Local government
Parish government to 1837

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Victoria County History

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Patricia E.C. Croot (editor)

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2004

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203-206

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'Local government: Parish government to 1837', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea (2004), pp. 203-206. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=28716 Date accessed: 20 October 2014.


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PARISH GOVERNMENT TO 1837

The parish vestry met in the later 17th and early 18th centuries to appoint officers, approve accounts, and order rates, as well as for exceptional purposes, (fn. 7) but it is not clear how often it met each year. The parish built a meeting room for it in 1706 in Church Street, as part of Petyt's school gift, (fn. 8) perhaps the same vestry room being used in 1837. (fn. 9) In the mid and late 18th century the vestry was meeting at irregular intervals between 8 and 17 times a year. (fn. 10) In the 1800s meetings were scarcely less frequent. (fn. 11) In 1662 James Leverett bequeathed a rent charge for the poor which included £4 a year for fours dinners a year at the Magpie for the churchwardens, overseers, parish clerk and constables, and the master of the Magpie. (fn. 12)

The vestry remained open. By the early 18th century those attending apparently included a varying core of parish officers, ex-officers, and substantial householders who signed resolutions. In 1713 the churchwardens' accounts were passed by 12 signatories, in 1715 by 22. (fn. 13) In the 1740s and 1750s typically from 5 to 35 people, on one occasion 84, signed. (fn. 14) The range was similar in 1810. (fn. 15) A much larger fringe of parishioners, up to 120 in the mid 18th century and up to 1,600 by the 1830s, (fn. 16) voted at disputed elections of parish officials and may have attended other meetings without signing, even though the resolution was formally unanimous. Votes on specific issues were restricted to landholders in 1783, to ratepayers in 1786, to £10 ratepayers in 1795, to £8 ratepayers in 1798 and 1805, and to paid-up ratepayers from 1809 to 1825. (fn. 17) In 1751, though 77 people voted on a disputed resolution, only 18 and 27 respectively signed the opposing versions. (fn. 18) Sometimes differing numbers of people signed different resolutions at the same meeting. (fn. 19) Women sometimes voted, as in 1759 (fn. 20) and especially between 1775 and 1809. (fn. 21)

Decisions of the vestry were normally unanimous or by informal majority. Polls were usually restricted to elections of officers, although formal votes on motions were recorded in 1751 and from 1835 to 1837. (fn. 22) Occasionally a vestry meeting rescinded a decision of a recent predecessor. Sometimes this seems to have been because of a change in circumstances, (fn. 23) sometimes because of a genuine change of view, such as over the best way of maintaining streets in Hans Town in 1790 or repairing the church in 1815. (fn. 24) Sometimes rescinding resulted from a legal challenge to a decision made without sufficient notice, or resistance to a salary increase. (fn. 25) In 1788 resident JPs claimed that a vestry order rescinding a motion about highway widening was not complete; the vestry responded by a unanimous rebuttal. (fn. 26) Increasing, though intermittent, controversy over management of rates and the workhouse from 1809 led to the rescinding of a scheme of 1809 to manage workhouse contracts (fn. 27) and of a proposal for a local Act in 1811-12. (fn. 28)

VESTRY COMMITTEES

Like open vestries in other populous parishes (fn. 29) Chelsea made extensive use of committees, an approach which probably helped to facilitate a high standard of day-to-day administration, at least in the mid 18th century. (fn. 1) Besides a standing committee to manage the workhouse from 1735 (fn. 2) and a regular committee from 1825 to examine the surveyors' accounts, (fn. 3) ad hoc committees for particular purposes were often appointed in the mid 18th century, and again, after an apparent gap between 1765 and 1780, in the late 18th and earlier 19th centuries. Besides workhouse matters (fn. 4) and church affairs, (fn. 5) they considered or managed almost all types of business: boundary disputes in 1753, (fn. 6) procedures for rating the Royal Hospital or negotiating with its commissioners in 1747, 1780, 1781, and 1795, (fn. 7) for rating St George Hanover Square's proposed parish workhouse in Little Chelsea in 1787 (fn. 8) and meeting costs of Trinity chapel, Sloane Street, in 1831, (fn. 9) the walling, maintenance, or replacement of burial grounds in 1789, 1799, 1807, and 1810, (fn. 10) Chamberlaine's bequests in 1827, (fn. 11) paving of Sloane Street in 1790, (fn. 12) surveying drains in Riley Street in 1800, (fn. 13) rebuilding the embankment at Millman Row in 1815, (fn. 14) investigating parish lighting in 1832, (fn. 15) managing a corps of volunteer infantry in 1803 (fn. 16) and an association against felons in 1811, (fn. 17) and organizing special collections for the poor in 1809 for George III's jubilee and again in 1820. (fn. 18) Until the 1820s, (fn. 19) financial committees were only set up at moments of special concern to examine recent accounts: of the officers in 1751, the churchwardens in 1765, the overseers in 1782. (fn. 20)

