Local Government Act 1888

The Local Government Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c.41) was an Act of Parliament which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. It came into effect on 1 April 1889, except for the County of London, which came into existence on 21 March at the request of the London County Council.[1]

Local Government Act 1888
Long titleAn Act to amend the Laws relating to Local Government in England and Wales, and for other purposes connected therewith.
Citation51 & 52 Vict. c. 41
Introduced byCharles Ritchie
Territorial extentEngland and Wales
Royal assent13 August 1888
Commencement1 April 1889 (1889-04-01)
Other legislation
Repealed byLocal Government Act 1933
Relates to
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Local Government Act 1888 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk.

The BillEdit

Following the 1886 general election, a Conservative administration headed by Lord Salisbury was formed. However the Conservatives did not have a majority of seats and had to rely on the support of the Liberal Unionist Party. As part of the price for this support the Liberal Unionists demanded that a bill be introduced placing county government under the control of elected councils, modelled on the borough councils introduced by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.[2]

Accordingly, the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 19 March 1888, by the President of the Local Government Board, Charles Ritchie. The Bill proposed the creation of elected county councils to take over the administrative functions of the magistrates of the Quarter Sessions courts, that ten large cities should be "counties of themselves" for the purposes of local government and that each county was to be divided into urban and rural districts, based on existing sanitary districts, governed by a district council. The county and district councils were to consist partly of directly elected "elective councillors" and partly of "selected councillors", chosen by the elective councillors in a similar manner to aldermen in municipal boroughs.

The counties to be used for local government were to be the historic counties of England and Wales. A county council was to be formed for each of the ridings of Yorkshire and the three divisions of Lincolnshire (Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey). In addition a new County of London was to be formed from the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This would have led to the creation of fifty-seven county councils. The boundaries of the counties were to be those used for parliamentary purposes, adjusted to include urban sanitary districts on county borders within a single county.

The ten cities to be "dealt with as separate counties" were Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Bradford, Nottingham, Kingston-on-Hull, and Newcastle upon Tyne.

Existing urban and rural sanitary districts, created in 1872, were to be redesignated as urban and rural districts. Urban districts that lay across county boundaries were to be included in the county with the greater part of the population in the 1881 census. Existing rural sanitary districts were to split on county lines to form rural districts.

Passage through ParliamentEdit

There were a large number of changes to the Bill as it passed through parliament. The terms administrative county and county borough were introduced to designate the new areas of local government, while the "selected councillors" became "county aldermen". The government withdrew the sections relating to the creation of district councils, which were eventually brought into existence by the Local Government Act 1894.

Members of both houses made representations on behalf of counties and boroughs, and this led to an increase in the number of local authorities.

Attempts to create administrative counties for the Cinque Ports and Staffordshire Potteries were not successful.

The population limit for county boroughs was lowered twice, firstly to 100,000, then to 50,000. A number of smaller counties corporate were also given county borough status. Mr Ritchie conceded on 8 June:

"Now that they had gone down so far in population as 50,000 there arose a question as to the admission of boroughs which had not so large a population as 50,000, but which had very peculiar claims. He referred to the counties of cities. [...] Two or three of these cities had so small a population that he did not propose to deal with them in this way. The best course was to give the names of the cities which he proposed to include. They were Exeter, Lincoln, Chester, Gloucester, Worcester, and Canterbury."

The effect of these changes was to increase the number of county boroughs from ten to fifty-nine. With a population of around 50,000 at the 1881 census, the City of London was initially proposed for county borough status.[7]

County councilsEdit

The councils were subject to triennial elections, the first taking place in January 1889. The county councils elected in 1889 were known as "provisional" councils until coming into their powers on 1 April. Every administrative county was divided into electoral divisions, each returning a single councillor. Following the election, the county councillors then elected county aldermen, there being one alderman for every three councillors. The London County Council had a different constitution, with two councillors elected for each parliamentary constituency in the county, and a ratio of one alderman to six councillors. The councillors appointed a chairman and vice chairman, who had a one-year term of office, although they could be reappointed.


The powers and responsibilities transferred from the quarter sessions to the councils were enumerated in the Act. These included:

  • Making and levying of rates
  • Borrowing of money
  • Passing of county accounts
  • Maintenance and construction of county buildings such as shire halls, county halls, court houses and police stations
  • Licensing of places of entertainment and of race courses
  • Provisions of asylums for pauper lunatics
  • Establishment and maintenance of reformatory and industrial schools
  • Repair of county roads and bridges[a]
  • Appointment, dismissal and setting of salaries for county officers
  • Division of the county into polling places for parliamentary elections, and the provision of polling stations
  • Control of contagious diseases in animals, and of destructive insects
  • Fish conservancy and control of wild birds
  • Weights and measures

County borough corporations also exercised these powers, in addition to those of a municipal borough.

