Wednesday 4 March 2015

A very public service

Our 'local authority' collections date back centuries and the minute books are the first place to look to establish who decided what and when as local towns and services develop - but here is a much more personal insight into the workings of local government in Winsford.

In 1925 J H Cooke, Solicitor and Clerk to Winsford Urban District Council wrote a letter to the new Chairman - his version of events reminiscing on 50 years of progress in the town. A few things stand out in particular. When residents in 2015 are about to have the opportunity to vote for local councillors to represent them it is hard to imagine that one individual could ever veto the provision of street lighting. We have celebrated in another blog post the coming of a water supply to Congleton, the same achievement for Winsford is detailed here. Not to mention the purchase of a steam roller that paid for itself on loan to neighbouring authorities – an early shared service. Meanwhile just two sentences offer a glimpse of a fascinating episode – the day the town wondered if the elephant would make it across the wooden bridge ...

Mr Cooke transcribes the minutes from 7 September 1875 detailing his appointment and then continues …
"The reason for the formation of a Local Board was that the Northwich Rural Sanitary Authority proposed to purchase a House then Known as Breeze Hill (now known as Holly Hurst) situate in Geneva Road [that] should be utilized as an Isolation Hospital. The Town thought this a very unfavourable position; the Town wished to have a good water supply because to a large extent the People of Over were dependent upon a well situate at the High Street end of Well Street which was not then in existence. The foot paths in the Town were not very favourable & there were a lot of dirty holes so that people had to walk carefully. Of course the Town was not lighted because Mr H J Falk then residing at Meadow Bank always opposed the lighting of the District. Of course there was no system of sewerage. I remember the roads at that time principally High St. were covered with 2 inch macadam & as we had no steam roller the macadam was laid bare & horse guards were placed along the roads to Direct the traffic from one side of the road to the other. As soon as the Board was formed the members began to look out for Water Supply (& principally through the effort of the late Mr Jno Stubbs) the present springs were found at Little Budworth. Ultimately we bought the springs from the late Lord Shrewsbury for £1500. And none of the Streets known as Dean St. John St. & Well St. were then in existence. They were simply pasture fields. The Bridge at Winsford consisted of a stone Bridge with one or two arches & when these arches began to subside a temporary wooden bridge had to be erected a short distance away from the present bridge I remember at that time Wombwells Menagerie was coming to Winsford & the big Elephant had to cross the temporary wooden bridge. We all wondered whether it would get safely across but it did so. I have known the Market Place sink 20 ft in 20 years. This was at the time about 1881 when the trade was manufacturing an enormous quantity of salt & the brine was drawn from places close to. You will know how the Town has improved since. We bought a steam roller for £400 & although there was much objection to the purchase, we received in income from the Loan of it to other authorities, as much as we had paid for it in one year besides doing our own work. The Asiatic Cholera was rampant on Victoria Terrace. The town was full of Cesspools. Mr Bancroft C. E. of Manchester was appointed Engineer to the Water Works. The first meeting of the old Local Board was held in the ante-room of the then Town Hall. I very well remember complaints being made of the Gas Company charging 6/- for a 1000 cubic ft. for gas supplied. I see from the Minutes that the rate levied for the first half year was 9d in the £. I was admitted a Solicitor Michaelmas Term 1870 so that I have been on the role for 55 years. I was born at the Bank House now occupied by Mrs Ivison on the 11 Oct. 1848 so that next month I shall be 77 years of age. My only inclination is to resign but I am quite agreeable to whatever the Council may decide. I have always been on good terms with the Board & the Council I feel that my age & the infirmity of my hearing does not entitle me to continue to impose my services on the Council. I am not a rich man because I have a large family to maintain. I have spent all my salary & profits from my profession in the Town."

How and when towns and communities obtained running water is being explored by the Big History Project run by Water Aid UK to celebrate 150 years of the modern sewer system. We can help you research the history of the water supply in your Cheshire town for you to submit your findings to the project map!

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