- 13th century-1998 (Creation)
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From Tudor times until 1889 the County of Norfolk was administered by the Justices of the Peace (or Magistrates) through the system of Quarter, General, Special and Petty Sessions. The senior Justice and first civil officer of Norfolk was the Custos Rotulorum (Keeper of the Rolls), an office which from the sixteenth century was held in tandem with that of Lord Lieutenant. The Custos Rotulorum was entitled to preside at Quarter Sessions and he selected all the County's Justices for approval by the Lord Chancellor. The Custos also appointed the Clerk of the Peace, a lawyer who administered the Quarter Sessions' secretariat and looked after the records on his behalf.
Over the centuries the Magistrates meeting in Quarter Sessions developed a system of committees, such as the Committee of Visiting Justices to the County Gaol at Norwich Castle. Quarter Sessions appointed the County Treasurer and also the County Surveyor, who was responsible for County bridges and buildings such as the County prisons and the Shirehouse. The present Shirehouse or Shirehall was built in 1822-1824 by the architect William Wilkins Junior in the time of the County Surveyor Francis Stone. Responsibility for roads lay with the individual parish and Parish Surveyors of Highways were often presented at Quarter Sessions for the neglect of particular roads and were ordered to repair them.
An Act for the Better Care and Maintenance of Lunatics being Paupers or Criminals in England was passed in 1808 and Norfolk was one of the first counties to adopt it. The County Lunatic Asylum at Thorpe St Andrew was opened in 1814 in spacious grounds to care for the mentally ill from all over Norfolk. Its construction and subsequent running were overseen by the Committee of Visiting Justices which was appointed by the Quarter Sessions and was answerable to it.
Norfolk was also quick to adopt the County Police Act of 1839. Prior to this each Hundred in the County had a High Constable who before each Quarter Sessions convened a meeting of all the Parish Constables in his Hundred in order to discuss presentments. The Norfolk Constabulary came into being as a result of a decision on 22 November 1839 of a Special Sessions of Magistrates to appoint a Chief Constable, 12 Superintendents and 120 Constables. Responsibility for the County prisons was removed from the Quarter Sessions and vested in the Prison Commissioners by the Prisons Act of 1877.
The administration of the County through the Sessions system relied on the sense of duty and public spiritedness of an unelected body of men from a narrow class of society. The nineteenth century saw a gradual process of democratisation of the Parliamentary and local franchise, commencing with the Reform Act of 1832. The boroughs had a much wider electorate than the counties and it was not until the Representation of the People Act of 1884 that the Parliamentary franchise was extended to most men living in the counties.
The Local Government Act of 1888 created a new governing body for the counties: the County Council. Elections were held in Norfolk on 24 January 1889. The electoral registers record that in each parish a handful of women who occupied property in their own right had the right to vote in local but not Parliamentary elections. The first meeting of the Norfolk Provisional County Council was held at the Shirehall on 7 February 1889 and the first meeting of the fully-constituted Council took place there on 13 April 1889.
The new Council could not be described as a revolutionary body. Many of the Councillors were Justices of the Peace and the first Chairman, Robert Thornhagh Gurdon (later Lord Cranworth), was also Chairman of Quarter Sessions. The first Clerk of the Council, Charles Foster, was also Clerk of the Peace. The powers of the new Council were not very extensive. A Joint Committee of the County Council and Quarter Sessions controlled the police and courthouses. Responsibility for the County Lunatic Asylum and 267 County bridges was transferred from Quarter Sessions to the County Council. The Council also had responsibility for the maintenance of 824 miles of main roads (which figure doubled within two years of the establishment of the Council) and control of the contagious diseases of animals.
The Local Government Act of 1894 created two further levels of local government in counties: the Rural and Urban District Councils and below them the Parish Councils. A few women were elected as Parish Councillors in the first elections in December 1894. The Qualification for Women (County and Borough Councils) Act 1907 enabled women to become County and Borough Councillors.