  1. ^ The council could also declare a road a "main road" and take over its maintenance, and purchase existing bridges or build new ones.

Standing joint committeesEdit

Control of the county police was to be exercised jointly by the quarter sessions and the county council through a standing joint committee. The committees were replaced by police authorities by the Police Act 1964.

Counties for other purposesEdit

The Act also ensured that the boundaries used for what it terms "non-administrative purposes" would be synchronised with the borders between the administrative counties. The non-administrative purposes were stated to be "sheriff, lieutenant, custos rotulorum, justices, militia, coroner, or other",[8] thus approximating to the functions of modern ceremonial counties.

The counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire were undivided so far as they were one county at the passing of the Act.[9] The three ridings of Yorkshire and the three parts of Lincolnshire therefore retained their status.

County boroughs were to be administrative counties of themselves.[10] The Act provided that each county borough that had previously been part of a county (i.e., was not a county corporate) should continue to be part of that county for non-administrative purposes.[10] If a county borough did not have a separate commission of assize, oyer and terminer and jury service, or gaol delivery, it was deemed to be part of one or more adjoining counties for those purposes.[10] The Act also provided for certain financial adjustments between county boroughs and adjoining counties.[11]

The Act did not in terms affect the status of cities and towns which were counties corporate. Most of the counties corporate became county boroughs and therefore administrative counties of themselves, but while other county boroughs continued to be part of their existing counties for all other purposes, that did not apply to existing counties corporate.[10] Those that did not become county boroughs became part of adjacent administrative counties but retained their existing lieutenancies and shrievalties.[12]

Other provisionsEdit

Under section 48 of the Act all liberties and franchises, with the exception of those that became separate administrative counties, merged with the county they formed part of for parliamentary elections. The Cinque Ports, together with "the two ancient towns and their members" (which for some purposes, such as lieutenancy, were considered a distinct county), were to become part of the county where they were situated. Section 49 allowed for the creation by provisional order of a council for the "Scilly Islands" to be established as a unitary authority outside the administrative county of Cornwall. This was duly formed in 1890 as the Isles of Scilly Rural District.

List of administrative counties and county boroughs created in 1889Edit


Geographical county Administrative county County boroughs
Bedfordshire Bedfordshire
Berkshire Berkshire Reading
Buckinghamshire Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire
Isle of Ely
Cheshire Cheshire Birkenhead, Chester, Stockport (part)
Cornwall Cornwall
Isles of Scilly ††
Cumberland Cumberland Carlisle
Derbyshire Derbyshire Derby
Devon Devon Devonport, Exeter, Plymouth
Dorset Dorset
Durham Durham Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland
Essex Essex West Ham
Gloucestershire Gloucestershire Bristol (part), Gloucester
Hampshire Hampshire Portsmouth, Southampton
Isle of Wight
Herefordshire Herefordshire
Hertfordshire Hertfordshire
Huntingdonshire Huntingdonshire
Kent Kent Canterbury
Lancashire Lancashire Barrow, Blackburn, Bolton, Bootle cum Linacre, Burnley, Bury, Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham, Preston, Rochdale, St Helens, Salford, Stockport (part), Wigan
Leicestershire Leicestershire Leicester
Lincolnshire Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland
Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven
Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey Lincoln
London London City of London: remained a separate county, but returned members to the London County Council, which exercised some powers within the City.
Middlesex Middlesex
Monmouthshire Monmouthshire Newport
Norfolk Norfolk Norwich, Great Yarmouth (part)
Northamptonshire Northamptonshire Northampton
Soke of Peterborough
Northumberland Northumberland Newcastle upon Tyne
Nottinghamshire Nottinghamshire Nottingham
Oxfordshire Oxfordshire Oxford
Rutland Rutland
Shropshire Shropshire
Somerset Somerset Bath, Bristol (part)
Staffordshire Staffordshire Hanley, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton
Suffolk East Suffolk Ipswich, Great Yarmouth (part)
West Suffolk
Surrey Surrey Croydon
Sussex East Sussex Brighton, Hastings
West Sussex
Warwickshire Warwickshire Birmingham, Coventry
Westmorland Westmorland
Wiltshire Wiltshire
Worcestershire Worcestershire Dudley, Worcester
Yorkshire Yorkshire, East Riding Kingston-upon-Hull, York (part)
Yorkshire, North Riding Middlesbrough, York (part)
Yorkshire, West Riding Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield, York (part)

