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History of local government in Hillingdon

The history of local government in Hillingdon follows that of the rest of England, from the Saxons to the present day.


In the Saxon period, from about 790 to 1066, the country was divided into administrative units known as shires, which have survived to the present day as counties.  Middlesex was the shire of the Middle Saxons.  Each shire was governed by an ealdorman, appointed to the post by the king.

Another important shire official was the shire-reeve, from which the more modern sheriff is derived. The shire-reeve was responsible for upholding the law, and holding civil and criminal courts in the shire.

Below the level of the shire, the land was divided into an unlimited number of hundreds, each consisting of 10 groups of 10 households. Each hundred was led by a hundred-man, and had its own hundred court. The members of the hundred were therefore collectively held responsible for each individual's conduct, thereby decentralising the administration of justice upon the people themselves.

Hundreds raised armies and collected taxes for the king. Each hundred had a name that reflected an important landmark, often the meeting place for the hundred court.  Hillingdon was in Elthorne Hundred.  This referred to a conspicuous thorn tree, the location of which is now lost.  Elthorne Hundred covered the whole of modern day Hillingdon borough plus the parishes of Northolt, Greenford and Hanwell.

The Normans and Medieval England 1066-1500

The Norman Conquest in 1066 introduced the feudal system to England. This was a very rigid and centralised system, through which all land was held from the King by his subjects. 

The Saxon shire system became less important. However, the system did continue in use. The shires, also called counties by the Normans, remain the major geographical division of England today. In the period immediately after the Norman Conquest, hundreds also remained as the basic administrative unit. In the Domesday Book of 1086, listing all land held in the new Norman kingdom, the survey is taken shire by shire, and hundred by hundred.

As the middle ages continued, though, the hundred became less important as local administration was increasingly based on the parish, manor or town. 

The manor was the basic unit of governance.  The Lord of the Manor administered the estate through his officers, the reeve and the bailiff, who were responsible for all aspects of the lives and work of the people who lived on the manor, and held manorial courts to deal with minor disputes, rights and the transfer of land.  They were controlled through the manorial courts. 

The parish was the area which owed allegiance to a parish church; it could be the same area as the manor but not necessarily.  There could be several manors in one parish.  Hillingdon has nine medieval parishes but there were at least twenty manors.  The ancient parishes are Cowley, Cranford, Harefield, Harlington, Harmondsworth, Hayes, Hillingdon, Ickenham, Ruislip and West Drayton. 

St John the Baptist parish church Hillingdon

During this period towns became more important.  The King often granted a town a market charter, by which the inhabitants paid tolls to the King and in effect became freemen rather than serfs. Henry II granted around 150 royal charters to towns around England, which were thereafter referred to as boroughs.

For an annual rent to the crown, boroughs were given various privileges, such as the right to hold a market and the rights to levy certain taxes. These self-governing towns were run by a corporation of the most prominent men in the town, with a mayor as head of the corporation.  This system is the first recognisably modern aspect of local government in England.     

Bassett's Grant Not all market towns established during this period were autonomous.  Uxbridge was one such town, granted its charter in about 1189.  It was never fully self-governing and this status led to problems in later years when the townspeople disputed the rights of the Lord of Colham Manor. 

The counties remained important as the basis for the legal system. The sheriff continued as the paramount legal officer in each county, and each county eventually had its own court system for trials (the Quarter Sessions).

Local government from the Tudors to the Georgians


From the sixteenth century the county increasingly took on an administrative role in local government. The justices of the peace had various administrative functions known as county business.

This business was transacted at the Quarter Sessions, summoned four times a year by the Lord Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant had been instituted in the 1540s to be the Crowns' direct representative in the county.

By the nineteenth century the county magistrates exercised powers over the licensing of alehouses, the construction of bridges, prisons and asylums, superintendence of main roads, public buildings and charitable institutions, and the regulation of weights and measures. The justices were empowered to levy local taxes to support these activities.

These administrative functions were attached to the county's legal role, since this was the only body which acted county-wide at that time.

Middlesex Guildhall


After the reformation of the Catholic Church, the ecclesiastical parishes of the Church of England came to play their own decisive role in local government. Although the parishes were not governmental organisations, laws were passed requiring them to carry out certain roles.

From 1555, they were responsible for the upkeep of nearby roads and from 1605 for administering the Poor Law, by which they collected money to look after their own poor.

The parishes were run by parish councils, known as vestries, often elected from amongst local rate-payers, but often self-selecting. Parishes were also required to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.

The foundations of Modern Local Government

By the beginning of the nineteenth century there had been a massive increase in population and urbanisation that the old small-scale local government could not cope with.

