Creation of the Parish Council
In the Nineteenth century, Twyning was governed by its Church Vestry. In 1893 the Liberal government decided to introduce democratically elected parish councils. The date set for elections was 4 December 1894. The Tewkesbury Register of 1st December carried a letter from Henry de Worms, MP about the new parish councils. In this letter he wrote “they should concern themselves with the promotion of healthier dwellings for the poor”, and urged “parishioners of influence and education (as in truth it is their privilege) to join hand in hand with those less fortunately situated to work the Act with moderation and good sense, strenuously disregarding class feeling and striving at all times to do justice to every section of the community”
The Tewkesbury Register regularly carried reports of proceedings in Parliament, so everyone knew about the new councils' powers of compulsory purchase, which would enable them to provide allotments for the poor. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had described it as the most important provision in the Act. The reason for this was the prolonged Agricultural depression caused by large scale production of wheat in the American prairies. This had cut world prices so far that some English fields were lying idle, and many agricultural workers were unemployed.
Thus the Press created a mood of optimism. At election meetings, candidates were invited to answer questions, or to make statements. In Twyning, candidates and electors were silent, but at Beckford, questions were asked about water supply and allotments, and some candidates indicated their support for spending on these. The Station master, standing as a candidate, wanted a "Village Room" (free from the temptations and disturbances found in Public Houses), a Library, and a Green for recreation. Similarly at Kemerton there was a demand for a recreation ground. The new councils had the power to raise loans for large projects like these.
THE ELECTION 4th December 1894
From an electorate of 159 men and 15 women, there was a turnout of 85, at least. (120 according to the Gloucester Journal). Most of these people would have had to walk a mile or more, after dark that December evening, to the School room. This is a remarkable display of interest, especially when compared to the small number of voters who nowadays take the trouble to drive their cars to a polling station, from an electorate of 1197. Twelve nominations were handed in, and chairman John Massy Leader declared them all valid, i.e. candidates, proposers and seconders were all on the electoral register. Those involved can be divided into two groups. One group of five sponsors proposed six candidates, all of whom were successful. The second group proposed the Reverend Brancker, curate, and Messrs Hatton and Forster Harter, churchwardens. They were the core of the old vestry, which the council was to replace in all civic matters. None of them secured a place on the new council.
THE SECRET BALLOT OPTION
When the chairman had received all the nominations, he read them out in alphabetical order. As each name was read, the electors displayed their support by a show of hands. They could vote for as many candidates as there were places on the council, though no-one was responsible for ensuring that this rule was observed. The chairman then read out the votes cast for each candidate, and this revealed who stood high enough to be elected.
There followed ten tense minutes: any one elector could demand a poll (a secret ballot), and the chairman was required to wait ten minutes while the electors considered this option. The Tewkesbury Register had warned that a poll could cost as much as £30 [£1700 in 1995 values]. Of the 15 council elections reported in the Register of December 8th, the show of hands was accepted in eleven parishes, including Twyning. In Ashchurch, where 14 candidates stood for seven places, half of them withdrew when a poll was demanded, and so it was avoided. In Bishop's Cleeve, Kemerton and Ripple, a poll was held.
THE NEW COUNCIL
The council did not include any major landowners. There was a gentleman (he was elected chairman at the first council meeting) and a manager. Two were small scale employers, two were skilled tradesmen, and one was a labourer. The council did not represent the wealth of the parish: on average, members of the council would have paid only five shillings [£15 in 1995 values] if a full rate demand had been made.
By contrast, the defeated churchwardens were men of considerable wealth. One was a major landowner, and the other was the largest tenant farmer in the parish. Together they would have been liable for £24 [£1330]. But Twyning now had a council of men of moderate means. Would they spend money freely on Parish improvements, or would they concentrate on keeping the rates down? These were surely the questions debated in the Fleet, the Crown, and the Gardeners Arms, right up to closing time on Tuesday 4th December 1894.
The Council of 1894
Cox, George Edw, Waverley villa 64 yrs
Gentleman, retired dealer in fancy goods,
rated at £18 as owner/occupier
Dark, Francis, of Brockeridge 76
rated at £30 as occupier, £18 as owner
Jones, Henry, of High Street 65
Cordwainer, boot and shoemaker
Jeynes, Neighbour; Hillend Old Beerhouse 59
Market Gardener and Beer retailer
rated at £12 as occupier
Pates, Charles, of Brockeridge 51
rated at £17 as occupier
Warner, Geo Frederick
Wood, James Levi, Fleet Inn & ferry 30
rated at £48 as occupier
WOMEN ON THE COUNCIL
Although women were not considered (by men) to be rational enough to be allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections, their smaller brains were considered to be adequate for the grasp of local affairs. The qualification for the local vote was payment of rates, so that where a woman was head of the household, she could register as an elector. Comparing the register for Twyning with the census, it would appear that, although almost all the men registered, only one third of the women did so. The occupations of those who did were very varied – four women of independent means, two dressmakers, and one each of: farmer, governess, nurse, laundress, charwoman and agricultural labourer. There is no evidence that any of them attended the election meeting.
By contrast, the women of Kemerton were very active. The register shows 21 women to 77 men, an extraordinarily high proportion. At a meeting before the election, ten women were named as present, to 21 men. Women were also reported as being present at the Alderton election. In Tewkesbury, two women were elected to the Board of Guardians.
In November of 1894, the “Times” printed several letters about the forthcoming parish council elections. One writer wrote that a caucus of radicals in his area had selected candidates to pack the council. The writer urged an early bill to introduce proportional representation. A fortnight later a correspondent in King’s Lynn reported that Radical agents were “drawing up lists of labouring and small trading and dissenting classes” for the new council. A council packed with poor radicals was a fearful prospect for a rich landowner.
Local people tried to exclude party and denomination from the council election. In Longdon they proposed to “balance the interest of landowners , tenant farmers, and labourers”, which amounted to giving the first two classes excess representation. Deerhurst decided to select one farmer and one labourer from each on its three hamlets, adding the Vicar as Chairman.