The first meeting of Timsbury Parish Council was held in the village schoolroom on 13th December 1894 at 8 pm. The seven councillors present had been elected at an earlier Parish Meeting by a simple show of hands. This avoided the expense of a secret ballot or poll, and for many years remained the usual method of election. Officers were appointed, and also a clerk, for whom there was no salary until April 1895. The purchase of a Minute Book and stationery was authorised, funded from the l/2d rate which financed the new council. Although the Rector, on behalf of the school man- agers, asked for l/6d rent for each meeting, the Council offered l/- per meeting to cover the cost of ‘firing and lighting’ to be paid only when these were needed.
Within a year, parishioners were urging the Council to obtain land for a public cemetery. This resulted in an exchange of letters, copied in full in the Minute Book, between the Council and the local landowner, S.S.P.
Sambourne Esq. The offer of land, ‘near the present burial ground . . . taken from the field opposite my back gate’ at no expense to the rate payer, was in September 1897 accepted with gratitude and the ‘best thanks of the Parishioners of Timsbury’. The land referred to is the present burial ground.
Street lighting, maintenance of roads and footpaths, and drainage and sewerage problems were the main preoccupations of the Council, together with a strong disinclination to spend any money. Wherever possible the local Rural District Council, Clutton, was asked to take any necessary action.
The Parish Council took over the work of an existing lighting committee. Each year at the Annual Parish Meeting in March, the provision of street lighting was debated, and a sum of money agreed to meet the costs of the next lighting season. There was usually an attempt to reduce any figure under consideration, and even suggestions that the village should not be lit at all. The allowance in 1895 of £20 rose to £35 by 1914 as more of the village was lit, and it became necessary to employ two lamplighters at 2/- a day instead of one.
Every summer, the minutes record the authorisation given for lamps and lamp posts to be checked, cleaned and repaired if necessary. Tenders for the supply of oil, glasses, and wicks were obtained, and a lamplighter appointed, whose work was to be superintended by the clerk. Dates were set for the lighting of the lamps, which was not thought necessary when the moon was between six and nineteen days old.
The first lamplighter received 8/- per week. By 1899 the rate was 2/- per day. When additional lamps were installed along Hayswood Road in 1904, the daily rate was increased to 2/8d. to take account of the extra walking involved. Lamplighters came and went: the work of one was not satisfactory; another gave notice when the Council did not accept his terms for work; another met with an accident. From 1907, in accordance with Workmen’s Compensation legislation, Council insured the lamplighter and other employees.
Damage to lamps was not unknown. In November 1899, the Council agreed to have notices printed, offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of ‘any person wilfully damaging or interfering in any way with parish lamps’. When P.C. Hathway caught some offending ‘schoolboys from Bloomfield’, they were given a choice: each boy could either pay good to repair the lamps, with any surplus being sent to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, or appear before the local magistrates. The boys paid up, and P.C. Hathway, who had refused to accept any reward, was sent a letter expressing the Council’s ‘best thanks’. In other cases too, bills were sent to those known to be responsible for damage. In 1911, Mr. Wheeler was asked to pay for a lamp smashed by his steam roller.
During summer the lamps were stored, at a cost of 5/-, until it was again time to make them ready for use.
Maintenance of footpaths and highways occupied much of the Council’s time. The minutes regularly mention paths all over the village in need of attention: Withy Mills, Bloomfield, Hayswood, Northfield, Crookham, Amesbury, and Tyning (where people caused a nuisance by putting their ashes and refuse in the roadway), and especially the Haw-Haw. All these had to be kept open and fit for public use at all times, with hedges and trees cut back, and any obstructions removed. The Council campaigned against the ‘exceedingly awkward if not dangerous stiles’ which were replacing swing gates in many places.
The state of the highways was a matter for the Rural District Council. Letters to Clutton R.D.C. from the Parish Clerk regularly demanded action; that men be sent at once to scrape mud from Rectory Lane; that a better face be put on roads being repaired; that the steam roller be used on the byroads of the whole Clutton Union; that all unlawful obstructions be removed from the path between Withy Mills and the Canal. Sadly, there is no reply to his query. ‘Does the Road Surveyor have the right to deposit heaps of stones by the roadside at any spot he pleases?’
The lack of adequate drainage or sewerage systems in the village created further problems for the Council. The Minutes tell of overflowing ditches, of nuisances when public sewers discharged their contents into open places, and of the insanitary condition of drains and closets of cottages all over the village. But the prevailing reluctance to spend money pre- vented the adoption of any scheme to tackle the problem.
From time to time, water shortages also occurred. A Mr. J. Thatcher was thanked for sending water to the village during droughts in the summers of 1896 and 1899. He was again thanked for his prompt assistance in sending water in December 1901. The Parish Council asked the R.D.C. for a better water supply, but when a scheme was eventually drawn up and accepted by Clutton in 1905, there was much concern at the cost. Council expressed the view that ‘hydrants etc’ were not required, and only in 1907 was it agreed to install them.
The demands made by local government on ratepayers were felt to be increasingly burdensome. In 1911, the Annual Village Meeting appealed to the R.D.C. to do its ‘utmost to economise, or use some other means to make the water supply pay its way’. Later in the year the Parish Council ‘respectfully’ protested against the extravagant expenditure of the County Council in the matter of salaries, and asked them to check the constant rate increases which pressed ‘so hardly upon the poorer class of ratepayers’.
The Parish Council was at this time forced to abandon its planned purchase of hoses and fire appliances for a volunteer fire brigade. It objected strongly in 1913 to proposals for a Scavenging Scheme (Refuse Collection), claiming that any increase in the already high level of rates would be intolerable. The same reasons lay behind a ‘respectful protest’ at a proposed sewerage scheme in 1913: ratepayers could not afford to add another 3/6d in the £1 to the 8/- they were already paying. The ‘extravagant expenditure’ of the County Council provoked another protest at the Annual Parish Meeting in 1914. The failure of the collieries in recent years had brought about a sharp decline in prosperity and the village feared ruin.
It would not be right to end this section on a note of economic downturn. The Minute Books for the period suggest that the village had developed and that it had been well served by its hardworking councillors and its diligent clerks, so skilful with their pens, and adept at neatly turned phrases.
The Council had succeeded in getting better postal services: pillar boxes were eventually provided at Hook and at the Temperance Hall, and a second postal delivery covered not just the centre of the village. But pleas for greater privacy for the transaction of financial business at the local Post Office were unanswered. The Great Western Railway received several enquiries from the Council about the promised Halt at Radford on the Hallatrow – Limpley Stoke branch line, eventually opened in 1910.
The Council’s concerns extended beyond the largely parochial issues mentioned so far, and they expressed their views to men on the national political scene. Complaints about the high level of rates were sent to the local Member of Parliament, Mr. Llewellyn. In 1904 the M.P., the Prime Minister (A. J. Balfour) and Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, the Liberal Party Leader, received notice of the Council’s ‘strong disapproval’ of the Government’s Licensing Bill. A letter critical of the way in which magistrates were appointed was sent to the Lord Chancellor. The minutes do not specify the objections raised.
One of the aims of the 1894 Local Government Act was to encourage local democracy. The Parish Council records for 1894 – 1914 indicate a fair degree of success for this objective in Timsbury.
Reproduced from ‘Timsbury Parish Council 1894-1994’ by kind permission of the Council and the author Mrs V Packham.