Committees were used to lobby or petition parliament, in 1753 with neighbouring parishes to get an Act to reform the highway rate, (fn. 21) and in 1800 to confer with them about a proposed Paddington to Harrow turnpike Act; (fn. 22) in 1797 to lobby against increased general taxation, (fn. 23) and to monitor a poor-law bill and seek relief from supporting the Royal Hospital's poor, (fn. 24) and in 1812 to resist a new bill for the metropolitan night watch, (fn. 25) as well as to prepare Chelsea's own rates Bills in 1811 and 1820. (fn. 26) Committees to lobby parliament were again set up in 1833 and 1835. (fn. 27) The ad hoc committees usually included officers, but varied in size from 5 to 57; the usual number seems to have been between 10 and 20. In 1832 the lighting committee explicitly included the parish magistrates. A quorum was usually specified, often a much smaller number than the total: thus in 1806 a committee of 50 had a quorum of 11. (fn. 28)

PARISH OFFICERS

Two churchwardens were mentioned from 1552. (fn. 29) In 1693 and again in 1702 the justices were ordered to examine a churchwarden's accounts, (fn. 30) and in 1695 the churchwardens were ordered to be reimbursed for costs defending a parish suit. (fn. 31) By 1746 they were chosen at the Easter Tuesday vestry. (fn. 32) As was quite common one churchwarden was nominated by the rector and the other by the parish, and the parish warden's post was sometimes disputed, (fn. 33) though more often he was nominated by an outgoing warden unopposed. Between 1785 and 1825 there seems to have been no disputed election, (fn. 34) but from 1826 to 1830 numbers voting rose from 190 apparently to 999. The 1830 election may have been disorderly and no other was disputed until 1841. (fn. 35) There were sidesmen by 1672, when they collected church rates and gifts to the poor and distributed the latter. (fn. 36) Two were appointed yearly from 1826, when the election was disputed, as in 1827. (fn. 37)

Though two witnesses in 1552 may not have been parish officers, (fn. 1) there were two jurats in 1574, two jurats or oeconomi in 1577, and two oeconomi in 1580 and 1586. Since those officials were additional to the wardens, (fn. 2) they may have been the predecessors of the overseers of the poor, who were mentioned from 1632. (fn. 3) There were 2 or more in 1637, (fn. 4) and 2 in 1706, (fn. 5) as in 1745. (fn. 6) The statutory procedure of Easter Week nomination and submission of names to the justices seems to have been followed. From 1783 those with the most votes were not necessarily appointed. (fn. 7) The number was increased to 4 in 1807. (fn. 8) An assistant overseer was elected in 1833, when at least 1,651 parishioners, about 21 per cent of adult males, voted. (fn. 9)

Surveyors of the highways were chosen in 1691-2, (fn. 10) and by 1696, when Quarter Sessions ordered them to be paid by defaulting ratepayers, there were two, as in 1752. (fn. 11) From 1774 the vestry submitted names for their appointment by the magistrates; those with most support in the parish were not always appointed. (fn. 12) The number was temporarily increased to three from 1787 (fn. 13) to 1791. (fn. 14) A highways board of 6 was appointed in 1834, suppressed in 1836, and revived in 1838. (fn. 15)

SALARIED OFFICIALS

The offices of parish clerk and sexton are treated elsewhere. (fn. 16)