In 1903, as a result of the Education Act of 1902, the County Council was given a massive increase in its work: responsibility for elementary education throughout Norfolk (with the exception of the County Boroughs of Norwich and Great Yarmouth and the Municipal Borough of King's Lynn). The County Council took over complete responsibility for the 157 Board Schools (built as a result of the Elementary Education Act of 1870). Responsibility for the 341 Voluntary Schools were more complex. They were principally National (i.e., Church of England) Schools, although there were some British (Nonconformist) and other charitably-funded schools. The managers of the Voluntary Schools retained responsibility for the provision of the school building and for religious education and the remainder was provided at the cost of the County Council. Secondary schools continued to be provided by voluntary bodies, although the Act provided that the new LEAs could provide new secondary schools where necessary.
There were over 1,400 teachers in the various schools in Norfolk in 1903. It was decided that women teachers (who were in a majority of almost two to one) would receive between two-thirds and three-quarters of the men's salaries for similar jobs. However, unlike many Local Education Authorities, Norfolk did not insist that women should resign on marriage. Indeed, some village schools had been run by a husband and wife team before 1903 and it appears that over the years the County Council allowed similar arrangements. In at least one instance (Tom and Kitty Higdon of Burston) the wife was the Headteacher. The new Education Committee as set up in 1903 was to include nine non-Council members, of whom three were to be women.
An extension to the Shirehall - known as Shirehall Chambers - was opened in 1909 in order to provide accommodation for the increasing numbers of County Council staff. The growth in services came to a halt during the First World War, when there were shortages of staff, materials and money. For instance, by 1914 the Highways Department had made major improvements to its 1,400 miles of roads. It employed 700 men at the start of the war but by 1918 the number had fallen to 300 and most of its horses had been commandeered for war service. There was a shortage of gravel as its main source of supplies in Belgium had been cut off. By the end of the war, war traffic - including massive flows of men and materials to Norfolk ports, had ruined the surface of many roads and weakened bridges. In 1920 the Government gave the County Council £100,000 to help with the post-war reconstruction of its road system.
In 1915 the County Asylum was taken over as a war hospital and the mental patients were transferred to other hospitals in the region (such as the Suffolk County Asylum at Melton). By 1919 around 45,000 servicemen had been treated at Thorpe St Andrew.
The Land Settlement (Facilities) Act of 1919 established a fund of £20 million to pay the costs incurred by County Councils in providing smallholdings for ex-servicemen. Norfolk had already made enthusiastic use of the powers granted by the Small Holdings Act of 1892 and by 1914 had purchased 9,000 acres and hired a further 4,000 acres for use as smallholdings. The aim was to provide farm workers with the means to establish themselves, build up capital and expertise and so be enabled to move on to larger farms. In addition smallholdings were seen as a means of stopping the flight from the land to the towns. By 1926 Norfolk County Council had spent over £1 million in buying 13,000 acres of land and equipping holdings for 2,400 ex-servicemen.
In 1927 the County Council decided to move its headquarters from the Shirehall complex to a site in Thorpe Road, Norwich. Eventually a number of houses were converted into offices and three purpose-built office blocks were constructed in their former gardens.
Under the Poor Law Act of 1929 the Poor Law Unions were abolished in 1930 and their powers and assets were transferred to the County Councils and County Borough Councils. Norfolk County Council thus acquired the responsibilities and properties of 19 Poor Law Unions (including workhouses, infirmaries and children's homes).
1930 saw the completion of a project towards which the County Council had been working for several years under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913: the opening of the mental deficiency colony at Little Plumstead Hall, which catered for mentally handicapped people of all ages. It is a matter worthy of reflection that at the time Norfolk County Council was caring for and maintaining mentally handicapped people on a green, spacious county estate, doctors in Nazi Germany were signing the death warrants of babies they suspected of being handicapped.
In 1930 and 1931 the County Council and the Ministry of Transport agreed on the trunk-road network which exists today: the A10, A11, A17 and A47. Under these agreements the County Council lost control of these roads to the Central Government, a situation which still prevails.
