©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: December 24, 2019
Webpage updated: November 08, 2021




Until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835 there was no single entity that could be termed as ‘Local Government’ and, indeed, it was not until 1888 that the term was used in the title of an Act of Parliament.

The origins of our modern local government are said to date from the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, one of the consequences of which was that there was suddenly no organisation for feeding and housing the poor people of England.  The monasteries had been rich and the financial support they received from the wealthy they were able to redistribute to those in need.

However, a very basic form of government had been established by the Saxons when they settled in Devon.  In 705AD a new diocese of Sherborne was set up to govern the South West.  In that year King Geraint, of Cornwall, gave the new Bishop of Sherborne five hides of land at Maker, probably as a peace offering.

As the Saxons created their farmsteads the land they cleared and cultivated or grazed became a Manor.  Often the Lord of the Manor would rent out part of his land to tenants, retaining a small portion, called the demense, for himself.  As the number of households grew so some form of control became necessary and ten households were grouped in a Tithing.  Around the tenth century these were further grouped into Hundreds, although there is some confusion over whether this referred to one hundred families or one hundred taxable hides of land.

With the coming of the Normans in 1066, the Shire of Devon, with the Shire Reeve (corrupted to Sheriff) at its head, became the County of Devon.  It was divided in to thirty-two Hundreds, each comprising several Tythings and each further divided into Petty Sessional Divisions.  The land now covered by modern Plymouth was all in the Hundred of Walkhampton (or Wachetona as it was then spelt), an area which guarded not only the rivers Tamar, Tavy and Plym, but also the border with the remaining indigenous population, the Celts, in Cornwall.  Sometime later the Hundred Court was moved to Roborough and the name of the Hundred was changed accordingly.  The Court was presided over by the Reeve, who was the King's representative, and it considered all criminal offences, ecclesiastical matters of a minor nature, private pleas and the imposition of the King's taxes.  It was also concerned with the  maintenance of highways and ditches.  Every male over the age of 12 years was expected to belong to a tithing and was obliged to attend at the Court, which met, usually, twice a year.

During the nineteenth century Plymouth Corporation obtained several Local Acts of Parliament to enable them to make improvements to the Town, especially in relieving traffic congestion by widening roads and streets.  The earliest was in 1744 and entitled "An Act for paving, lighting and watching the Town and for regulating the carmen and porters within the said Town".  This was followed by Plymouth Improvement Acts in 1770 and 1772 and the Plymouth Streets Act 1774 for the same purposes.  Roads and bridges were a particular problem and six Acts were passed in quick succession: the Brent Bridge and Plymouth Road Act 1800, the Lairy Embankment (Plymouth) Act 1802, the Efford Quay and Plymouth Road act 1803, the Roads from Modbury through Plymouth Act 1803, the Roads from Tavistock to Plymouth and from Manadon Gate Act 1804 and the Plymouth and Stonehouse Bridge Roads Act 1805.

Monday April 12th 1824 - Plymouth Improvement Act

By the Plymouth Improvement Act 1824, which received the Royal Assent on Monday April 12th 1824, Plymouth was granted powers for better paving, lighting, cleansing and watching of the streets; for regulating the local police; and for preventing and removing nuisances in the streets.  This was undertaken out by a body of Commissioners, who had the power to levy a rate of two shillings in the pound, reduced later to one shilling and three pence.  For a list of the Improvement Commissioners in 1830 CLICK HERE.

Thursday June 7th 1832 - Plympton Erle disenfranchised

By the Reform Act 1832, which received the Royal Assent on Thursday June 7th 1832, the Borough of Plympton Erle (sic) was disenfranchised.

Monday January 1st 1836 - Plymouth Corporation ceased, replaced by Plymouth Borough Council

By the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, which received the Royal Assent on Wednesday September 9th 1835 and came into effect on Friday January 1st 1836, Plymouth Corporation was replaced by Plymouth Borough Council.

Wednesday January 31st 1871 - Plymouth School Board formed

By the Elementary Education Act 1870, which received the Royal Assent on Wednesday August 9th 1870, the Plymouth School Board was formed on Wednesday January 31st 1871 to arrange for the education of al children between the ages of 5 and 13 inclusive.

Monday April 1st 1889 - Plymouth County Borough Council

By the Local Government Act 1888, which received the Royal Assent on Monday August 13th 188, Plymouth was created a County Borough Council and Devon County Council was also formed.

Monday November 9th 1914 - County Borough Council of Plymouth enlarged by addition of Devonport and East Stonehouse

By authority of the Local Government Board Provisional Order Confirmation (Number 18) Act of 1914 the three towns of Devonport, East Stonehouse and Plymouth were amalgamated into one.  This took effect on Monday November 9th 1914.

Thursday October 18th 1928 - City of Plymouth Council

By Letters Patent, under the Great Seal of the Realm, dated Thursday October 18th 1928, His Majesty King George V ordained that the County Borough of Plymouth shall become the City of Plymouth.  The fee for the Letters Patent cost the Council just over £100.

By Letters Patent, under the Great Seal of the Realm, dated May 6th 1935, His Majesty King George V granted Plymouth chief magistrate the dignity of Lord Mayor.  This did not come without cost to the City as the fees and stamp duty for the Letters Patent cost them £57 15s 6d.

Saturday April 1st 1967 - City of Plymouth enlarged by addition of Plympton and Plymstock

A large part of the Plympton Saint Mary Rural District Council area, including Plympton itself and Plymstock, were amalgamated into the City of Plymouth on Saturday April 1st 1967.

Monday April 1st 1974 - City of Plymouth District Council, under Devon County Council

By authority of the Local Government Act 1972, which received the Royal Assent on Thursday October 26th 1972, Aldermen ceased to exist on and as from Monday April 1st 1974 but the Act gave authority to the Council to elect former Councillors as Honorary Aldermen in recognition of their previous local government service.

Plymouth City Council has and has had several Committees comprising Aldermen and Councillors:

  • Audit and Governance Committee;

  • Education and Children's Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee;

  • Finance Committee

  • Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee;

  • Licensing Committee;

  • Mount Edgcumbe Joint Committee;

  • Planning Committee;

  • Reconstruction Committee [after the Second World War and long disbanded]

  • Special Purposes Committee [disbanded];

  • Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee;

  • Taxi Licensing Committee;

  • Tramways and Transport Committee [disbanded];

  • Watch Committee [disbanded].

Wednesday April 1st 1998 - City of Plymouth Unitary Council

As recommended by the Local Government Commission for England, established under the Local Government Act 1992, which received the Royal Assent on Friday March 6th 1992, on Wednesday April 1st 1998 the City of Plymouth became a unitary authority and took back off Devon County Council the responsibilities for education, highways, libraries and social services.