A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
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CITY GOVERNMENT SINCE 1836
On 1 January 1836 the corporation of Salisbury was remodelled on lines common to many other boroughs as laid down by the Municipal Corporations Act of the previous year. The new corporation consisted of mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, i.e. 2 aldermen and 6 councillors from each of three wards. The councillors were to be elected by city ratepayers living within seven miles, 6 going out of office each year, and the council was to choose mayor and aldermen, half the aldermen retiring every third year. The authority of the new council was extended over the parliamentary borough, which included the urban parts of Fisherton and Milford, and the liberty of the Close. (fn. 1) The area administered by the council was thus larger than the areas of the overseers of the united parishes or the directors of highways. Until the extinction of these other bodies, the local government of the city was uneasily shared between them, and the position of the added areas was anomalous.
With one exception, the new council at first discharged functions similar to those of the old. It successfully petitioned the Government for the continuance of the city's Quarter Sessions, (fn. 2) and it continued to administer the city's property and markets and fairs. The annual payments to certain charities, the provision of a sheep and a lamb for the Justices of Assize and of a cup for the races were continued, and addresses and memorials were from time to time sent to the royal family and the Government. (fn. 3) The one important new function which the council assumed was the provision of a police force. The old corporation had appointed 4 high constables and 13 sub-constables yearly, whose duties had been largely honorific, (fn. 4) and what police the city had until 1836 was provided under the watching provisions of the local Acts. Uniforms were ordered for a new full-time force in 1836, but a long debate on the site of a station ensued. The old watch house was unsuitable and it was too expensive to alter the basement of the Council House. Eventually in 1838 the directors of highways handed over a house in Butcher Row formerly occupied by the attendant of their weighing machine. The strength of the force was fixed in the same year at a superintendent and 4 day police and 14 night police, 7 to patrol each night. (fn. 5)
Apart from the change in police provision, the internal administration and procedure of the council were little changed in its early years. In 1836 a town clerk, a treasurer, 3 serjeants-at-mace, 2 beadles, a clerk of the peace, and a recorder were appointed. Only watch, city lands, and market committees were regularly appointed until 1846, when a finance committee was formed to deal with all expenditure except that of the watch committee. The cost of the police, and some considerable increases in salaries, (fn. 6) increased the normal expenditure of the council to about £1,500 a year, three times what it had been. Income from market tolls and property usually left between £900 and £1,200 to be raised from the borough rates; it was the custom to collect a shilling rate when the treasurer's balance was running low. (fn. 7)
Meanwhile the aspect of local government which was then tending to be the most important, public health, remained in the hands of the directors of the highways (fn. 8) and the overseers of the united parishes. The overseers were more concerned with the treatment of disease when it came, occupying the city's old pest-house at Bugmore as an isolation hospital. The directors, having powers over the city streets and channels, and the prevention of nuisances, were the authority, as far as there was one, for keeping the city in a sanitary state. In the thirties and early forties, however, they were almost entirely occupied with the repair and lighting of the highways. In 1837 they resolved that the provisions about nuisances in their Acts would, if enforced, be highly beneficial, but were entirely neglected, and the surveyor was ordered, without effect, to be more attentive. In these years it was usual to collect only two sixpenny rates a year instead of double that amount, as the Acts allowed. This income, with the revenues of Sunday and race tolls and the weighbridge, hardly sufficed to keep the directors solvent, and they were not anxious to incur unpopularity by assuming fresh responsibilities and having to increase the rates. (fn. 9)
In 1845 a report on the sanitary condition of Salisbury was made by an inspector from the Health of Towns Commission. Although he considered that the powers of the directors were exercised with judgement, he thought them insufficient because they did not extend from the main roads into the courts and alleys where the worst conditions prevailed. He felt that the high death rate was due to the nuisances in these places and to the low position of the city, but did not think that the general lack of efficient drainage could be easily remedied. (fn. 10) The evidence given before the inspector already revealed a conflict of opinion about the value of the channels to the city which was to grow very fierce in the next few years. At the time, however, nothing was done, but in 1849 a cholera epidemic in which over 200 died brought the question to the fore again. The channels were the subject of hot discussion; a few years before many of them had been covered in, but some were opened again during the epidemic and thousands of loads of filth removed. (fn. 11) John Winzar, the medical officer to the overseers, was strongly in their favour; 'Neither nature nor art', he wrote, 'could possibly have formed channels better adapted for effectually carrying away the sewage of the city'. (fn. 12) Others favoured the construction of a proper system of sewerage but the retention of the channels for surface drainage and water supply. A few, led by Dr. A. B. Middleton, were for total abolition. After the cholera epidemic the directors, having consulted the local medical men, opened more channels, and began to construct barrel drains in some streets in the north-east of the city which had no channels. (fn. 13) Middleton organized a petition to the General Board of Health asking for an inspector to be sent, but could only get 60 signatures. Many hundreds signed a counterpetition, but the board sent T. W. Rammell to report because the average death-rate of the city was above 23. (fn. 14)