In 1837 laws were passed allowing rural parishes to group together as Poor Law Unions, in order to administer the Poor Law more effectively; these unions were able to collect taxes ('rates') in order to carry our poor-relief. Each union was run by a Board of Guardians, partly elected but also including local justices of the peace.

To aid in the new poor law administration, all land which was not part of ecclesiastical parishes was formed in 1866 into Civil Parishes. 

The newly formed Uxbridge Poor Law Union covered the whole of the present borough including Northolt, Southall and part of Greenford, but excluding Harlington and Harmondsworth which came within the Staines district.  Uxbridge Board of Health

Following a number of very serious cholera outbreaks the Public Health Act of 1848 was passed, establishing a Local Board of Health in towns, to regulate sewerage and the spread of diseases, with the members of the board elected by the ratepayers. Uxbridge was the first town in England to apply to form a Local Board of Health.

In 1873 and 1875, further Public Health Acts were passed, which established new organisations to administer both the poor law, and public health and sanitation. Urban sanitary districts were created from the Local Boards of Health, and continued to be run by in similar fashion. Rural sanitary districts were created from the Poor Law Unions, and, again were similarly governed.

Modern Local Government

In 1888 the Local Government Act reformed all aspects of local government in England.

The counties were used as the basis of the system.  With the advent of elected councils, though, the offices of lord lieutenant and sheriff became largely ceremonial.  The county council consisted of aldermen and councillors. The councillors were elected by the local population and the aldermen by the councillors.  There was no mayor, only a chairman elected each year by the councillors.

County buildings, Uxbridge The Middlesex County Council governed the 'rural' part of the county, the metropolitan area being administered by the new London County Council.  Middlesex County Council was responsible for the administration of justice, licensing, asylums, highway maintenance, including bridges, drainage, public health and housing, education and libraries.

A Local Government Act in 1894 also created a second tier of local government. The administrative counties were divided into either rural or urban districts, allowing more localised administration. The urban and rural districts were based upon, and incorporated the sanitary districts which had been created in 1875.

The Act also provided for the establishment of civil parishes. The 1894 Act formed an official system of civil parishes, separated from the ecclesiastical parishes, to carry on some of these responsibilities. 

In Hillingdon the Uxbridge Local board of Health became the Uxbridge Urban and Rural Sanitary Authority from 1874 until 1894 when the Uxbridge Urban and Rural District Councils were formed. 

The Uxbridge Rural District comprised the parishes of Cowley, Harefield, Hayes, Hillingdon (including Yiewsley), Ickenham, Ruislip (including Eastcote and Northwood) and West Drayton.  Harmondsworth, Harlington and Cranford came under the Staines Rural District Council. 

In 1904 the parishes of Ruislip and Hayes ceded from the Uxbridge Rural District to become the Ruislip-Northwood and Hayes Urban Districts. 

In 1911 Yiewsley, which had become a civil parish in 1895, became the Urban District of Yiewsley.  In 1929 the Uxbridge Rural District was abolished and the parish of West Drayton was amalgamated with Yiewsley to form the Yiewsley and West Drayton Urban District Council, which in 1930 was extended to include the parish of Harmondsworth. 

Also in 1930 the parishes of Harlington and Cranford were included with Hayes to form the Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council.  In 1934 the civil parish of Cranford was abolished and the parish of Harlington was extended to include that part of Cranford west of the river Crane and north of the Bath Road.  Mrs Lovibund

Reforms since 1945

From 1945, to reflect further changes in population, there have been a number of attempts to reform local government.  Middlesex was left out because it had "special problems" primarily the complexity due to the spread of London. 

In 1955 Uxbridge achieved a long awaited ambition to become a Borough.

Finally, in 1965, a major reform of government in London was undertaken.  The counties of London and Middlesex were abolished and along with parts of Essex, Surrey and Kent, formed into a new county of Greater London.  Greater London was divided into 32 metropolitan boroughs.  Hillingdon was formed by the amalgamation of the borough of Uxbridge and the urban districts of Ruislip-Northwood, Hayes and Harlington and Yiewsley and West Drayton.  The new borough took on the responsibility for education, libraries, public health and housing. Strategic responsibility for the whole of London was taken by the Greater London Council.

In 1985 the Greater London Council was abolished and its responsibilities spread around the boroughs with some functions run by non-governmental bodies, such as Transport for London. 

In 2000 the Greater London Authority was formed, with an elected mayor, resuming many of the strategic responsibilities of the GLC.

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Article utilities:  Bookmark and Share Print Print this page Last updated: 02 Jun 2017 at 11:52