to the extent that any urban authority was entitled to claim the powers and duties of maintaining the main roads in its area. The comparative merits of contract and direct management were debated by the county council in 1889. The chairman of the roads committee, Walter P. Bouverie, favoured contract with the existing highway authorities on the ground that this machinery 'on the whole has given the County good roads, and worked economically'. Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice argued the opposite case, pointing out that it was because Parliament thought that the existing system had failed to work well that the county had been given control in 1888; in Wiltshire the system had produced bad roads in some places, good in others; but nearly everywhere there was room for economy, too much material and too little labour being used. Bouverie's objection that to concentrate management in the hands of the county surveyor would necessitate an increase in staff, Fitzmaurice countered by observing that the county was at that moment finding £1,826 a year for the salaries of surveyors and clerks in 30 districts. (fn. 68) A special report by the roads committee opposed the contract system, but six of the rural authorities sent memorials in its favour, and the urban authorities claimed their legal right to maintain and repair their main roads. (fn. 69) The result was the establishment in Wiltshire of a mixed system— to be found in few other counties—in which certain rural districts (Bradford, Cricklade, Kemble, Melksham, Warminster) with about 417 per cent, of the mileage came under direct county control, while the remaining rural districts (49.7 per cent.) and the urban authorities (8.6 per cent.) maintained their roads under contract with the county council. (fn. 70)
Expenditure on the roads climbed steadily. The cost in the years 1900–/4 was 32.6 per cent, higher than in 1890–4, in 1910–14 84–4 per cent. higher. (fn. 71) Some of the reasons for this were peculiar to Wiltshire, others were the product of general tendencies at work in all parts of the country. In 1908, of the ten counties lying south of the Thames, only Somerset had a higher mileage of main roads, and the cost and mileage per thousand of the population were greater in Wiltshire than in any other county of the group. (fn. 72) In the Bradford, Melksham, and Chippenham districts the motor-buses from Bath and the steam-lorries of the Midland Railway were a heavy burden; and it was estimated that the main roads running from Trowbridge and Bradford to Bath added £1,500 to the annual cost. (fn. 73) When the War Department established the military camp on Salisbury Plain, the roads of Amesbury, Devizes, and Pewsey, hitherto inexpensive to maintain, were furrowed and ground to dust by heavy army traffic. (fn. 74) Finally, there were the general technical problems created by the coming of the motor-car, subjecting the road structure to a weight, a powered thrust and an abrasive pressure never previously known. 'The foundations of the roads in this county, as in many others, were never laid to withstand such traffic as this, and as it develops, it will in many cases be necessary to put new foundations, and certainly stronger surface materials will be needed than the flint and limestone which sufficed for the traffic of the past.' (fn. 75)
These were national, not county, problems. The planning and upkeep of a network of national highways, designed for long distance freight and passenger transport, could not be left to the piecemeal activities of a multitude of authorities, many of which lacked the resources if not the will to fulfil their duties adequately. Increasingly the central Government, by subsidy and active control, took a larger share in the administration of the county roads. In 1909 the Road Board was set up with powers to subsidize the improvement of the roads out of a Development Fund fed by the proceeds of the car licence duties and a tax on petrol; and we find the county council applying for grants from time to time—in 1909, for example, to treat the main roads in order to mitigate the dust nuisance; in 1913 to re-surface the main London-Bath road at a cost of over £70,000. (fn. 76) After the First World War the expenditure on roads shot sharply upwards, the cost of labour rising by 150 and of materials by 150–200 per cent. Wiltshire roads in 1920–5 cost three times as much as in 1910–14. (fn. 77) Two important developments now carried the technical and administrative revolution a stage farther. The old classification of 'main roads', made on the authority and at the discretion of the county, was replaced by a classification laid down by the newly founded Ministry of Transport; the main traffic arteries, attracting a grant of 50 per cent., were class I, other traffic routes of less importance were class II and received a 25 per cent, subsidy. Secondly, the county council resolved in 1920 to terminate its contracts with the rural authorities, and nine-tenths of the main roads were thus brought under its direct control and management. (fn. 78) Thirty years of experience had proved Fitzmaurice's case.