The Air Raids Precautions Committee of the County Council was created in 1936 and during the Second World War 20,000 people served the County as A.R.P. volunteers. 7,000 high explosive bombs and 57,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the administrative County. 110 people were killed and over 400 were injured by the bombing and more than 50 people were killed in accidents arising from unexploded bombs. 11,000 children were evacuated from the London area and were found places in either existing or temporary schools in Norfolk.
There were 45 aerodromes operating in Norfolk during the Second World War and large tracts of land (in particular around Stanford in the Breckland) were taken over as training areas. A huge number of American airmen were based in Norfolk. Some married local women and took their wives back to America after the war. Others fathered illegitimate children who remained in Norfolk but under relatively recent American legislation can claim American citizenship if proof of paternity (such as a maintenance order made by a Norfolk Petty Sessions Court) can be established. Much of the British-American aerial bombardment of Germany was carried out from the Eastern Counties. Many aircraft returned badly damaged by enemy fire and over 900 allied aircraft crashed in Norfolk, 1,700 airmen being killed.
The war was still in progress when the Butler Education Act of 1944 was passed. The Act significantly changed education throughout the country as it required Local Education Authorities to provide secondary education for all eligible pupils. King's Lynn Municipal Borough ceased to be an L.E.A. in 1945 and transferred its duties and assets to Norfolk Education Committee. There was never enough money available to fulfil the requirements of the 1944 Education Act and as late as 1960 there were still 1,500 pupils being educated in all-age primary schools in Norfolk.
The Town and Country Planning Development Act of 1947 gave the County Council extensive duties and powers to control change and development in Norfolk. Although it delegated substantial amounts of its powers to the District Councils (which already had their own planning functions), the present appearance of the county is largely the result of policies formulated by the County Council, which were published in the County Development Plan of 1952.
With the creation of the National Health Service in 1948 the various hospitals controlled by the County Council (such as St Andrew's, Little Plumstead, Melton Lodge Orthopaedic Hospital Yarmouth, Drayton Lodge Maternity Hospital and the former workhouse infirmaries) were transferred to the Ministry of Health. However, the County Council, as the appointed Local Health Authority, still had wide responsibilities for health including the care of mothers and young children, midwifery and health visiting.
As the work of the County Council increased, the office accommodation at Thorpe Road became increasingly inadequate. Bracondale Lodge with its 31 acres in Lakenham on the outskirts of Norwich was acquired as the site for the new County Hall and Police Headquarters. The eighteenth-century house (designed by William Wilkins Senior) was demolished and the garden (designed by Humphrey Repton) were obliterated. On 1 January 1968 the Great Yarmouth and Norwich Police Forces were amalgamated with the Norfolk County Constabulary to form the Norfolk Joint Police with a total establishment of 1,038 (the amalgamation having been delayed until the new headquarters were ready). Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opened County Hall in May 1968.
In 1970 the organisation of the health and welfare work of the Council was simplified by combining the Welfare, Children's and Health Committees into the Social Services Committee and by creating the new Social Services Department. With the formation of the Norfolk Area Health Authority in 1974 most of the County Council's remaining health obligations passed over to the National Health Service. The post of County Medical Officer of Health, created in 1908, was abolished.
The Local Government Reorganisation which came into effect on 1 April 1974 (under the Local Government Act of 1972) had far-reaching effects. The Urban and Rural District Councils were abolished and replaced by the five new District Councils of Breckland (including the former Borough of Thetford), Broadland, King's Lynn and West Norfolk (including the former Municipal Borough of King's Lynn), North Norfolk and South Norfolk. More radically, the County Boroughs of Norwich and Great Yarmouth, which had hitherto functioned entirely separately from Norfolk County Council, became Districts. Many of their functions, properties and staff were transferred to the County Council. Thus education, social services, the fire brigade and libraries all became functions of the County Council. All seven Districts came to an agreement with the County Council to have a joint museums service.