† From 1 April 1890 the Isle of Wight was separated from the County of Hampshire to form an administrative county.[13]

†† From 1890 the Scilly Isles were separated from the County of Cornwall for administrative purposes

‡ Newport became a county borough in 1891


Geographic county Administrative county County boroughs
Anglesey Anglesey
Brecknockshire Brecknockshire
Carnarvonshire Carnarvonshire
Cardiganshire Cardiganshire
Carmarthenshire Carmarthenshire
Denbighshire Denbighshire
Flintshire Flintshire
Glamorgan Glamorgan Cardiff, Swansea
Merioneth Merioneth
Montgomeryshire Montgomeryshire
Pembrokeshire Pembrokeshire
Radnorshire Radnorshire

Towns on county boundariesEdit

A number of urban sanitary districts lay in more than one county. In each case, county boundaries were altered so that each town lay entirely within the administrative county that contained the largest part of the district's population in the 1881 census.[14][15][16]

Counties until 1889 Urban sanitary district Administrative county or county borough from 1889
Berkshire and Oxfordshire Oxford County Borough of Oxford
Breconshire and Glamorgan Merthyr Tydfil Glamorgan
Breconshire and Monmouthshire Ebbw Vale Monmouthshire
Tredegar Monmouthshire
Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire Cardigan Cardiganshire
Cambridgeshire and Suffolk Newmarket West Suffolk
Cheshire and Derbyshire New Mills Derbyshire
Cheshire and Lancashire Hyde Cheshire
Stalybridge Cheshire
Stockport County Borough of Stockport
Warrington Lancashire
Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, West Riding Mossley Lancashire
Derbyshire and Staffordshire Burton upon Trent Staffordshire
Durham and Yorkshire, North Riding Barnard Castle Durham
South Stockton Yorkshire, North Riding
Stockton-on-Tees Durham
Essex and Suffolk Sudbury West Suffolk
Gloucestershire and Somerset Bristol County Borough of Bristol
Hertfordshire and Middlesex East Barnet Valley Hertfordshire
Barnet Hertfordshire
Kent and Sussex Tunbridge Wells Kent
Lancashire and Yorkshire, West Riding Todmorden Yorkshire, West Riding
Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Market Harborough Leicestershire
Leicestershire and Warwickshire Hinckley Leicestershire
Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire Stamford Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven
Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, West Riding Crowle Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey
Goole Yorkshire, West Riding
Norfolk and Suffolk Great Yarmouth County Borough of Great Yarmouth
Thetford Norfolk
Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire Banbury Oxfordshire
Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire Peterborough Soke of Peterborough
Staffordshire and Warwickshire Tamworth Staffordshire
Warwickshire and Worcestershire Redditch Worcestershire
Yorkshire, East Riding
and Yorkshire, North Riding
Filey Yorkshire, East Riding
Malton Split in 1890 into two urban sanitary districts: Norton in Yorkshire, East Riding and Malton in Yorkshire, North Riding

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Order of the President of the Local Government Board", 19 March 1889 (Printed in The Times, 21 March 1889)
  2. ^ B. Keith-Lucas, Government of the County in England, The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (March 1956), pp. 44-55.
  3. ^ Amendment by Walter Barttelot, MP for Horsham, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)
  4. ^ Amendment by Captain Selwyn, 13 July 1888 (The Times, 14 July 1888)
  5. ^ Amendment by Lord Bristol, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)
  6. ^ Amendment by Lord Exeter, 6 August 1888 (The Times, 7 August 1888)
  7. ^ Davis, J., Reforming London, (1988)
  8. ^ Section 59
  9. ^ Section 59(a)
  10. ^ a b c d Section 31
  11. ^ Section 32
  12. ^ Section 59(b)
  13. ^ Local Government Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No.2) Act 1889 (52 & 53 Vict. C.clxxvii)
  14. ^ "Urban Sanitary Authorities". The County Companion Diary, Statistical Chronicle and Magisterial and Official Directory. London: Waterlow & Sons Ltd. 1882. p. vii.
  15. ^ Youngs, Frederic A, Jr. (1979). Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.I: Southern England. London: Royal Historical Society. pp. 556–707. ISBN 0-901050-67-9.
  16. ^ Youngs, Frederic A, Jr. (1991). Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol.2: Northern England. London: Royal Historical Society. pp. 635–794. ISBN 0-86193-127-0.