Table 13 (fn. 79) : Main Roads Administration
|County Council (in Rural Districts)||358.2||47.0||688–4||90.4|
|Urban District Councils||72.4||9.6||72.3||9.6|
|Rural District Councils||330.2||43.4|
(c) Public Health
The county council, its clerk told it in 1910, was not in the strict sense a public health authority. (fn. 80) When it was first constituted the main dangers to the public health were conceived to be the smells and filth of a dirty environment, the main defences an efficient drainage and water-supply; and responsibility rested on the shoulders of the sanitary authorities established in the urban and rural areas by the Act of 1872. For some twenty years the county council continued to play a minor role in this field. Its supervisory and appellate functions have already been noted. (fn. 81) Two other powers it possessed of considerable importance. It could institute proceedings against any local authority or private party it considered guilty of polluting the rivers—as, for example, in 1904 the town council of Malmesbury and the urban district council of Bradford-onAvon. (fn. 82) Secondly, the Isolation Hospitals Act of 1893 (fn. 83) enabled it to promote the establishment of hospitals for the reception of patients suffering from infectious diseases. Wiltshire was one of the very few counties to make any extensive use of this power; hospital districts were formed at Calne, Chippenham, Cricklade and Wootton Bassett, Devizes and Pewsey, Salisbury, Trowbridge, and Warminster, each administered by a hospital committee acting under delegation from the county council. (fn. 84)
The appointment of a county medical officer had been left in 1888 to the option of the county council, and Wiltshire, like many other counties, was slow to see the necessity for such an appointment. In November 1892, however, a conference on the subject was held in Trowbridge town hall between the general purposes committee and delegates from the district councils. The meeting appears to have been of the opinion of G. P. Fuller, M.P., who remarked that there were already seventeen rural and thirteen urban medical officers in the county, and that 'any single County Councillor, any single inhabitant, I may say, has as much influence in bringing about an improvement in the sanitary condition of the county as would an extra Medical Officer of Health appointed by the county (applause)'. (fn. 85) The only result of the conference, therefore, was the engagement of a non-resident medical expert, Professor W. R. Smith, at 50 guineas per annum to digest and comment on the annual reports of the district medical officers. By 1898, however—when medical officers of health had been appointed by sixteen counties—opinion had ripened on the matter. Every year it became clearer that there were certain urgent problems of public health policy which called for action on a wider view and over a more extended area than could be expected within the restricted frontiers of the county districts. The medical superintendent of the county asylum pointed to the 'unenviable prominence' of Wiltshire, standing as it did fourth among the counties in the proportion of lunatics to population. (fn. 86) Professor Smith drew attention to the pollution of the rivers and streams, especially the two Avons; to the difficulty nearly every district was experiencing in disposing of its sewage; to the growing demand for a pure water-supply, the satisfaction of which might require combined action by several district authorities. (fn. 87) The medical officer of Clifton, after an enteric epidemic in that town which had been traced to contaminated milk imported from the surrounding country areas, reflected critically on the neglect of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somersetshire in not appointing a medical officer of health. (fn. 88) Despite the strength of these arguments the proposal to engage a full-time medical officer was carried by only a narrow majority (33 to 31), and a considerable number of the district councils petitioned against it. (fn. 89) However, the county council now went ahead, Dr. J. Tubb Thomas being appointed in February 1899 as the county's first full-time medical officer of health. (fn. 90)
Ten years later the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 (fn. 91) made it obligatory on the county council to set up a public health and housing committee; and the public health functions of the county now expanded rapidly from year to year. The environmental services provided by the borough and district councils—the product of the narrow but fruitful views of the Victorian sanitarians—were supplemented by a wide range of protective and personal services, springing from a deeper knowledge of the causes of disease and a wider conception of the duty of the community to prevent and treat it. These new services, calling for uniform organization over large areas and the establishment of specialized institutions to meet the needs of considerable populations, fell naturally into the hands of the largest of the local authorities. Between 1907 and 1920 four great public health services were entrusted to the county council. First, by the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of 1907, it was made responsible for the school medical service for the whole county except Swindon. (fn. 92) The second step followed logically. Now that the county was obliged to provide treatment for children who were medically unfit, the county medical officer argued, it was both wiser and cheaper to prevent than to cure, by giving attention to the health of mothers and of children of pre-school age. The infant death-rate of Wiltshire, it was true, compared favourably with that of any other county in England and Wales, but in certain districts mortality was high; and in the previous ten years 5,126 had died before reaching the age of one year, over half of these before the age of one month. (fn. 93) The county council therefore resolved in February 1915 to adopt the Notification of Births Act of 1907., (fn. 94) Three health visitors were appointed, and grants made to the county nursing association whose nurses were employed in running the scheme. (fn. 95) Three years later we find the council approving of expenditure not exceeding £50 per annum