The History of Lincoln Waites

The Municipal Corporation Act of 1835

The Municipal Corporations Act was the piece of legislation that heralded the end of the Waits. This demise was not through design, or any malice, not even on purpose. Almost by accident, through Councils' need to (a) show financial accountability and (b) prove that they had endeavoured to cut unnecessary public spending, this legislation saw the demise of Waits in almost every town and city in England and Wales.

The Act (a further development of the 1832 Reform Act) was designed to reform the old Borough Councils of England and Wales and to split the old Boroughs into Electoral Wards (in an attempt to make the Councillors more representative of the whole of each Ward). It was Parliament's opinion that many of the old Borough Councils in England and Wales did not serve the needs of the whole population, were unrepresentative, were inefficient (or even negligent) and were certainly in urgent need of clear guidance and direction as to what their priorities should be. As well as splitting Boroughs into Electoral Wards (to make Councillors more accountable and to provide a more democratic system of Local Government), the Act required each Council to review their finances, to make savings where they could, and to focus firmly on the task of funding and undertaking improvements to Law and Order, Street Lighting, Footpaths, Roads, Bridges, Waterways, Water Supply and Sewage, etc.

The councils had to examine their financial position, as this increase in public expenditure would not be easy to meet. As a result, most councils in England decided to discontinue the Waits, as their annual salaries counted towards the savings needed to meet rising expenditure on maintaining roads, police, sewers etc.

There has previously been some uncertainty about exactly when the Municipal Corporation Act became law. The Council minutes of Lincoln City makes this clear (ref: L1/1/1/9). The following extract is taken from the "Minutes of the proceedings of the mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Lincoln, Commencing 1st January 1836".

"The King's Dissent from the Division of Wards, At the Court at Brighton, the 4th of December 1835. Present, The King's most Excellent Majesty in Council"

"Whereas by an Act passed in the sixth year of the Reign of his present Majesty [King William IV] entitled An Act to provide for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales which received the Royal assent on the 9th of September Last [9 September 1835] After reciting that it was expedient that certain Boroughs of large population should be divided into Wards before any Election of Councillors for such Boroughs should take place it was among other things enacted that every Borough in the Schedule to the said Act annexed should be divided up into the number of Wards mentioned in such schedule in conjunction with the name of such Borough, and that it should be lawful for the Barrister or Barristers appointed in pursuance of the provisions thereinbefore contained to revise the Burgess and Councillors lists of any Borough in the present year [1835], and he and they was and were required within the space of Six Weeks next after the passing of the said Act [21 October 1835] to determine and set out the extent limits and boundary lines of such Wards and what portions of such Borough should be included therein respectively, and the copy of the particulars of such division should be forthwith transmitted to one of His Majesties principal secretaries of State, and (if His Majesty by the advice of his privy council should approve such determination) should be published in the London Gazette."

The Act specified that the division into Electoral Wards should take place before the next local Council elections - so that the next elections would employ the new system, which was more democratic. But six weeks appears to have been too optimistic as an amendment makes the deadline sixty days instead [this would delay it for a further two weeks, until 9 November 1835].

"And whereas by an Order in Council dated the 30th day of September last [30 September 1835] his Majesty by advice of his privy council did order that it should be lawful for the Barrister or Barristers appointed in pursuance of the provisions in the said Act contained to determine and set out the extent limits and boundary lines of the Wards into which it is provided by the said Act that certain Boroughs of large population should be divided, and what portions of such Boroughs should be included therein respectively within the space of 60 days next after the passing of the said Act [9 November 1835] instead of the space of six weeks next after the passing of the said Act [21 October 1835]".

The Minutes (ref: L1/1/1/9) reveal that the two Barristers appointed to oversee that determination in Lincoln, completed the division on 25 October 1835. For the first time, Lincoln people had Electoral Wards, with their own Councillors.

There were a number of contributing factors that led to the introduction of this Act: One was that Parliament felt that local Borough Councils were using too much of their Councils' finds to pay for private dinners and entertainment - "Corporation funds are frequently expended in feasting and in paying the salaries of unimportant officers. In some cases, in which the funds are expended on public works, an expense has been incurred beyond what would be necessary if due care had been taken. These abuses often originate in negligence ... in the opportunity afforded of obliging members of their own body, or the friends and relations of such members." (Parliamentary Papers (1835) XXIII. Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations)

Another reason was that over 180 of the 250+ boroughs operated an undemocratic system of election for their councils - with only the existing council members being allowed to vote. This usually meant that they re-elected themselves, or brought in relatives or friends.

The Whig government set up a Royal Commission to investigate the working of local councils. Joseph Parkes, the lawyer chosen to be Secretary to the Commission, had a reputation of being radical. He investigated two-hundred and eighty-five town councils, most of which were found to be unsatisfactory. As a result of the Commission's findings, a Bill was drawn up and brought to the House of Commons by Lord John Russell in June 1835.

This Bill went through the House of Commons without too much difficulty. The House of Lords proved more difficult because many of the closed Corporations were controlled by Tories. The Tory Peers interpreted this Bill as an attack on privileges and property. Some amendments were made, and strong support from the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel prevented the House of Lords throwing out the Bill entirely.

The Terms of the Act

Further information on the Municipal Corporations Act:

A Motion brought by Mr Brogen

In a similar vain, on 1 January 1851, a motion was read to Lincoln City Council by Mr Brogden, requiring the abolition of all "useless offices". The fact that Mr Brogden felt a need for this motion in the first place, suggests that in Lincoln, the 1835 Act had not wiped out the old ceremonial posts, as it had in other towns and cities.

" make up the deficiency arising from the repeal of the Tax upon Windows and upon Income, this Council would recommend the abolition of all useless offices and pensions, a reduction in all official Salaries commensurate with the reduction in the price of Commodities resulting from the adoption of the 'Free Trade' Policy, and that specific customs duties be imposed, sufficient to raise the requisite removed, making such discrimination in favour of the industrial pursuits of our Country as to encourage home production without excluding foreign competition. This resolution be sent to the City & County Members of Parliament instructing them to vote for the repeal of Window Tax and against the 'reimposition' of Income Tax." (L1/1/7 – Notices of Motions 1849-1899)