Rammell's report amply justified Middleton and his supporters. He found that the channels were of little use to carry off sewage from the houses which drained into them because of the defective construction and dirty condition of the house drains. The courts which covered the interior of the chequers, having only cess-pit drainage, were indescribably filthy. The sub-soil of the city was saturated to within a foot or two of the surface, and the wells were contaminated by seepage from the privies and grave-yards. Rammell pointed out that the majority of the town council and the directors were among those who were most warmly opposed to his inquiry, and accused the directors of trying to divert the board from it by the construction of the inefficient barrel drains. (fn. 15) The publication of his report led inevitably to the board ordering the town council to adopt the Public Health Act of 1848, which, reluctantly and with many protests, it did in 1852. (fn. 16)
Between 1852 and 1904 the government of Salisbury was carried on by the town council acting both in its original capacity and as the local board of health. Council and board were composed of the same members, and served by the same staff, but each fulfilled its own functions and kept its own accounts. This duality served the city in good stead at least once, over the purchase of Bugmore meadows (see below). The local board at once took over the assets and liabilities of the directors, and of the surveyors of the highways of Fisherton and Milford within the city, and the Close. (fn. 17) The union of the three city parishes was not dissolved until 1868, when they were made part of Alderbury Union. (fn. 18)
When Rammell had made his report in 1851, Middleton estimated that only 5 out of 24 members of the council supported the adoption of the Act. The report, backed by two pamphlets by Middleton himself, was apparently sufficient to convince some others that action would have to be taken, and within two years a majority of members were converted. (fn. 19) The new board's first step was to make by-laws for the suppression of nuisances and the regulation of slaughter-houses and common lodging-houses, both of which Rammell had criticized. (fn. 20) A month after they were issued it was reported that many nuisances could not be immediately removed, because the parties had to wait their turns for the carters, and they were regularly enforced on diminishing numbers of defaulters in succeeding years. Rammell was asked to supply the board with detailed recommendations on the sewerage and water supply of the city. He proposed the construction of a deep sewerage system, and the abolition of the street channels because they made the roads narrow and difficult to maintain, and could not be made watertight at a reasonable cost. Waterworks were to be built on Mizmaze Hill to the north of the city. The estimated total cost of both schemes came to £24,000; in February 1853 a public meeting passed resolutions against them, but the board borrowed the money, and carried them on with vigour so that they were finished by September 1854. In the following six years the connexion of the houses to the sewers and the gradual filling in of the channels was completed. By 1856 almost two-thirds of the houses in the three parishes and the Close were connected both to sewerage and water supply. The last of the street channels, from Hussey's Hatch to Bugmore by Rollestone Street and Brown Street, was replaced by pipes to carry irrigation water to the Bugmore meadows in 1859. In 1860 the Close Ditch was filled in, and £3,000 borrowed to make the city pavements good.
In the sixties the main activities of the board were of consolidation, in compelling owners to connect to the sewers, and in extending them to new areas. The condition of the Canal was a frequent cause of complaint; in 1868 it was so offensive that some inhabitants of St. Ann Street had to leave their homes. This sole survivor of the city's watercourses was covered for much of its length, but remained open between the houses of Trinity and Marsh chequers, and south of St. Ann Street. To close it was difficult, for it supplied water to over 20 a. of meadow land at Bugmore; these water-rights were valuable, but the operation of flooding parts of the meadows aggravated the nuisance by leaving parts of the bed dry a week at a time. Filling it in had been frequently advocated, (fn. 21) and, unlike the street channels, it had no champion, but when the board approached the Ecclesiastical Commissioners it was told that the water-rights could not be sold separately from the land. The board contracted to buy the whole for £6,000, but the Local Government Board refused its sanction because of the amount still owing on the previous works. The contract was transferred to the town council, and the meadows bought in 1874, Treasury approval to sell city property to meet the cost being obtained. (fn. 22) The Canal was finally filled in the following year. A medical officer of health was appointed in 1873, and in 1874 the Baths and Washhouses Act (fn. 23) was adopted and an open air bath provided near the old tucking mill behind Castle Street. By that year the deathrate had fallen to 17 per 1,000, few cess pits or privies remained, and every house was supplied with water.