to supply food and milk for expectant and nursing mothers and milk for children under five. (fn. 96) In the following year the extended powers granted to the council by the Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918 were delegated to the public health and housing committee, strengthened for this purpose by the addition of four women members. (fn. 97) Thirdly, under the National Insurance Act of 1911 the county council provided institutional accommodation for insured persons suffering from tuberculosis. (fn. 98) A tuberculosis officer and three nurses were appointed to the staff of the county medical officer, and dispensaries established at Swindon, Salisbury, and Trowbridge. (fn. 99) In addition 20 beds and 20 open-air shelters were purchased at the Winsley sanatorium for the treatment of both non-insured and insured persons, suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis; (fn. 100) and in 1919 Harnwood sanatorium (Salisbury) was opened with 21 beds for men, to which 16 beds for women and 9 beds in chalets were later added. (fn. 101) Finally, the Public Health (Venereal Disease) Regulations of 1916 required the county council to make arrangements for the treatment of venereal diseases, and a scheme for this purpose was submitted to the Local Government Board the same year. (fn. 102) In 1919 an agreement was made between the council and the Swindon and District Hospital Committee for the establishment of a treatment centre for cases of venereal disease on a site adjoining the hospital. (fn. 103)
Three names in particular are associated with the building of Wiltshire's health services. The first medical officer, Dr. J. Tubb Thomas, had to master the usual difficulties which confront a pioneer in a hitherto unexplored region inhabited by hostile natives. Fortunately he brought to his task qualities of mind and character which ensured notable success in the twenty years of his service. He had previous experience as medical officer at Lowestoft and in Leicestershire, where he had supervised a combined area comprising thirteen or fourteen rural and urban districts; and his affability, tact, and resolution gradually wore down the prejudices with which his appointment had been opposed. (fn. 104) On these foundations his successor, Dr. C. E. Tangye, built up the health services to a high standard of efficiency. He was responsible for two notable developments—the scheme for orthopaedic treatment which, beginning in 1923 with the opening of the first Wiltshire clinic, expanded rapidly with the co-operation of the Bath and Wessex Children's Orthopaedic Hospital to become one of the most comprehensive in the country; and secondly the co-ordination of the work of the medical and public assistance departments, by the introduction in 1933, for example, of an 'open-choice scheme' which permitted patients on medical out-relief a free choice of doctor. (fn. 105) Finally, in Miss K. J. Stephenson the health committee possessed for many years a chairman of great ability and force of character. The county nursing service, her particular interest, is her worthy memorial.
There was nothing in 1888, and little for a dozen years later, to suggest that education was to occupy the first place in the county council's activities. The beginnings were small, the fruits of a permissive Act and a limited budget, and restricted to a small portion of the field. The Technical Instruction Act of 1889 empowered the county council to supply or to aid the supply of technical or manual education up to the limit of a penny rate. (fn. 106) In the following year the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act placed about £9,000 a year at the disposal of the council, all or part of which might be expended on technical education. (fn. 107) A technical education committee was thereupon set up composed of 15 county councillors and 10 co-opted members (including two women, Mrs. Elizabeth Bell of Marlborough and Mrs. Emily P. Taylor of Trowbridge) under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse. (fn. 108) It was resolved that the whole of the money made available by the Act should be spent on technical education. (fn. 109) Part was spent directly by the committee on the promotion of schemes of general benefit to the whole county, such as an itinerant butter school and the Wiltshire school of cookery and domestic economy managed by a committee of ladies at Trowbridge; the remainder was spent indirectly, through local committees formed in Downton, Box, Trowbridge, Devizes, and elsewhere. (fn. 110) Annual grants were made on the basis of population to urban authorities which qualified for the same by passing a formal resolution constituting themselves local committees under the Science and Art Department for carrying on the work of the Technical Instruction Acts; and subsidies were given to the organized science schools at Salisbury and Swindon, the central textile school at Trowbridge, and the technical institute at Calne.
The Act of 1902 added a vast new province to the council's jurisdiction. The county council now became the local education authority, charged to provide and co-ordinate all forms of education within its area. From the defunct school boards it inherited all the elementary schools built out of public funds since 1870; in the voluntary schools it was empowered to maintain and control all secular education. Education became, overnight, the biggest single item in the county finances, and in the ten years before 1914 rather more than 50 per cent, of the county expenditure went on education, higher, technical, and elementary. (fn. 111) To execute the Act a director of general education was appointed in 1903 at a salary of £600; the board schools were grouped under 6 management committees, each with 4 members appointed by the county council and 2 by the local authorities; and 2 education committees were established by the county council, one for agricultural education, the other for general education. (fn. 112) Swindon and Salisbury, by virtue of the size of their populations, qualified as separate Part III (elementary) education authorities; with these two exceptions the whole system of public education in Wiltshire was placed in 1903 under the direct control of the county council.
