Local Government Act 1888

Local Government Act 1888

The Local Government Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c. 41) was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1888 and established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. It came into effect on 1 April 1889 except for the County of London which came into existence on 21 March at the request of the London County Council. [Order of the President of the Local Government Board, 19 March 1889 (Printed in The Times, 21 March 1889)]

The Bill

Following the 1886 general election, a Conservative administration headed by Lord Salisbury was formed. However the Conservatives did not have a majority of seats and had to rely on the support of the Liberal Unionist Party. As part of the price for this support the Liberal Unionists demanded that a bill be introduced placing county government under the control of elected councils, modelled on the borough councils introduced by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. [B. Keith-Lucas, "Government of the County in England", The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Mar., 1956), pp. 44-55.]

Accordingly, the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 19 March 1888, by the President of the Local Government Board, Charles Ritchie. The Bill proposed the creation of elected county councils to take over the administrative functions of the magistrates of the Quarter Sessions courts, that ten large boroughs should be "counties of themselves" for the purposes of local government and that each county was to be divided into urban and rural districts, based on existing sanitary districts, governed by a district council. The county and district councils were to consist partly of directly elected "elective councillors" and partly of "selected councillors", chosen by the elective councillors in a similar manner to aldermen in municipal boroughs.

The counties to be used for local government were to be the historic counties of England and Wales. A county council was to be formed for each of the ridings of Yorkshire and the three divisions of Lincolnshire (Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey), leading to the creation of fifty-six county councils. A new County of London was to be formed from the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The boundaries of the counties were to be those used for parliamentary purposes, adjusted to include urban sanitary districts on county borders within a single county.

The ten boroughs which were to be "dealt with as separate counties" were named as Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Bradford, Nottingham, Kingston-on-Hull, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Existing urban and rural sanitary districts, created in 1872, were to be redesignated as urban and rural districts. Urban districts which lay across county boundaries were to be included in the county in which the greater part of the population lay in the 1881 census. Existing rural sanitary districts were to split on county lines to form rural districts.

Passage through parliament

There were a large number of changes to the Bill as it passed through parliament. The terms administrative county and county borough were introduced to designate the new areas of local government, while the "selected councillors" became "county aldermen". The government withdrew the sections relating to the creation of district councils, which were eventually brought into existence by the Local Government Act 1894.

Members of both houses made representations on behalf of counties and boroughs, and this lead to an increase in the number of local authorities.
*The eastern and western divisions of Sussex became administrative counties [Amendment by Walter Barttelot, MP for Horsham, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)]
*The Isle of Ely was separated from Cambridgeshire [Amendment by Captain Selwyn, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)]
*The eastern and western divisions of Suffolk were divided for local government purposes. [Amendment by Lord Bristol, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)]
*The Soke of Peterborough was separated from the remainder of Northamptonshire. [Amendment by Lord Exeter, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)]

Attempts to create administrative counties for the Cinque Ports and Staffordshire Potteries were not successful.

The population limit for county boroughs was lowered twice, firstly to 100,000, then to 50,000. A number of smaller counties corporate were also given county borough status. Mr Ritchie conceded on on 8 June:

"Now that they had gone down so far in population as 50,000 there arose a question as to the admission of boroughs which had not so large a population as 50,000, but which had very peculiar claims. He referred to the counties of cities."... "

"Two or three of these cities had so small a population that he did not propose to deal with them in this way. The best course was to give the names of the cities which he proposed to include. They were Exeter, Lincoln, Chester, Gloucester, Worcester, and Canterbury."

The effect of these changes was to increase the number of county boroughs from ten to fifty-nine. With a population of around 50,000 at the 1881 census, the City of London was initially proposed for county borough status.Davis, J., "Reforming London", (1988)]

County councils

The councils were subject to triennial elections, the first taking place in January 1889. The county councils elected in 1889 were known as "provisional" councils until coming into their powers on 1 April. Every administrative county was divided into electoral divisions, each returning a single councillor. Following the election, the county councillors then elected county aldermen, there being one alderman for every six councillors. The councillors appointed a chairman and vice chairman, who had a one year term of office.