Until 1881 the whole of the city's sewage was discharged from the sewers into the Avon in its crude state. As late as 1864 A. B. Middleton, the most strenuous advocate of reform, had considered this arrangement harmless. (fn. 24) In 1881, however, a loan of £10,000 was raised and sewage works built on part of the Bugmore meadows. The effluent was still discharged into the Avon; in 1899 a successful action for pollution was brought against the board on the grounds that the system used was not the best available. (fn. 25) A further loan of £16,000 was obtained, and the works were improved by the construction of bacteria beds; at the same time a refuse destructor was built.
The only large new liability which the board assumed in the last years of the century was the provision of an isolation hospital under the Isolation Hospitals Act, 1893. (fn. 26) In 1895 a committee was set up and the purchase of a portable hut sanctioned. A site was rented on which a concrete base was made, so that the hut could be put up when necessary. In 1901 the board was severely reprimanded by the Local Government Board on the inadequacy of this arrangement; the hospital had little or no equipment or trained staff, and the site was unprovided with sanitary facilities. In 1902 a house called the Bungalow at Winterbourne Earls was bought. It had 6 a. of land attached on which extensions could be made, but in fact only the Bungalow itself was used, being converted to take 17 beds, in spite of a memorial by the doctors of the city and district against it, criticizing its isolated and exposed position.
While the board was pursuing these courses, the same body acting as the town council were fulfilling the more traditional functions of local government. (fn. 27) Nevertheless some new responsibilities were assumed. In 1854 the Lunatic Asylums Act of 1853 (fn. 28) was adopted, the city's pauper lunatics being sent to the county asylum in return for an annual payment. In the same year the city sheep-fairs were re-established, using land at the Butts at Milford; by 1860 they were sufficiently well established for the tolls to be let. In 1856, when the council applied for a grant for its police force under the Police Act, (fn. 29) the Government inspector reported unfavourably, and the force was reorganized to consist of a superintendent, a sergeant, and eight constables. In 1858 the inspector found two constables drunk at the station, and the grant was again withheld until they had been replaced. Thereafter the grant was regularly obtained, although the efficiency of the force was still well below average in 1865 and 1872. (fn. 30) A much needed improvement was carried out in 1883 by the provision of a new police station in Endless Street in place of the inadequate old house in Butcher Row. In 1877 a poll of ratepayers was against the adoption of the Public Libraries Act of 1855. (fn. 31) The subject was not raised again until 1890, when another poll showed a slight majority in favour. A committee was appointed, and a large room was rented over the former Congregational church in Endless Street. (fn. 32) In 1903 Andrew Carnegie offered £4,000 toward the cost of a building; £1,000 was raised by public subscription to buy a site, and the present building in Chipper Lane opened in 1905. (fn. 33) The provision of open spaces also owed much to private generosity. In 1869 a proposal that the council should buy the cricket field at Milford to prevent its being built on came to nothing, but in 1883 Dr. G. H. Bourne surrendered his leasehold and conveyed his freehold interests in the Greencroft to the city, and it was laid out for public recreation. Victoria Park was laid out by a body of trustees in 1887. (fn. 34)
In 1877 an unsuccessful approach was made to the council to assist in the provision of a school of science and art by buying Hamilton Hall in New Street. In 1891 the County Council began to make a yearly grant to the city, (fn. 35) which was mainly allotted to the School of Science and Art by then established in the former Hamilton Hall. In the following year the trustees of the school handed the building over to the council under the enabling Act. (fn. 36) In 1893 adjoining property in New Street and premises in Brown Street were bought, the latter to house workshops and a gymnasium. The cost of instruction was met by the county, which also made a building grant, while the city raised a halfpenny rate which was used to pay off the debt on the buildings. (fn. 37) Under the 1902 Education Act (fn. 38) the council became the authority for elementary education within its area, and a committee was appointed consisting of 12 councillors and 11 others representing the Church, the free churches, Roman Catholics, the county, and the teachers. The council delegated all its powers to this committee except those of raising rates or loans. (fn. 39)
The administrative machinery of the council in both its capacities naturally increased considerably during the last half of the century. New committees were appointed as new responsibilities were assumed, and new officials as expediency or statutes demanded. An inspector of weights and measures and a gas inspector (fn. 40) were appointed in 1859, and a diseases of cattle committee in 1866, and succeeding years saw other appointments. A number of the minor appointments were, however, held by the surveyor and the inspector of police. The chief offices under both council and board were held by the same persons, each authority contributing a proportion of the salary. The most important were the town clerk and clerk to the board, and the city and board surveyor; both were also in private practice, while the treasurer for a number of years at the end of the century was manager of the Wilts. and Dorset Bank. At its inception the local board rented premises in Chipper Lane for offices. In 1880 John Woodlands left a house in Endless Street to the city, and from 1882 it was used as public offices for both board and council.