There was a vestry clerk, separate from the parish clerk, by 1737. (fn. 17) By 1755, when a new clerk was appointed, his salary was £25 and he apparently held office indefinitely. That clerk's successor resigned in 1760, and 50 voted in the ensuing disputed election. (fn. 18) The new clerk served until his death in 1783, when another election, at which all landholders could vote, attracted 2 candidates and 424 voters. The salary was raised to £60 and customary fees were suppressed. A deputy served in 1789. (fn. 19) The salary was again raised, to 80 guineas, in 1798. The duties then defined included, besides keeping rate books and account books, work for the magistrates and the workhouse. In 1802, following a dispute, it was decided that salary increases for the clerk and other officers should have two vestries' notice to enable interested parishioners to attend. The next year the salary rose to £100, (fn. 20) and in 1807, reflecting an alleged great increase in the duties, to 150 guineas, raised by a further 50 guineas in 1814. (fn. 21) Under the St Luke Chelsea Poor Rates Act, 1821, the vestry clerk was also clerk of the parochial committee. (fn. 22) In 1823 the vestry resolved to elect the clerk annually, though the old clerk could be re-elected. (fn. 23) The salary was raised to £300 in 1825, when the clerk might employ a deputy to attend the weekly petty sessions. (fn. 24) A review of the duties in 1838 revealed that he had to attend all public vestries, draft notices for them, and take minutes; convene committees of the vestry, and attend when required; summon the parochial committeemen; conduct parochial correspondence, and deal with other records; make out rate books for lighting, poor rates, and highway rates; fill up summonses and warrants against an average of 3,000 defaulters yearly; attend the magistrates; make out indentures of apprenticeship; deal with settlement and removal, including observances required by Poor Law Amendment; maintain lists of county voters and juries; organize the annual election of guardians; and deal with contracts or accounts relating to the poor. (fn. 25) The duties were accordingly reduced, being managed by other bodies than the vestry, and the salary cut to £80. (fn. 26)

By 1685 there was a beadle, provided with clothes and a bell, (fn. 27) and by 1712 with a £5 salary. (fn. 28) In 1779, when the salary was £12 besides a uniform, ten candidates contested the post on the incumbent's death, and the winner was decided by ballot. He was to attend all church services, vestries, and workhouse committees, and to take instructions daily from the churchwardens and overseers. (fn. 29) In 1784 his required attendance on the officers was reduced, but he was to discourage lodgers and beggars, and perquisites were incorporated in a revised salary of £30. (fn. 30) Similar instructions were repeated later, as in 1795. (fn. 31) By 1795 the beadle elected in 1779 was too old to work and it was resolved to elect the beadle annually; from 1796 he was chosen with the other officers. (fn. 1) The contested elections of 1779 and 1795 attracted 312 and 419 voters respectively. (fn. 2) A second beadle for Hans Town was elected from 1798, and each beadle was given an apparently additional salary of £10. (fn. 3) In 1804 each beadle's salary was increased from £40 to £50. In 1806 a retiring beadle was awarded a salary to keep the church galleries and churchyard in order, but the decision was soon reversed and the beneficiary pensioned off. (fn. 4) The beadles' salaries were again raised, to £70, in 1812. (fn. 5) A proposal for a third beadle, deflected in 1826, was successfully revived in 1829, (fn. 6) but from 1838 the salary of that beadle, who served at the parish chapel, was reduced to £40, effectively a pension, as his post was considered redundant. (fn. 7)

Under the St Luke Chelsea Rates Act three collectors of rates were appointed from 1821. At the initial election 3,490 votes were cast for four candidates. (fn. 8) Twelve inspectors of lighting were appointed from 1833. (fn. 9)

HANS TOWN COMMISSIONERS

After Henry Holland's development of Hans Town in the north-east of the parish, (fn. 10) an Act was obtained in 1790 which created the district thereafter officially known as Hans Town to cover the 89 a. leased by Holland. The Act set up a body of commissioners to include all landowners resident in the area who had a rental of at least £30 a year, or lessees rated at £30, or occupiers of buildings rated at £30 who also had £2,000 in personal estate. The commissioners had powers to repair, light, and water the streets there, and to appoint watchmen. The costs were to be met by a rate of 2s. 6d. in the pound on houses and gardens, and 1s. in the pound on other land, according to the poor-rate valuation. The commissioners were to pay yearly to the parish surveyors of the highways £4, the approximate value to which the 89 acres of land had been assessed to the poor rate before development. In 1803 the commissioners were also given powers of street cleaning, which seem to have been accidentally omitted from the earlier Act, and of refuse collection. (fn. 11) The services which they provided were regarded as far better than those in what came to be called 'the old part' of the parish. Hans Town's streets were better watched in 1829, (fn. 12) and in 1854, in proportion to its area and length of road, it had four times as many public pumps and nearly twice as many lamps as the old part. (fn. 13) The commissioners were abolished by the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855. (fn. 14)