The first director of education was William Pullinger, who brought to his task experience as a university extension lecturer on agriculture, science master, and inspector in the secondary branch of the board of education. The main problem of the early days was, perhaps, relations with the managers of the church schools, who maintained a precarious semi-independence based on financial resources barely adequate to meet the demands made upon them by the local education authority; it is evidence of Pullinger's gifts as administrator and diplomatist that those relations were generally friendly. (fn. 113)
(e) Agricultural Services
The fostering of the county's principal industry developed after 1888 into one of the main functions of the county council. An allotment committee for the purposes of the Allotments Acts of 1887 and 1890 was appointed in 1890, (fn. 114) and a small holdings committee two years later under the Small Holdings Act of 1892. (fn. 115) The two committees were amalgamated in 1907, when the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of that year empowered the county council to prepare a scheme for the provision of small holdings, and to take steps to satisfy the demand for allotments in the urban districts and rural parishes. (fn. 116) The council had hitherto made little use of its powers but it was now prodded into activity by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. A circular from the county council produced applications from 147 parishes; a county land agent was appointed; and the committee began to visit parishes and interview applicants for assistance. (fn. 117) In the next few years loans were made in increasing volume for the purchase and equipment of land for small holdings; in 1910, for example, at Little Common Farm, North Bradley, and Shurnhold Farm, Melksham; in 1911 at Avon Farm, Foxham, and Littlecott Glebe, Enford. (fn. 118) But it was in the post-war years that the great expansion came. By 1924 small holdings accounted for well over half a million pounds, nearly 75 per cent, of the county's outstanding loans. (fn. 119) Between 1920 and 1925 £266,688 was spent on the agricultural services, mainly on the provision of small holdings; between 1926 and 1930 £295,142; between 1931 and 1935 £324,825. Of this total of £886,655, however, only 7.4 per cent, was borne by the rates, 34.2 per cent. being furnished by government grants, and the remainder recouped from the small holders.
Table 14 (fn. 120) : County Council Small Holdings
Meanwhile, three other committees also exercised functions relating to agriculture. The diseases of animals committee had powers under a series of Acts and departmental orders to check the spread of cattle plague, foot and mouth disease, sheep pox, sheep scab, and other farm-stock infections. (fn. 121) Under the Fertilizers and Feeding Stuffs Act of 1893 a district agricultural analyst was appointed in 1894; and ten years later a committee was set up to which were delegated the powers of the council under this Act and under the Dairies, Cowsheds, and Milkshops Orders. (fn. 122) From 1895 an agricultural education committee supervised the cheese and dairy schools, the farriery school, and the experimental demonstrations in vegetable cultivation, bee-culture, and pig-feeding, organized by the county council. (fn. 123) In 1921 the functions performed by these different bodies were concentrated in the hands of a single agricultural committee. (fn. 124) A chief agricultural officer was appointed the same year, but in 1926 it was decided to replace this officer by an organizer of agricultural education. (fn. 125)
Developments in county government since 1929
The Local Government Act of 1929
The Local Government Act of 1929 marks the high-water mark of the power and prestige of the county council. It now swallowed up the last of the ad hoc authorities created in the 19th century, the poor law union, with its parallel and competitive machinery for the provision of medical, educational, and welfare services. It absorbed at the same time some of the functions of the district councils, over which its supervisory and co-ordinating powers were considerably extended. And for a few years the block grant system gave it an unaccustomed freedom of movement, and it found itself ridden on a looser rein by the central departments.
Forty years of rapid growth had placed an intolerable strain upon a structure whose main foundations had been laid between 1835 and 1870; areas and authorities originally constituted to meet the needs of the mid-19th century were ill fitted for the responsibilities of a more complex and more integrated society. In 1929 Wiltshire had 8 municipal boroughs, 5 urban districts, and 18 rural districts. The majority of the urban authorities were very small. Of the boroughs only 2, Salisbury and Swindon, had a population over 10,000, and 4 had fewer than 5,000; only 2 again had a rateable value over £50,000, 4 being below £30,000. Of the urban districts 1 only, Trowbridge, had a population over 10,000 and a rateable value over £50,000; 3 of the others had fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, and all 4 had rateable values below £30,000. Eleven rural districts had a population under 10,000, 3 being under 5,000; the rateable value of 14 was under £50,000 and of 11 under £30,000. Thus, out of a total of 31 county districts, 21 had fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, 10 having fewer than 5,000; 24 had rateable values under £50,000, 19 of these being below £30,000; and in only 5 was the rateable value per head of the population above £5. (fn. 126) These figures are to be seen against the background of the evidence before the Royal Commission on Local Government that normally districts with a population under 10,000–15,000 and a rateable value below £5 per head were unfit to support the functions of a borough or a district. Though the Wiltshire districts did not present such startling variations of size and capacity as were to be found in other counties, the range of differences within each category of local authority was wide, and the proportion of undersized units high.
