Parish Council

Origin and role of Parish Councils

In centuries past, the absence of any developed system of local government meant that Church of England parishes (often in conjunction with a prominent local landowner), represented the only ‘natural’ authority in many villages in England and Wales. Over time, the charitable activities of many parishes, e.g. caring for the poor, became a formal responsibility, i.e. with the introduction of the Elizabethan system of Poor Relief. By Victorian times church parishes were beginning to accrue responsibility for wider local services, e.g. basic schooling and highways, which were increasingly regarded as needing to be a civil, rather than church, responsibility.

The need for a formal system of civil local government was finally recognised in the Local Government Act of 1894, which created the system of Parish and Town Councils we have today. Their boundary areas often closely matched well established church parish boundaries, by which communities already identified themselves. Despite use of the word ‘parish’ in their title, Parish Councils have no responsibility for church affairs.

Parish  (or in larger communities Town) Councils form the bottom tier of Local Government, their role being to allow communities to have a say in how some of their local affairs are conducted, and to otherwise liaise with higher tiers of government.

Morville Hall, with the Weaver Family, c.1750, by John Inigo Richards (1731-1810)