The Beginning of Parish Democracy in Llansantffraed
The transfer of civil functions from the Vestry to Parish Councils was regarded as an intrusion by the established authorities throughout Britain. Resistance to the Local Government Bill was finally defeated on 4th December 1894 when Parish Councils were created in England and Wales. Prior to the 1894 Act, the squire, the parson and the schoolmaster had generally dominated the power of the vestry. Many parish councils began without the co-operation of the most influential and highly educated people. In Llansantffraed, the vicar, the schoolmaster and Major Hughes of Alltlwyd, all showed a willingness to work with the new institution.
The "Act" proved popular amongst large numbers of people. The new powers were taken very seriously in the early days, particularly in Wales, where attachment to the parish locality was strong and where large numbers of non conformists had been disenfranchised. Competition for seats on the new councils was fierce. In Hawarden, Flintshire, there were 90 candidates for 15 seats. In Troed-yr -aur, Cardiganshire, 18 candidates competed for 12 seats, the squire failing but the rectors' coachman, a prominent Congregationalist, securing a seat.
In Llansantffraed competition was very keen at the Parish Meeting held in Llanon Board School on December 4th 1894. There were 37 candidates for 13 seats. Major J C P Hughes, Alltlwyd, was to chair the meeting and John Lloyd Hughes, also of Alltlwyd, was a candidate. The total of 1,649 votes cast by show of hands for all candidates at that first Parish Meeting was to prove more than the total for any subsequent election at a Parish Meeting. The number of candidates never again reached the 30 mark. At the end of the proceedings one of the candidates, Lewis Lewis of Dugoed, exercised his right to demand a poll by secret ballot.
The results of the secret ballot were published in the Cambrian News on 28th December 1894 and revealed that a total of 2336 votes were cast for 25 candidates. The cost to the parish was £7-12-6d which was raised by the new council issuing a precept on the overseers. Details of both polls can be seen in an appendix.
It would be interesting to know why 13 candidates withdrew from the contest. Did their enthusiasm wane away from the excitement of the Parish Meeting? Had they been reluctant candidates at that meeting? Were they in awe of the formal ballot system? Or were there party political influences on their decision? The verdict of the Cambrian News at the time was that "The contest turned out a grand victory to the Liberals. Out of 11 Liberal candidates nine were elected, while the Conservatives only returned four out of 13 candidates. The spare votes of the Liberals accounts for the high position of the Conservatives."
At the first meeting of the newly elected Council on 1st January 1895, the competitive spirit was still very much alive. When John Davies abstained in the voting to elect a Chairman for the year, a 6-6 split of votes between Captain David Jones, Tynffynon and David Lloyd Morris, Sunnyhill resulted. The provisional Chairman, John Thomas, was therefore required to use his casting vote.
There was not so much competition over the role of Clerk to the Council. After the clerkship had been refused by Captain David Jones, no response was made to the Chairman's request for a volunteer. "John Evans, assistant overseer, was appointed clerk without any opposition."
Despite the watering down of the Local Government Bill by over 800 amendments during its passage through Parliament, Parish Councils still emerged with considerable powers. Llansantffraed Parish Council seemed determined to use most of them from the start.
During its first 6 months, the Council appointed overseers, reviewed rateable values, approved rating exemptions on the grounds of poverty, issued precepts, agreed standing orders, required the vicar to present the Vestry Book for inspection, challenged the presentation of the School Board accounts, decided that members of the public should be permitted to attend meetings and sought advice from the County on securities for the Treasurer.
Great store was set on conducting business "According to the Act". Statutory forms and a parish stamp were purchased. A box was purchased in which to keep the "Act" together with standing orders, parish chest, the stamp and, later, the parish map. This was to be kept at Llanon Board School. The present whereabouts of these items, so treasured at the time, is a mystery.
During its early days the Council discussed whether the Parish should be warded, the time of day for holding the Poll, and whether to ask the County Council to build a bridge over the Cledan above Bryngwyn.
Problems of water supply were also tackled at an early stage by calling for the water inspector to visit Llanon. The decision to repair Llanon wells and pumps was taken, with Mary A Williams and John Thomas being appointed to collect money from the villagers for the purpose. It was resolved that the appointees should tell the villagers that "if they are not willing to subscribe towards the repairing of wells and pump, the result will be that they will be compelled to pay a continual rate towards their supply of water."
This proved to be an unpopular move as at the Parish Meeting held on 21st August 1895 a vote of censure was passed upon members of the Parish Council "because they have not prepared an abundance of water to meet the necessities of Llanon population." The meeting urged the Council to take up the matter without delay "in order to avoid any increase in the rates."
After eight months public expectations were still very high. Councillors were faced with the familiar and recurring problem of being expected to provide an abundant water supply that no one was willing to pay for. A jotting on the cover of a minute book, albeit from a later period, illustrates the tension created by the gap between expectation and performance. "The impossible I do immediately. Miracles take a little longer."
The issue of water supply "Dwfr" continued to dominate the agenda for the next forty years. The Parish Council's accounts for the year ending 31st March 1925 have a total of 27 expenditure items, 23 of which relate to the repair of pumps and wells. Suddenly in 1936/7 there was no expenditure on water supply. In fact no meetings were held at all.
For a time it must have seemed that with the arrival of mains water the Council's job was done. The accounts for 1937/8 show payments for filling, capping or dismantling wells and pumps. However, the receipt of one pound ground rent from the Cambrian Electricity Company recorded in January 1938 hints at the nature of agenda items to come.
In November 1895 the Council received its first petition from villagers. It called for the removal of barbed wire from the sides of the path from Llansantffraed to Llanon Chapel. The Council, possibly still feeling the sting of the vote of censure in August, decided to call a Parish Meeting. This meeting gave a clear message to the Council that the barbed wire was a nuisance and that the Council should issue removal notices and take proceedings under the Barbed Wire Act 1893 in the event of default after one month.
Towards the end of the year the Council entered its first dispute with Aberaeron Rural District Council over the status of what is now known as Brynadsain path. The Parish Council claimed it did not have the power to repair it, as it was not a path but a "road 90 yards long and 9 feet wide leading from Llanon Village to Mount well and Schoolhouse is not applicable as a footpath under section 13.2 of the Act."
Aberaeron RDC would not accept responsibility for its maintenance but eventually agreed to consider adopting it as a road if the Parish Council would first put it in good repair. Councillors decided to repair it themselves, requesting contributions towards the cost from inhabitants.
There were 27 candidates in the election at the Parish Meeting in 1896. Following a vote by show of hands, a poll was again demanded. Seven members of the first Council were re-elected.
One of the first decisions of the new Council was to record the minutes in Welsh. It was also this Council which set in motion the acquisition of Waun Trobwll for a market hall and playground to mark the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. This decision earned a vote of thanks at the Parish Meeting in February 1898 after the deeds had been read and explained by David Lewis, the vicar, and Thomas R Davies, the schoolmaster.
"a phaswyd vote o ddiolchgarwch i'r Cynor am brynu y Waen yn eiddo i'r Plwyfolion."
I M Phillips 2004
Llansantffraed Parish Council Minute Book No 1 - Ceredigion Archives
Llansantffraed Parish Council Accounts 1914-1955 - Llansantffraed Community Council
Cambrian News December 28th 1894 - Ceredigion Archives
"Parish Government 1894-1994" - Poole, K P and Lucas, Bryan Keith
"Government by Community 1894-1994" - Rees, Ioan Bowan
"Local Council Administration" - Baker, Charles Arnold
"Making the Most of Parish and Town Councils" - Report by Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte 1992
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