The 1929 Act required the county council to undertake a comprehensive review of all districts and parishes within the county, and to submit to the Ministry of Health by 1 April 1932 any proposals it considered desirable for the alteration of these subordinate areas. The major change brought about by the County Review Order which came into force in April 1934 was the reduction in the number of the rural districts from eighteen to twelve by the amalgamation of the rural districts of Bradford and Melksham, Calne and Chippenham, Marlborough and Ramsbury, Mere and Tisbury, Salisbury and Wilton, Warminster and Westbury. (fn. 127) This eliminated the smallest and weakest of these authorities, only two rural districts now having fewer than 10,000 population, and none having a rateable value below £30,000. Considerable extensions were also made to most of the boroughs and urban districts. Calne, for example, gained an addition of 40 per cent, in population, 36 per cent, in rateable value, and over 250 per cent, in area. (fn. 128) Forty-nine rural parishes were abolished by merger with other parishes; detached portions of Lydiard Tregoze in Wroughton, of Winterslow in West Dean, and of Hannington in Castle Eaton were transferred to the parishes which surrounded them; and a new parish, Chapmanslade, was formed of parts of the parishes of Dilton Marsh, Corsley, and Upton Scudamore. (fn. 129) This internal reorganization was completed by some small changes in the county boundary, the long-disputed parishes of Ashley and Long Newnton in the Tetbury rural district being ceded to Gloucestershire in 1930, and part of the parish of Southwick to Somerset in 1937. (fn. 130) Wiltshire has since pressed modest claims on neighbouring counties—demanding from Somerset part of Freshford and from Hampshire South Tidworth and Shipton Bellenger—but on the whole the county may now be classed as a satiated power, concerned less to expand than to defend its territory against acquisitive neighbours in Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Hampshire. (fn. 131)
Of all the changes made by the 1929 Act the greatest was the absorption of the poor law system by the county council, so ending the awkward and indefensible allocation of similar functions between the two authorities, and opening the way to the reconstruction and orderly development of the medical and public health services. The smallness and poverty of the unions had been a powerful argument for their abolition; and the seven areas already marked out for assessment purposes under the Rating and Valuation Act of 1925 (Chippenham, Devizes, Marlborough, Salisbury, Swindon, Trowbridge, and Warminster) now replaced the seventeen unions, each coming under the management of a guardians committee composed of county councillors, district councillors, and co-opted members. (fn. 132) At the centre a public assistance committee, with a proportion of co-opted members, was set up by the county council, and a public assistance officer appointed to work under the direction of the clerk of the council. (fn. 133) The dichotomy between the services provided by the unions and those provided by the local authorities was gradually brought to an end, certain functions hitherto performed by the poor law machinery now passing to the appropriate departments of the county council. The maintenance of children apart from their parents devolved upon the education committee; the care of mental defectives upon the mental deficiency committee; the relief of the blind and their dependents, and of expectant and nursing mothers and young children, upon the public health committee. (fn. 134) The poor law institutions were surveyed and their usefulness assessed as parts of a general county scheme. Four, Calne, Malmesbury, Westbury, and Tisbury, were closed. At Devizes, Semington, and Warminster the infirmary accommodation was improved; part of the Marlborough house was turned into a children's convalescent home; the infirmary block at Stratton St. Margaret became a general hospital, and general hospital services were also provided at Chippenham and Tower House, Salisbury. South Hill House, Amesbury, was used mainly for the reception of elderly, demented epileptics who could not benefit in a colony; but the outbreak of war brought to a halt any further attempts of this kind to allot an institution to a particular use. (fn. 135)
The need for wider areas which had prompted the supersession of the poor law union and the redrawing of the district boundaries led also to a notable enlargement of the council's powers in the planning and control of the public health services. The Act required it to make arrangements to ensure that in future no district medical officer should be engaged in private practice; the county was accordingly divided into six combined districts—Chippenham, Devizes, Salisbury, Swindon, Trowbridge, Warminster—a single medical officer being appointed to serve for all the authorities comprised within each district. (fn. 136) The council was further required to devise a scheme for the provision of accommodation for treating infectious diseases; for this purpose six areas, each with an isolation hospital as its nucleus, were again marked out, and the authorities within each called upon to furnish a specified number of beds. (fn. 137) Another important provision considerably strengthened the hands of the county council in assisting and supervising the public health activities of the parishes and districts. Hitherto the cost of water-supply and sewerage had been chargeable upon the individual parishes, and the financial resources of these small units had set close limits to their capacity and willingness to perform their duty; now these vital services—neglect of which might have serious consequences far beyond the parish boundaries—were made eligible for grants-in-aid from county funds. (fn. 138) Grants of this kind (for example, in 1935 to Wingfield parish for a water-supply scheme and in 1937 to Wroughton parish for a sewage-disposal works and new relief sewer) (fn. 139) henceforth became a frequent entry in the minutes of the council, and a standing committee was set up to examine claims for assistance from parish and district authorities. The urban districts, apart from Malmesbury which discharges its sewers direct into the Avon, now have adequate systems of sewage disposal, but in the rural districts much still remains to be done. Under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act 1944 numerous water-supply schemes have been approved (nine were submitted to the county council in 1950 alone), and a piped water-supply brought for the first time within the reach of many villages. (fn. 140)
In highways administration again the Act of 1929 brought about a considerable transfer of responsibility from the smaller authorities to the county council. Classified roads in urban areas and all roads, classified and unclassified, in rural districts now became 'county roads'. Swindon and Salisbury, as urban authorities with a population over 20,000, claimed the right to maintain the county roads in their areas. The Act left it to the discretion of the county council whether to delegate its powers over classified roads to the rural district councils and the smaller urban authorities; and the council thereupon resolved to deny these powers to the rural district councils but to grant them to all urban authorities with the exception of Wilton. (fn. 141) In the case of unclassified roads the Act provided that the county council must grant a request for delegation from a rural district council, unless satisfied that such a grant would be inadvisable on grounds of economy and efficiency and the particular circumstances of the district. Experience of the two systems of direct and contract maintenance decided the county council to oppose any such grants. Direct management, it was resolved, gave the best maintenance; the existing areas of the rural districts were not satisfactory, the mileage of unclassified roads in all but three being too small to justify the employment of a whole-time surveyor; administration from one centre was more economical, the salaries and allowances of the rural district surveyors now totalling over £5,000 a year. 'From a practical and administrative point of view, briefly the chief advantages of a scheme of direct control are as follows:—All expenditure and works are under the direct control of the responsible Highway Authority through full-time officers of that Authority, thereby avoiding the overlapping of districts and duplication of staffs.' (fn. 142) Despite this resolution, powers were delegated to thirteen of the rural districts, though refused to the other five. (fn. 143) This was a temporary arrangement, however, for within two years the county council decided that on grounds of economy and efficiency the grant of powers to the rural district councils should be terminated. (fn. 144) Thus by 1933–4 the rural districts had been deprived of all their highway powers, and over 97 per cent, of all roads in the county, classified and unclassified, had come under the direct control of the county council.
