A brief history of the Town Council
A brief history of Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council.
The birth of Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council
Following the suppression of the Guild of the Holy Cross, King Edward VI granted a charter of incorporation to Stratford-upon-Avon on 28 June 1553.
The charter conferred on the inhabitants a borough constitution comprising a Bailiff, the name was later changed to Mayor and a Common Council consisting of 14 Aldermen and 14 councillors, called Capital Burgesses. They were empowered to appoint two sergeants-at-mace, constables and other officers, and to make ‘good and wholesome’ by-laws for the regulation of the town and its inhabitants. The right to hold, and collect tolls from, a weekly market and two annual fairs was also granted to the new body, as was a Court of Record, with jurisdiction over cases of debt and personal actions worth not more than £30.
To enable it to finance its activities, the charter also granted to the newly constituted corporate body the revenues and properties which had formerly belonged to the guild and college on condition that the grammar school and almshouses should be maintained and the salaries of the schoolmaster and vicar paid.
Three later charters were granted to Stratford-upon-Avon. That in 1610 tidied up some of the anomalies which had become apparent in the previous fifty years, adding a power of imprisonment or fine as a sanction for non-observance of by-laws, extending the jurisdiction to include Old Town and adding two more fairs. Most importantly however it created the offices of High Steward, Recorder, Chamberlain and Common Clerk. After the Restoration many town charters were recalled and re-issued and this was true for Stratford, which received a new charter from Charles II in 1664, the main change being the reduction in the numbers of aldermen and Chief Burgesses to twelve each, and change in designation of the Bailiff to Mayor. Another charter in 1674 confirmed existing privileges and defined certain powers where the authority of the Corporation had been questioned. Modifications included the substitution of the offices of Steward of the Borough Court and Clerk of the Peace for that of Town Clerk, a change in the dates of the five fairs, the further definition of the powers of the Chamberlains and the confirmation of the jurisdiction of the borough justices in Old Town.
One additional privilege conferred was the right of having two maces, one bearing royal arms and the other the arms of the Borough, carried before the Mayor on ceremonial occasions. It appears that up to this time the Corporation had been using civic regalia without any express authority.
This was the last of the charters until 1819 when the day of the weekly market was changed from Thursday to Friday.
In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act swept aside the old municipal constitutions founded on charters, and which were self perpetuating, leaving power in the hands of a very few, and introduced a more democratic system whereby members of the council were elected by ratepayers (a franchise which was initially very limited). In future the Corporation was to consist of four Aldermen, including the Mayor, and twelve elected councillors, four of whom were to retire in rotation each year. Borough officers were to be paid servants of the Corporation and Council Meetings were to be public. Management of the borough charities was vested in charity trustees whose money was separate from council funds, and accounts were to be audited annually.
In 1879 the boundaries of the borough were extended to include most of the parish of Old Stratford, and the council increased to six Aldermen and eighteen councillors, while in 1924 when Alveston was included within the boundaries, the council rose to seven Aldermen and twenty-one councillors. During this period other functions, such as planning, lighting and sanitation came under the authority of the council.
Despite the changes wrought by charter and Act of Parliament, the borough council, however constituted, ran the day-to-day affairs of the town from 1553 to 1974 when, with the addition of an intermediate tier of local government, the district councils, many of its powers were transferred, and it officially became a parish council. However Queen Elizabeth II recognizing the special position of Stratford, issued a charter allowing the town to continue to have a mayor and town councillors.
Up until recently Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council and Stratford-upon-Avon Town Trust were administered jointly. At the end of June 2003 the Town Trust, now administered under the Charities Commission, split from the Town Council who now operates independently under local government, with a Mayor and seventeen Town Councillors.