The powers and responsibilities transferred from the quarter sessions to the councils were enumerated in the Act. These included:
*Making and levying of rates
*Borrowing of money
*Passing of county accounts
*Maintenance and construction of county buildings such as shire halls, county halls, court houses and police stations
*Licensing of places of entertainment and of race courses
*Provisions of asylums for pauper lunatics
*Establishment and maintenance of reformatory and industrial schools
*Repair of county roads and bridges†
*Appointment, dismissal and setting of salaries for county officers
*Division of the county into polling places for parliamentary elections, and the provision of polling stations
*Control of contagious diseases in animals, and of destructive insects
*Fish conservancy and control of wild birds
*Weights and measures

† The council could also declare a road a "main road" and take over its maintenance, and purchase existing bridges or build new ones.

County borough corporations also exercised these powers, in addition to those of a municipal borough.

tanding joint committees

Control of the county police was to be exercised jointly by the quarter sessions and the county council through a standing joint committee. The committees were replaced by police authorities by the Police Act 1964.

Counties for other purposes

The Act also altered what it calls the "counties", ensuring that the boundaries used for what it terms "non-administrative purposes" would be synchronised with the borders between the administrative counties.

The non-administrative purposes were stated to be "sheriff, lieutenant, custos rotulorum, justices, militia, coroner, or other", thus approximating to the functions of modern ceremonial counties.

County boroughs were included within their geographic county for such purposes and the counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire were undivided so far as they were one county at the passing of the Act. The three ridings of Yorkshire and a number of boroughs thus retained their existing lieutenancies and shrievalties.

Other provisions

Under section 48 of the Act all liberties and franchises, with the exception of those which became separate administrative counties, were to be merged with the county of which they formed part for parliamentary elections. The Cinque Ports, which for some purposes (such as lieutenacy) were considered a distinct county, were to become part of the county in which they were situate. Section 49 allowed for the creation by provisional order of a council for the "Scilly Islands" to be established as a unitary authority outside the administrative county of Cornwall. This was duly formed in 1890 as the Isles of Scilly Rural District.

List of administrative counties and county boroughs created in 1889


† From 1 April 1890 the Isle of Wight was separated from the County of Southampton to form an Administrative County. [Local Government Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No.2) Act 1889 (52 & 53 Vict. C.clxxvii)]

‡ Newport became a county borough in 1891


Unified towns

There were twenty-two urban sanitary districts unified in one county:

*Banbury (Oxfordshire/Northamptonshire)
*Barnard Castle (Durham/Yorkshire North Riding)
*Burton upon Trent (Staffordshire/Derbyshire)
*East Barnet Valley (Hertfordshire/Middlesex)
*Ebbw Vale (Monmouthshire/Breconshire)
*Hyde (Cheshire/Lancashire)
*Ludlow (Shropshire/Herefordshire)
*Market Harborough (Leicestershire/Northamptonshire)
*Merthyr Tydfil (Glamorgan/Breconshire)
*Mossley (Lancashire/Cheshire/Yorkshire)
*New Mills (Derbyshire/Cheshire)
*Newmarket (West Suffolk/Cambridgeshire)
*Peterborough (Soke of Peterborough/Huntingdonshire)
*Stalybridge (Cheshire/Lancashire)
*Stamford (Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven/Northamptonshire)
*Stockton-on-Tees (Durham/Yorkshire North Riding)
*Sudbury (Suffolk/Norfolk)
*Tamworth (Staffordshire/Warwickshire)
*Thetford (Norfolk/Suffolk)
*Todmorden (Yorkshire West Riding,Lancashire)
*Tredegar (Monmouthshire/Breconshire)
*Warrington (Lancashire/Cheshire)



*The Local Government Act 1888, 51 & 52 Vict. c. 41

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