Table 15 (fn. 145) : County Roads, 1932, 1934
|in boroughs and U.D.s||3.6||4.6|
|in boroughs and U.D.s||75.5||77.3|
Gains and Losses since 1929
Hardly had this orderly design of county government, with its three-tier pyramid of general purpose local authorities, been completed by the 1929 Act before its elements began once more to shift and reform into a new pattern. The growth of the social services continued; and the necessities of war in the years 1939–45, as in 1914–18, obliged the central Government to force on that growth by purposive intervention to create new administrative agencies and stimulate the old. Since vested interests of sentiment and habit made the existing machinery too inflexible and too slow to adapt itself readily to the demands now made upon it, a redistribution of functions inevitably took place. While the drive for larger areas and organization enabled the county to gain ground at the expense of the minor authorities, the same tendency obliged the county to surrender important functions to the central departments or to newly constituted special authorities. The wheel had come full circle: as the poor law planners of 1834 had found the county boundaries irrelevant to their purpose, so also did the planners of a century later in devising their schemes for the administration of hospitals, trunk roads, and land drainage.
A rise of over a half in the annual expenditure was the immediate and striking effect of the additional duties placed upon the county council in 1929. Of this higher expenditure in the years 1931–5 36.1 per cent, was defrayed from the rates, 54.2 per cent, from government grants—the proportions continuing very much the same as in 1926–30. (fn. 146) The Local Taxation Account, after an unsatisfactory existence of 40 years during which it had played a steadily diminishing part in local finance (in the last full year, 1930, it furnished only one-eighth of the county's grant income) was now abolished. So also were certain of the specific grants. The main feature of the new financial scheme was the block grant, calculated in accordance with a complicated formula compounded of various indices of need—the number of children under five, rateable value, unemployment, and sparsity of population. (fn. 147) This was a lump sum from central funds which the county council was at liberty to allot as it wished amongst its services; the object being to encourage economy and to free local authorities from the close supervision entailed by the specific grant. The more important of the specific grants, however, were not affected. Education, highways, police, small holdings—which together accounted for much the greater part of the county's grants—continued to receive their earmarked subsidies, and between 1931 and 1937 the block grant formed little more than two-fifths of the grants total. (fn. 148) In the war and post-war years specific grants have risen far more rapidly than the block grant; by 1948 the block grant formed only 22 per cent. of the grants total, in 1950 it had dropped still farther to 197 per cent. Thus the freedom of action originally extended to the county council by the block grant has rapidly contracted once again in recent years. Nor, of course, has the block grant been successful in checking the rise in county expenditure. Comparison between the years 1931 and 1937 shows increased expenditure on all but one (highways and bridges) of the main county services. Annual expenditure in 1950—swollen as it was by post-war inflation—reached a figure not much less than two and a half times that of 1931; on education alone nearly 30 per cent, more was spent in that year than on the whole range of county services twenty years before.
Table 16 (fn. 149) : County Income and Expenditure, 1931, 1937, 1948, 1950
Table 17: Grants in Aid of County Services
|Grant||Percentage of total expenditure on service||Grant||Percentage of total expenditure on service||Grant||Percentage of total expenditure on service||Grant||Percentage of total expenditure on service|
|Highways and Bridges||193,050||33.0||148,674||28.4||237,652||36.8||247,786||38.0|
|Police and Justice||59,730||44.1||64,528||43.0||129,201||41.0||160,862||41.4|
|Lunacy and Mental Deficiency||428||1.3||4,087||5.1|
|Poor Relief||10,386||4.5||1,881||0.47||80 (fn. 176)||0.054|
Two main trends are observable in the twenty years which have elapsed since the last general overhaul of the local government machine. On the one hand, a series of important measures has added greatly to the powers of the county council; on the other, a number of Acts have shorn away certain of its functions, transferring them to regional or national bodies.