In the 1980s the County Council faced new challenges when the Central Government ordered that various services provided directly by the Council's own workforce should be subject to compulsory competitive tendering. Eventually several semi-independent business units were formed such as NPS (Norfolk Property Services) and NCS (Norfolk County Services for restaurant, cleaning and grounds maintenance services).
The Local Government Act of 1992 had no effect on local government in Norfolk. The two-tier system of the County Council and the seven District Councils was retained, unlike in several other English counties where unitary authorities were created between 1996 and 1999.
The Local Government Act of 2000 brought radical change to the time-honoured committee system by introducing the concept of the cabinet to local government. Norfolk was one of the first County Councils to have a cabinet when it took part in a pilot scheme which commenced in 1999.
D.E. Howell James, 'The Norfolk County Council, 1889-1974' (Norwich, 1974)
Clive Wilkins-Jones (editor), 'Centenary: A Hundred Years of County Government in Norfolk' (Norwich, 1989)
Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson, 'The Buildings of England Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East', second edition (London, 1997)
Norfolk County electoral registers, 1889 (Norfolk Record Office: C/ERO 1/110-115)
Norfolk Poor Law Union records (Norfolk Record Office: C/GP 1-20)
Humphry Repton's Red Book for Bracondale Lodge gardens (Local Studies Library, Norfolk and Norwich Central Library)
Extracts from Barton Turf School log books relating to teachers Ernest and Grace Castle (Norfolk Record Office: FX 60/1).
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C/AR County Architect's Department
C/ARP Air Raid Precautions Committee
C/BI Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service
C/C Clerk of the Council
C/Ca Records Deposited with Norfolk County Council for safekeeping prior to the establishment of the Record Office
C/CH Chairman of the Council
C/ED Education Department
C/ERO Electoral Registration Officer
C/F Norfolk Fire Service
C/GC 1 Guardians' Committee No. 1
C/GC 2 Guardians' Committee No. 2
C/GC 3 Guardians' Committee No. 3
C/GC 4 Guardians' Committee No. 4
C/GC 5 Guardians' Committee No. 5
C/GC 6 Guardians' Committee No. 6
C/GC 7 Guardians' Committee No. 7
C/GC 8 Guardians' Committee No. 8
C/GC 9 Guardians' Committee No. 9
C/GC 10 Guardians' Committee No. 10
C/GC 11 Guardians' Committee No. 11
C/GC 12 Guardians' Committee No. 12
C/GC 13 Guardians' Committee No. 13
C/GP 1 Aylsham Poor Law Union
C/GP 2 Blofield Poor Law Union
C/GP 3 Depwade Poor Law Union
C/GP 4 Docking Poor Law Union
C/GP 5 Downham Poor Law Union
C/GP 6 Erpingham Poor Law Union
C/GP 7 East and West Flegg Poor Law Union
C/GP 8 Forehoe Poor Law Union
C/GP 9 Freebridge Lynn Poor Law Union
C/GP 10 Guiltcross Poor Law Union
C/GP 11 Henstead Poor Law Union
C/GP 12 Loddon and Clavering Poor Law Union
C/GP 13 Kings Lynn Poor Law Union
C/GP 14 Mitford and Launditch Poor Law Union
C/GP 15 St Faiths Poor Law Union
C/GP 16 Swaffham Poor Law Union
C/GP 17 Thetford Poor Law Union
C/GP 18 Smallburgh formerly Tunstead and Happing Poor Law Union
C/GP 19 Walsingham Poor Law Union
C/GP 20 Wayland Poor Law Union
C/H Norfolk County Highways
C/L County Library Service
C/MH Medical Officer of Health
C/OAP Old Age Pensions Committees
C/P Planning Department
C/PO Norfolk County Constabulary
C/RS Registration Service and Norfolk Registration District records
C/RWS Department of Public Health Engineering
C/SR County Surveyor's Department
C/T County Treasurer's Department
C/VES Valuation and Estates Department
C/WM Weights and Measures Department
C/WT Records of the Norfolk Windmills Trust
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Created 12/02/2003 by Droip. Modified 26/02/2019 by Droab.