The finances and accounts of the board and the council were kept separately. When it succeeded the directors in 1852 the board was left a bonded debt of £5,000 paying 5 per cent., so that it had to raise a 2d. rate, on the city parishes only, to provide the interest. In 1888 the rate was raised to 3d., so that the bonds could be paid off gradually, but in 1903 £1,950 was still owing. (fn. 41) The directors' sources of income, apart from rates, did not last so long. The board gave up the Sunday and race tolls in 1858, while the revenue from the weighbridge dropped steadily, until in 1901 it only brought £5.
The largest part of the local board's income naturally came from the rates. (fn. 42) At first it levied a general and a special rate, the latter to pay off the debts on the early public works. The repayments of later loans however were included in the general estimates, and only the one rate levied after the early loans had been paid off. A water rate was regularly levied at 6d. in the £; with charges to industrial users it generally produced a surplus on expenditure of several hundred pounds each year, which was transferred to the general account. The amount raised by the combined general and special rates rose gradually but intermittently throughout the period, from about £3,000 in the fifties to about £7,000 in 1900, accompanying a corresponding rise in expenditure. Other sources of income, apart from the waterworks surplus, were usually under £400 until about 1890, when the city council passed the market dues to the board, and contributions began to be received from the County Council in respect of the main roads in the city. The rising rateable value of the city, which doubled in 50 years, more than compensated for rising costs. In the fifties the general rate was 2s. or somewhat over, and the special rate between 1s. and 1s. 3d. In the sixties the general rate dropped to between 1s. 6d. and 2s., the special rate remaining the same. For the last thirty years of the century the general rate, combined with the special rate as long as it was levied, fluctuated between 2s. and 3s., but tended to decrease. In 1900 it had fallen to 1s. 9d., although in the nineties the County Council's contributions to the board's funds (see above) were being paid for by the Salisbury ratepayers in their county rates. While keeping the rates steady, the board was able to reduce considerably its outstanding debt, from £30,000 in 1864 to £11,000 in 1900, out of a total of about £60,000 which had been raised for the public works.
The chief items on which the board's income was spent were the maintenance and operation of the sewerage system, and after it had been built, the sewage works, the repair and scavenging of the highways and footways, and the provision of public lighting and water supply. The highways were the most costly of these, expenditure on them trebling from £1,000 to £3,000 between 1852 and 1900. The cost of gas, which was supplied by the Gas Company on contract, remained fairly constant at between £500 and £700 for many years, but in the nineties increased to over £1,000. Salaries paid by the board rose from £500 to over £800 in the whole period.
The town council could rely for certain income on its traditional sources of property and market dues. Income from property was variable, for much was let on 41-year leases, and fines for renewal added intermittently, but sometimes considerably, to quitrents which totalled about £170 in the fifties and sixties. A good deal of property was sold in the later years of the century, to raise the cost of buying Bugmore Meadows and building the new police station. In 1891 dilapidated properties in Winchester Street, Bedwin Street, and St. Edmund Church Street, and in 1894 ground near the city ditch at Milford Way, were sold and the proceeds, amounting to £3,500, invested. In 1897, however, the stock had all to be sold to meet an award of £4,850 against the city under the Lunacy Act 1891 (fn. 43) as a contribution to the cost incurred by the county in building the asylum at Devizes. From that time £100 was set aside each year to replace it. In 1903 the income from the city's remaining property was still about £160. (fn. 44) The market tolls varied less; they were usually about £100 or rather less until they were transferred to the local board about 1890. The council's other income apart from rates was chiefly from Government (later County Council) grants toward the police force and the cost of criminal prosecutions at the sessions. The police grant was usually rather under half the cost of the force. Between 1852 and 1902 the amount which the council raised in rates rose from between £1,500 and £2,000 to about £3,500 a year; as with the local board, the increase in rateable value kept the rate in the £ steady at between 10d. and 1s. in most years. After the transfer of educational responsibility to the council in 1902, the amount required from the rates, exclusive of government grants, was doubled, the rate for 1903–4 being 1s. 11d. in the £.
