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Begining - Parish Revolution A Socialist Utopia Early Council

St.Bees Parish Council

The Beginning - Parish Revolution

On 4th December 1894 all roads in St. Bees led to the Village School. A large and excited crowd was assembling to elect the village’s first parish council. The new parish councils being set up all over England and Wales would be the first democratically elected bodies in the parishes. There was a whiff of rural revolution in the air; local affairs were being put in the hands of the man and woman in the street and excitement ran high.

At 7.30 p.m. prompt the meeting started, Mr. Henry Kitchin was appointed chairman, and nineteen nominations for the eleven council seats quickly rolled in. Curiously, the vote was by a show of hands to save the cost of a secret ballot, though dishonest or confused electors could use more than their eleven allotted votes. As a safeguard, electors could demand a secret ballot if they were not satisfied with the outcome.

The result was declared, and it only remained for Mr. Kitchin to allow a final opportunity for a secret ballot request. After an awkward silence a Mr. Brockbank spoke up, several other voters supported him, and the chairman was obliged to nullify that evening’s vote. A new election would be held on the 18th December - democracy had to be properly served!

The second election was probably justified. It attracted over twice as many voters, and three successful candidates from the first election failed to get elected. The new council was:

  • Canon E. Knowles, Vicar of St. Bees and last Principal of the Theological College

  • William Broomfield, chemist

  • Henry Fox, landowner

  • John Bowly, clerk

  • William Walker, grocer & draper

  • Steven Graves and John Sewell, both farmers

  • George Scoular and Joseph Woolcock, both mining engineers,

  • William Stafford, joiner

  • James Graham, bootmaker

This was a interesting result. Nationally, the trend had been that almost half the parish council seats were taken by farmers. The other half went to craftsmen and labourers, and there was just a sprinkling of gentry, clergy, professional people and businessmen. But in St. Bees it was different. The proximity to Whitehaven and heavy industry, and the influence of the Church and School, caused those elected to come from a wide range of occupations. This was to result in a very active council, as we shall see.

The council’s first meeting was on New Year's Eve 1894, which was at just about the last possible legal moment - they had to convene before the old year was out. Probably because of the evening’s forthcoming celebrations, the agenda was kept short. John Bowly, a professional civil servant, was elected Chairman, and Mr W E Walker elected Vice-Chairman. John Hartley, the Board School Headmaster, was appointed Clerk at an annual salary of £5.

St Bees Web site - Broomfields

The Main Street, circa 1900. Broomfield's Chemist shop is on the left; it also housed the village telephone exchange.
The Post Office is on the right, and one of the first complaints to the Council was that horse riders were posting letters without dismounting;thereby fouling the pavement. The pavements are just cobbles, and tar macadam on the road was yet to come.