(1) The Education Act of 1944 concentrated the control of both elementary and secondary education into the hands of the county council, the Part III authorities for elementary education created in 1902 being abolished. In Wiltshire, however, this involved no great structural change, since only two Part III authorities, Swindon and Salisbury, existed, and Swindon now qualified by virtue of its population as an 'excepted district', entitled under the Act to exercise powers delegated from the county council. (fn. 150) The county council now found itself responsible for maintaining 366 schools, over 200 of which had hitherto been voluntary schools; and the county, outside Swindon, was divided into 10 secondary grammar school districts and 27 secondary modern school areas.
By the Police Act of 1946 Wiltshire's one borough police force, maintained for nearly 90 years by Salisbury, was at last merged into the county constabulary. (fn. 151) The Fire Services Act of 1947 made the county council the fire authority for the whole county area. (fn. 152) Headquarters were established at the Manor House, Potterne, and the county divided into 3 supervisory districts based on Potterne, Swindon, and Salisbury, controlling 23 stations.
The Children Act of 1948 entrusted to the council the care of children deprived of a normal home life, a children's committee being set up for this purpose. (fn. 153) By November, 1951, 586 children were being cared for by the county council, either being boarded out in charge of foster-parents (the method favoured by the Act) or accommodated in the council's 13 homes and the 2 nurseries at Chippenham and Blunsdon.
An advisory planning body—the Wiltshire joint planning committee, on which all the district councils except Swindon were represented—had been set up under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, and under its direction a special scheme for the preservation of Avebury was drafted, and 115 planning agreements made between the district councils and land-owners. The Act of 1947 (fn. 154) strengthened the hand of the county council, which now became the planning authority for the county with the obligation to carry out a survey and prepare a development plan. A planning officer was appointed, to work under a town and country planning committee; and five subcommittees, for the north-western, north-eastern, eastern, southern, and western regions of Wiltshire, were created, each composed of five members of the county council together with representatives of the district councils in each area. (fn. 155) A survey has now been made, and the lines of desirable development explored 'to ensure the preservation of what is good and the prevention of what is bad'; (fn. 156) and for six areas in which special need exists (Salisbury, Swindon, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Westbury, and Corsham) town maps have been prepared, in addition to special maps for Avebury and the Limpley Stoke Valley. (fn. 157)
Finally, by the National Health Service Act of 1946 (fn. 158) the administration of the local government health services became the sole responsibility of the county council, the one other local supervisory authority for midwives (Swindon) and the two maternity and child welfare authorities (Swindon and Salisbury) thus losing their powers. Many of the health services contemplated by the Act (midwifery, care of mothers and young children, health visiting, and home nursing) were already being operated in Wiltshire by the voluntary associations, and these associations were now requested by the county council to continue their work. (fn. 159) The biggest change was the taking over by the county council of the 80 district nurse midwives. For Swindon special arrangements were made: a sub-committee of the health committee was appointed, half the members at least of which were to be members of the borough council, and to this body was delegated the day-to-day administration of the health services in the area. It was the establishment of this sub-committee which presented the most difficult task, but by the end of 1948 it was reported to be running smoothly and successfully. (fn. 160) A health centre, the only one in the county, was opened in Swindon in premises formerly belonging to the G.W.R. Medical Fund Society. (fn. 161) By 1949 the county council was maintaining 8 ante-natal and post-natal clinics, 50 infant welfare centres, and 54 infant weighing centres; and was employing 94 health visitors, 97 home nurses, and 90 home helps. (fn. 162)
(2) The years since 1929 have seen that break-up of the poor law which had so long been advocated by reformers. In 1934 unemployment relief became a national charge administered by a national body, the Unemployment Assistance Board; in 1940 the administration of supplementary pensions passed to the same body; and the introduction of a comprehensive scheme of social security by the National Insurance Act of1946 greatly reduced the need for poor relief. Finally the National Assistance Act of 1948 ended the poor law; and 'relief' agencies now learned the new language of 'welfare'. The public assistance committee of the county council ceased to exist; in its stead a welfare committee ran welfare services for the benefit of the aged, the blind, and the deaf, and (as agent of the National Assistance Board) managed the three reception centres at Salisbury, Swindon, and Warminster for 'persons without a settled way of living'. (fn. 163) Of the 7 poor law institutions owned by the county before the passing of the Act, one (Amesbury) was condemned and closed, and 4 (Chippenham, Devizes, Semington, and Warminster) were vested in the regional hospital boards. The remaining 2 (Swindon and Salisbury) were modernized and improved to fit them for the accommodation of 270 aged and infirm persons; for the same purpose 5 small mixed homes, each to house from 25 to 30 residents, were also opened at Cricklade, Downton, Purton, Melksham, and Trowbridge.