Footnotes

7 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 57v., 77, 103, 118, 219v., 229.
8 Faulkner, Chelsea, I. 255; below, Soc. Hist., educ. (pub. schs, Petyt's).
9 Vestry mins, 1833-9, p. 171; cf. Vestry mins, 1839-43, p. 94; below, metropolitan vestry.
10 Vestry orders, 1745-71, 1771-90.
11 Ibid., 1790-1809.
12 PRO, PROB 11/310, f.11; CL, deed 18629.
13 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 219v., 240v.
14 Ibid., 1745-71, pp. 9, 104, 167-8, 170.
15 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 24, 26-7, 29, 31-2, 34, 37-8, 40, 46.
16 Ibid., 1745-71, pp. 190-4; Vestry mins, 1833-9, pp. 17-18.
17 Vestry orders, 1771-90, ff. 105, 127v.; 1790-1809, pp. 80, 154, 315; 1809-22, pp. 11, 229, 402; Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 74, 141.
18 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 110-11.
19 Ibid., pp. 95-6, 119-20, 154-6, 185-6, 189, 194.
20 Ibid., pp. 203-12.
21 Ibid., 1771-90, ff. 23-5, 43v.-45v., 54v.-57, 128-133v.; 1790-1809, pp. 81-6, 316-28; 1809-22, pp. 12-16.
22 Ibid., 1745-71, pp. 110-11; Vestry mins, 1833-9, pp. 88, 154, 173.
23 Vestry orders, 1771-90, ff. 157v., 159, 160v.
24 Ibid., 1790-1809, p. 4; 1809-22, p. 167.
25 Ibid., 1790-1809, p. 253; Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 62-3, 94; 1833-9, pp. 153-4.
26 Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 160v.
27 Below, poor relief to 1837 (workho.); Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 394-407.
28 Below, poor relief to 1837 (workho.).
29 S. and B. Webb, Eng. Local Govt [I]: The Par. and the County, 130-4.
1 Chelsea Settlement Examinations 1733-66, pp. xiv, xvii.
2 Below, poor relief to 1837 (workho.)
3 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. [1]55-6, 230-1, 251-3, 294, 312; 1833-9, p. 113.
4 Below, poor relief to 1837.
5 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 66, 68, 102, 104, 255, 294; 1771-90, ff. 135 and v., 145; 1790-1809, pp. 265-6, 346-7; 1809-22, pp. 135-6, 288-9, 310-11; Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 90, 124.
6 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 136-7.
7 Ibid., pp. 31-2; 1771-90, ff. 52, 62; 1790-1809, pp. 115-16.
8 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 148.
9 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 280-1.
10 Vestry orders, 1771-90, ff. 169v.-170; 1790-1809, pp. 194, 365; 1809-22, p. 23.
11 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 190, 198.
12 Vestry orders, 1771-90, f. 173v.
13 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, p. 199.
14 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 133-4.
15 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 316-17.
16 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 283-4.
17 Ibid., 1809-22, p. 67.
18 Ibid., pp. 18-19, 356-9.
19 Below, poor relief to 1837 (local Act and par. cttee).
20 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 98-9, 296; 1771-90, ff. 76-77v.
21 Ibid., 1745-71, pp. 147-9.
22 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 215-16.
23 Ibid., p. 140.
24 Ibid., pp. 115-17.
25 Ibid., 1809-22, p. 78.
26 Below, poor relief to 1837 (Local Act and par. cttee).
27 Vestry mins, 1822-33, p. 325; 1833-9, pp. 33-4.
28 Vestry orders, 1745-71, esp. pp. 103, 148; 1771-90; 1790-1809, esp. pp. 346-7; 1809-22; Vestry mins, 1822-33, esp. p. 321; 1833-9.
