By J. A. Chandler
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Extra resources for Explaining Local Government: Local Government in Britain Since 1800
70 As the foremost citizen, the mayor was also chief magistrate for the town and usually chaired judicial petty sessions and even the quarter sessions. He called and presided over council meetings and often had substantial executive powers to determine policies and ensure their implementation. A town clerk, usually an established local lawyer paid for his services by the corporation, was often second in importance to the mayor, as he could determine and argue for the legal rights of the community.
53. Report of the Inquiry into the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales, p. 49; the passage was quoted by Lord John Russell in the First Reading Debate of the Municipal Corporations Bill, Hansard, vol. 138, col. 542, 5 June 1835. Webb and Webb, The Parish and the County, pp. 135–43. Webb and Webb, The Manor and the Borough, pp. 406–14. S. Webb and B. Webb, English Local Government, vol. 4: Statutory Authorities for Special Purposes (London: Longmans, 1922), pp. 240–1. , p. 241. , p. 244.
1 While the 1832 crisis precipitated these major reforms, they were not a radical break with the past. Poor Law unions, improvement commissions and Peel’s ideas on police and prisons were anticipating modernisation and central control, but there was no consistency evident in the direction in which these reforms were taking local government. While the Poor Law Amendment Act is depicted as the beginning of centralisation, the Municipal Corporations Act, along with the enfranchisement after 1832 of the urban conurbations, suggested the possibility of a more decentralised patron–client system, as obtained in France.