In highways administration it had become plain by the early 1930's that the great through roads, the national arteries, costly in their upkeep and demanding the highest technical skill in their construction, could not on grounds of efficiency or justice be left in the hands of even the largest local authorities. By the Trunk Roads Act of 1936 the Ministry of Transport assumed full financial responsibility for certain specified highways. The Wiltshire portions of the London-Penzance (A 30) and London-Bristol (A 4) roads thus passed under national control, though the county council continued to repair and maintain them as agents of the Ministry. (fn. 164) A second Act in 1946 added other Wiltshire highways, portions of the Hungerford-Hereford (A 419) and BathSouthampton (A 36) roads, to the schedule. (fn. 165)
Table 18 (fn. 166) : Classification and Mileage of County Roads
The extinction of the agricultural committee bears witness to yet another significant change. The county war agricultural executive committee which had been established during the war was put on a permanent footing in 1947; the agricultural committee of the county council was thus replaced by a body composed of twelve members nominated by the Minister of Agriculture, only one of whom belonged to the county council. (fn. 167) Moreover, certain other important agricultural functions have been lost by the county council to national bodies: a national veterinary service was established in 1939, and the agricultural advisory service was nationalized in 1946.
Hospital administration is another field in which the county council has been ousted by an ad hoc nominated body. By the National Health Service Act of 1946 the voluntary and local authority hospitals in the county passed to regional hospital boards nominated by the Ministry of Health. The Wiltshire County Council in 1944 had expressed Very forcibly their view that the county should be a single unit and part of the area of one Joint Board', but the new arrangements ignored county boundaries altogether, and Wiltshire was divided between three regions, the South-West Metropolitan, the Oxford, and the South-Western. (fn. 168) Other local services also have a regional basis. Land drainage is shared between four authorities, the Thames Conservancy, the Bristol Avon River Board, the Avon and Dorset River Board, and the Hampshire River Board, with jurisdiction over all the main rivers and watercourses within the area. Under the Electricity Act of 1947 (fn. 169) Wiltshire's supplies are controlled by the Southern Electricity Board, with its head office at Maidenhead, and sub-area headquarters at Newbury and Bournemouth. The Gas Act of 1948 (fn. 170) transferred all the gas undertakings (formerly privately owned, with the exception of the municipal gas works at Devizes) to the South-Western (Bath) or Southern (Bournemouth) Gas Board.
As a result of these developments the county council in 1950 no longer occupied the dominant position in local administration that it had occupied twenty years before. 'The great day of the ad hoc authority in English local government is past', the Ministry of Health had announced in 1929; (fn. 171) but important bodies like hospital boards, agricultural executive committees, river boards, electricity boards, and gas boards, now existed to prove that the epitaph had been premature. Moreover, with every year that passed the county council acted increasingly under the direction and tutelage of the central departments. Some functions the central Government had appropriated altogether, and there were rumours that others, the class I roads, for example, and weights and measures, were soon to follow them; for others, such as trunk roads and reception centres, it employed the county council merely as its agent; and for the remainder of the local government services it now supplied a larger proportion of revenue than ever before. From the borough and district councils power had been drained both by the county council and the central Government. The alarm and anger of the local authorities at the undermining of their position was voiced in 1943 in a public statement: 'it is inevitable that, if these attacks are allowed to continue unchecked, the English Local Government system, with the possible exception of a few unimportant functions which Whitehall does not want and which will fail by themselves to attract sufficient local interest, must disintegrate and disappear'. (fn. 172) With that view the Wiltshire county council expressed its full agreement. (fn. 173)
Appendix I: Chairmen of quarter sessions
New Sarum (Easter)
Appendix II: Poor Law Unions, 1835 (fn. 177)
|Union||Number of parishes||Area (sq. m.)||Population 1831||Expenditure on poor £|
|Unions with Wiltshire centres|
|Alderbury (fn. 178)||22||82||13,227||10,672|
|Cricklade and Wootton Bassett||14||69||10,275||11,948|
|Highworth and Swindon||16||81||12,611||11,387|
|Westbury and Whorwellsdown||10||48||13,164||9,719|
|Unions with centres outside Wiltshire Hampshire (fn. 179)|
|(1) (fn. 180)||(238)||(148)|
|Faringdon||30 (1) (fn. 181)||101||12,992||11,914|
|Hungerford||20 (11)||150||18,799 (12,164)||
Appendix III: Effect of county review order (1934) upon population and rateable values
|Before the Order||After the Order|
|Population (fn. 182)||Rateable value (fn. 183)||Area (fn. 184)||Population (fn. 184)||Rateable value (fn. 185)||Area (fn. 184)|
|Cricklade and Wootton Bassett||11,374||38,012||46,617||11,353||39,680||45,911|
|Westbury and Whorwellsdown||6,584||19,781||27,846|