The Thurlows

Village News & Information

22. The Parish Council: the first hundred years JEREMY MYNOTT

There is an old leather-bound Minute Book which faithfully records the proceedings of Little Thurlow Parish Council meetings from their very beginning in 1894. It's worth looking through, if you are interested either in local history or human nature. Some things have changed greatly in the village over the last hundred years, it transpires, but some other things not much at all...

The minutes of the first Parish Council meeting in the twentieth century

The volume begins with an impressive, printed preamble setting out the official "Procedure as to Parish Meetings". This is long, complex and generally tedious, like most Local Government documents, but it does include the interesting regulation ­ presumably still in force ­ that the meetings may at the Council's discretion take place in the School, the Vestry or the Public Baths, but on no account in any licensed premises. The first meeting actually took place in the Schoolroom on 4 December 1894, and true to the spirit of the official preamble concerned itself wholly with procedural matters, as apparently did all the meetings for the next two years up to the end of 1896. These early Councillors ­ six men and one woman ­ seemed to spend their whole time proposing, seconding and agreeing the elections of each other to various official positions on the Council; they solemnly recorded all these appointments in lengthy minutes, which were then lovingly read out at the next meeting, but for a long while there's no evidence that they actually did anything. What you might call the first real business recorded was at the meeting of 22 October 1896, when a Mr Henry Wright made the historic and courageous suggestion that the Parish Council place a drain to carry off water which 'shot from a house on to the road' at Little Thurlow Green. Alas, this was an idea whose time had not quite come and the Councillors, possibly alarmed at having to confront such a practical question, concluded after discussion 'that this did not come within the jurisdiction of the Parish Council'.

However, having put their toes in the water, so to speak, they were emboldened at their next few meetings to tackle such vexed and familiar topics as footpaths, stiles, gates, bridges and parking on the greens (in this case gypsy caravans, in April 1901). Despite this promising burst of activity the business then seemed to peter out again, to such a point that in March 1904 the Council actually voted to abolish itself 'in consequence of the slight amount of work to be done'. But they obviously missed the experience of high office, because in June of that year the same team went and voted themselves back into existence again.

The next few years pass by rather uneventfully again, with the minutes interminably recording the regular elections, the lists of those attending and the reading of earlier sets of minutes, which themselves interminably record . . . and so on.

Just occasionally there are vivid glimpses of life outside these bureaucratic deserts. In November 1910 there was a plague of rats, and the Council considered offering a bounty of 1d a head (of rats, that is), but characteristically then lost their nerve and decided they had better 'leave it in the hands of the Chairman'. His response isn't known, but it is recorded that by 24 February 1911 328 rats had been killed 'at a cost of £1-3-0' (the arithmetic doesn't seem to work, if I remember rightly how to do the sums in the old money, but never mind). On a brighter note, there's a mention in April 1911 of the celebrations for the Coronation of George V (though it's rather an anticlimax because they can't think what to do to celebrate it).

The decades roll by and a depressingly modern note is struck in March 1936 when there are complaints about the dumping of refuse into the old gravel pit by Little Thurlow churchyard (that must be the uneven ground to the west of the church which is now grassed over). The Council obviously cared a lot about the environment (though they didn't call it that then), and they called an Extraordinary Meeting sometime in 1937 (the Minute Secretary must have been so excited that he forgot to record the exact date) to protest against the proposal to run the new electricity lines overhead on poles; the Council insisted in the end that they went underground. Good for them.

The care and upkeep of footpaths and bridges was a constant theme, then as now. All Parish Councils have the same staple diet of old chestnuts, it seems. And in November 1944 there is the first reference in these volumes to traffic accidents, which were on 'the dangerous corners down Temple End Lane'. In the same year there were requests that electric light be brought to the cottages on Little Thurlow Green. Sewage surfaces (if that's the right word) as a general problem too, though the discussion sometimes became rather personalised, as in June 1949 when an investigation was instigated into 'the horrible smells coming from Mungo Lodge'.

Village lighting was discussed several times in 1950. The Eastern Electricity Board had produced a plan to introduce two street lights to the village at an annual cost of £11.2.0. The Council lengthily, and no doubt passionately, discussed the merits and the exact positioning of these lights at different meetings and then in November of that year held a final meeting to decide the issue. The Council was split right down the middle, with two voting for and two against the proposals, and the Chairman, Captain F.C. Frink, dramatically gave his casting vote ­ against. This turned out in fact to be almost his last official deed, since at the very next meeting Captain Frink announced
his resignation as Chairman and Clerk, having served continuously on the Council for the 55 years since 1895. I don't think any of the present Councillors expect to complete an innings of quite that length.

Little Thurlow Parish Council, 1999

Standing Len Robinson, Kevin Beal, Derrick Eley, Tom Allcock;
seated Jeremy Mynott, Mary Hilton, Kate Atherton, Terry Clark

The water supply is naturally also a regular item of interest. In 1946 concern was expressed about the quality of water drawn from the pump on Little Thurlow Green and about the fact that the cistern on Pound Green was often empty. In October 1951 it was finally decided to remove all the standpipes from the village now that mains water could be supplied to all houses, but the last public handpump didn't finally go till 1961.

Another enduring preoccupation makes its first appearance in October 1951, when it was suggested that the time had come for the village to have an official speed limit. This now crops up frequently in the minutes, though it wasn't until 1975 that the village finally got a 40 mph limit and it wasn't until 1995 that we got the 30 mph limit. Well, we made it in the end; now we just have to find a way of enforcing it.

In its own very small way the Minute Book is a chronicle of social history, much of it just local to Thurlow, of course, but some with national or even international resonances. We hear of the distress at a serious traffic accident in July 1976, the gift of 45 commemorative Jubilee mugs to the children of the parish in January 1977, concern about fluoride in the water in January 1980, anxious enquiries about the precautions against nuclear attack in March 1980, complaints about the dispersal of noxious chemical sprays in April 1982, and 'violent opposition' in September 1986 to the most dreadful threat of all ­ the proposed amalgamation of the Little Thurlow and Little Bradley Parish Councils.

Finally, a little success story. In March 1979 it was proposed and duly seconded that a board with a footpath map should be erected in some prominent place in the village for the benefit of the public. It finally was, by Len Robinson in January 1995. The mills of the Parish Council, like those of God, grind exceeding slow and exceeding small.

Taken from pages 106 - 110

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