Parish Councils have their origins in the development of villages. All over England, during Saxon and Norman times, 1,000 or more years ago, villages were ruled by the Lord of the Manor. As communications were poor and central government often weak, there was little national control. Sometimes the villagers all met to make decisions which affected the whole community.
Gradually, Parish Priests and sometimes Schoolmasters joined the Lord of the Manor to become a kind of ruling clique because in small villages they were the only people who it was thought could reason properly. It was probably these people that became the first effective parish councils.
By the Year 1601, Church Vestry Meetings were so organised and workable that it was natural for legislators to give them the responsibility of levying the poor rate. These were the first effective local taxes. Everyone in the parish was entitled to attend Church Vestry Meetings but in practice the work fell to a few individuals, like Parish Councils today.
Although the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act removed from Parish Vestries the responsibility for poor relief and handed it to Poor Law Unions (the origins of our present District Councils). During this time parishes had naturally accumulated responsibility for administering local charities and managing commons under distribution of land as a consequence of the 18th Century Enclosure Acts.
In 1894 although the Squire, the Parson and sometimes the Schoolmaster were still the leaders in the village, popular education was spreading and more people wanted a say in managing local affairs.
The Victorian Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, piloted the 1894 Local Government Act through the House of Commons. It met a lot of opposition, for example there were over eight hundred amendments moved during its passage through the House. Nevertheless, the Act became law and Parish Councils were formed.
There are now over 8,700 parish and town councils in England. Since 1997 around 100 new civil parishes have been created, in some cases splitting existing civil parishes, but mostly by creating new ones from unparished areas.
A full list of Parish Council powers, with references to applicable legislation, is available from the ‘National Association of Local Councils’