The borough fund still remained charged with payments to charities of about £120 a year. Repairs to bridges sometimes involved considerable expenditure, and the Council House had several considerable sums spent on it during the period. The cost of the police force rose from £500 in the fifties to £1,700 in 1900. New responsibilities also raised the amount which the borough fund had to provide: by 1900 they included a penny rate for the library, a halfpenny rate to technical education, and yearly payments to school and burial boards.
In 1903 the council memorialized the Local Government Board to have the boundaries of the city extended. It was able to point out the extent of the public works undertaken in the previous halfcentury, and that only about £28,000 was still owing on them. (fn. 45) The petition was successful, and the boundaries were extended in 1904 to include new suburban districts in neighbouring parishes. (fn. 46) The city as newly constituted was divided into 7 wards, each represented by an alderman and 3 councillors, making a council of 7 aldermen and 21 councillors, one of the latter being mayor. (fn. 47) The distinction between the two capacities of the council was largely removed by the change. The practice of having separate borough and general funds, however, was kept for a few more years, until the modern practice of each committee estimating for its own expenditure was adopted. When the city boundary was again extended in 1927, the number of wards was increased to 8, and the size of the council to 32. (fn. 48) A third extension in 1954 left the constitution of the council unchanged. (fn. 49)
The great increase in the volume of the council's business in the 40 years after 1904 was the result both of increases in area and population and of government enactment. Only a brief summary can be attempted here. (fn. 50) In 1904 the council became the burial authority for its area in place of the Salisbury and Fisherton Burial Boards, which had been formed in the 1850's. The work of extending the city's sewers and water services to the added districts occuped several years. In 1904 a joint isolation hospital committee was formed with neighbouring local authorities and a hospital was built near the Amesbury road beyond Old Sarum in 1911–12. (fn. 51) The trustees of the Victoria Park handed control of the park to the city in 1905. In 1909 the provision of allotments was undertaken under the Act of the previous year, (fn. 52) and in 1916 a maternity and child welfare centre was set up. (fn. 53) A housing committee was first appointed in 1917, and the first housing scheme begun in 1919; (fn. 54) between then and 1939 the council built 754 houses. (fn. 55) In 1920 the council took over the Salisbury Volunteer Fire Brigade, (fn. 56) and paid firemen were appointed. The actual provision of school buildings by the education committee began with the opening of the school at Highbury Avenue in 1924. (fn. 57) In the same year the works of the Fisherton Anger and Bemerton Water Works Company were taken over. (fn. 58) When the boundary of the city was again extended in 1927, the Bemerton sewage works were also taken over. In the same year the council bought St. Edmund's College for its Council House, and laid out the grounds. (fn. 59) The use of the Market Place and other spaces in the city for parking cars was authorized in 1929, and subsequently an additional car park was made at Salt Lane. In 1930 a new police station was provided in Endless Street, (fn. 60) and a swimming pool built behind Castle Street in 1932.
After the Second World War government policy curtailed the council's activities in several directions. The 1944 Education Act (fn. 61) transferred the responsibility for education to the County Council, and the Police Act of 1946 (fn. 62) and the Fire Service Act of 1947 (fn. 63) made the county the authority for those services. The National Health Service Act of 1946 (fn. 64) transferred the isolation hospital to the Regional Hospital Board, and the supervision of maternity and child welfare to the county. The provision of housing remained a major function of the council: between 1946 and 1960 a further 1,522 dwellings were built. (fn. 65) In 1959 the coach station and central car park were built behind Castle Street and the new cattle market in Scamell's Road, (fn. 66) and in 1960 the crematorium adjoining the London Road cemetery was opened. In 1961 a new sewage works at Peter's Finger is under construction. During the years after 1945 the council was much concerned with the enormous increase in the amount of traffic through the city. Many measures had to be taken to deal with this, including the introduction of one-way streets and limited parking areas, and the improving of visibility at some street-corners.