29 Faulkner, Chelsea, I. 191, II. 119; PRO, E 315/498, f. 2; Guildhall MSS 9537/1, f. 72v.; ibid. /2, f. 102; /3, f. 31v.; /4, ff. [1v.], 68v.; /6, f. 3; /15, f. 49v.; /17, f. 48v.; /20, ff. 30v., 96; 9583/2, pt. 6, f. 44; 9583/3, pt. 31 f. 37; CL, deed 18629; BL, Add. MS 11056, f. 284; Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 4, 38v., 47, 50, 55v., 57.
30 Middx County Rec. Sess. Bks 1689-1709, 96, 246.
31 Ibid., 123, 136.
32 Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 11.
33 e.g. ibid., pp. 11, 27, 154.
34 Ibid., 1771-90, passim; 1790-1809, passim; 1809-22, passim; Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 11, 86, 129, 147-8.
35 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. 165, 224, 246, 249, 271-3, 290, 302; 1833-9, passim; 1839-43, pp. 207, 210.
36 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 18-19.
37 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. [1]64, 166, 191-2, 224, 246, 271, 292, 302; 1833-9, pp. 9, 100, 208.
1 PRO, E 315/498, f. 2.
2 Guildhall MSS 9537/3, f. 31v.; 9537/4, ff.[1v.], 68v.; 9537/6, f. 3.
3 Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 141; PRO, PROB 11/272, f. 47; CL, deed 18629.
4 PRO, C 8/327/61.
5 Faulkner, Chelsea, I. 255.
6 Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 5.
7 Ibid., pp. 164, 177, 185, 196, 217, 226, 238, 253, 262, 278, 288, 301, 310, 322, 330, 342; 1771-90, ff. 1, 8, 13, 17, 27 and v., 39v., 102, 168; 1790-1809, p. 122.
8 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 375, 380-1, 383. A vote to increase it to 3 in 1790 had been reversed: ibid., 1771-90, f. 173; 1790-1809, p. 1.
9 Vestry mins, 1833-9, pp. 17-18; cf. ibid., 1822-33, unpaginated section at back of vol.
10 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, f. 57v.
11 Middx County Rec. Sess. Bks 1689-1709, 150, 158, 162; Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 121.
12 Vestry orders, 1771-90, ff. 20v., 29, 163v.
13 Ibid., ff. 157-9.
14 Ibid., f. 172v; 1790-1809, pp. 13, 30.
15 Vestry mins, 1833-9, pp. 62-3, 76, 135, 138, 174-5, 202.
16 Below, Rel. Life, par. ch.
17 CL, deed 18628; Vestry orders, 1745-71, p. 32.
18 Vestry orders, 1745-71, pp. 167, 228.
19 Ibid., 1771-90, ff. 105-8, 169.
20 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 173, 253, 278-80.
21 Ibid., pp. 374-5; 1809-22, p. 115.
22 St Luke Chelsea Poor Rates etc. Act, 1821, 1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 67, s. 12 (Local and Personal). For the cttee, below, poor relief to 1837 (Local Act and par. cttee).
23 Vestry mins, 1822-33, p. 86.
24 Ibid., p. 149.
25 Ibid., 1833-9, pp. 210-11.
26 Ibid., pp. 218-224.
27 Vestry orders, 1662-1718, ff. 37, 39.
28 Ibid., f. 217v.
29 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 43.
30 Ibid., ff. 111v.-112.
31 S. and B. Webb, Eng. Local Govt [I]: The Par. and the County, 127 n.
1 Vestry orders, 1790-1809, pp. 76-80, 97.
2 Ibid., 1771-90, f. 46; 1790-1809, p. 87.
3 Ibid., 1790-1809, pp. 148, 150-63.
4 Ibid., pp. 296-7, 338, 342-3.
5 Ibid., 1809-22, pp. 89-91.
6 Vestry mins, 1822-33, pp. [1]64-5, 172, 247-8, 248.
7 Ibid., 1833-9, pp. 212-14.
8 Vestry orders, 1809-22, pp. 391-3. For the Act, below, poor relief to 1837.
9 Vestry mins, 1833-9, p. 25; cf. below, pub. svces.
10 Above, Settlement, 1680-1865 (Hans Town).
11 Hans Town (Chelsea) Improvement Act, 30 Geo. III, c. 76; Hans Town (Chelsea) Improvement Amendment Act, 43 Geo. III, c. 11 (Local and Personal).
12 Below, pub. svces (pub. order); Faulkner, Chelsea, II. 341-2.
13 Returns of Paving, Cleansing and Lighting Metropolitan Districts (Parl. Papers, 1854-5 (127), LIII), p. 15.
14 18 & 19 Vic. c. 120, s. 90.