Shropshire History




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The present day county boundary is almost the same as throughout history. Alterations have been made on Shropshire's border with all neighbouring counties over the centuries. The Laws in Wales Act 1543 transferred the hundreds of Oswestry, Pimhill (including Wem) and part of Chirbury to Shropshire.  The Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 transferred the townships of Halesowen, Cakemore, Hasbury, Hawne, Hill, Illey, Lapal, Ridgacre, Hunnington, Oldbury and Romsley to Worcestershire and Farlow was transferred to Shropshire from Herefordshire. In addition, gains have been made in the past to the south of Ludlow (from Herefordshire), to the north of Shifnal (from Staffordshire), to the north (from Cheshire) and the town of Market Drayton (from Staffordshire). Local government has varied over the years and is summarised as follows.  Click on the links above for more details.


Before 43 AD - the area that became Shropshire was ruled by the respective tribal leaders.


43-410 AD - during the Roman occupation, Britain was ruled by a provincial governor and  Shropshire was controlled either by the local military commander or a regional governor, depending on how peaceful it was at the time.


410-883 AD – direct control was exercised by the Kings of Powys, Pengwern and then Mercia. 


883-918 AD - King Alfred and subsequent kings of Wessex annexed Mercia and left it in control of Mercian “ealdormen” (earls).


918-927 AD – the kings of Wessex took direct control and dispensed with the Mercian ealdormen.


927AD-1066 – Shropshire was absorbed into the new country of England and was ruled by Saxon kings (with brief periods when the Danes invaded the territory). It was formed into an administrative units known as a shire, which was governed by an ealdorman appointed by the King. The ealdorman’s assistant was called the “shire reeve” and this name became corrupted to “sheriff”. The shire-reeve was responsible for upholding the law, plus holding civil and criminal courts in the shire. The shire was divided into a number of hundreds, which dealt with local issues.


1066–1100 - the biggest change under the Normans was the strict imposition of a feudal system. William the Conqueror claimed ultimate possession of virtually all the land in England and asserted the right to dispose of it as he saw fit. Thenceforth, all land was held from the King. The country was divided up into areas of land called “fiefs” which William distributed amongst his followers. The fiefs were generally small and given out piecemeal, to deprive William's vassals of large power-bases. Since each fiefdom was governed independently of each other by the feudal lords, the system of hundreds fell into disuse. The geographical area defined by the shire continued in use but the Normans now called it a county  ( after the system in use in medieval France).


1100–1300 - during the medieval period, local administration remained in the hands of the feudal lords, although a High Sheriff was appointed by the king to oversee his interests throughout the county. A court system for trials was set up called the Quarter Sessions and a knight was appointed as Conservator of the King’s Peace. Eventually they were given the right to try petty offences which had formerly been tried in the Hundred Courts and were the forerunners of the modern magistrates and justices of the peace. Shrewsbury and several other towns in Shropshire became boroughs with town councils.


1300–1500 - by the beginning of the 14th Century, the feudal system in England was in decline and more men became tenants rather than vassals. The Sheriff and Quarter Sessions remained but local administration was usually carried out by individual parishes or town councils.



In the 1540s, a Lord Lieutenant was appointed for Shropshire and became the Crown's direct representative. The justices of the peace took on various administrative functions known as "county business", transacted at the Quarter Sessions. By the 19th Century, magistrates exercised powers over the licensing of alehouses, construction of bridges, prisons and asylums, superintendence of main roads, public buildings and charitable institutions, and the regulation of weights and measures. They were empowered to levy local taxes to support their activities and in 1739 these were unified as a single "county rate" under the control of a county treasurer. These county functions were attached to the legal system, since this was the only body which acted county-wide at that time.



Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 - grouped parishes into Poor Law Unions, jointly responsible for the administration of poor relief and workhouses in their areas and each governed by a Board of Guardians.


Municipal Corporations Act 1835created several municipal boroughs and required members of town councils to be elected by ratepayers and councils to publish their financial accounts. Before the passing of the act, some boroughs had become self-perpetuating, with membership of the corporation being for life and vacancies filled by co-option.


Public Health Act 1848 - established a Local Board of Health in towns to regulate sewerage and the spread of diseases. Although the boards had legal powers, they were non-governmental organisations.


Public Health Act 1873 - established new organisations to administer the poor law plus public health and sanitation. Urban Sanitary Districts were created from the Local Boards of Health and continued to be run by in similar fashion to before. Rural Sanitary Districts were created from the Poor Law Unions and were similarly governed.


Municipal Corporations Act 1883 - led to the abolition of 4 Shropshire boroughs.


Local Government Act 1888 - created Shropshire County Council.


Local Government Act 1894 - created a system of urban and rural districts with elected councils. These along, with the town councils of municipal boroughs created earlier in the century, formed a second tier of local government below the existing county councils. It also established elected parish councils in rural areas. The new district councils were based on the existing Urban and Rural Sanitary Districts.


Local Government Act 1933- repealed most of the Local Government Act 1888 and Local Government Act 1894, plus parts of the Municipal Corporations Act 1882, and re-established the existing councils and administrative areas.


Local Government Act 1958 - led to 7 small Shropshire municipal boroughs being absorbed by surrounding rural districts to become rural boroughs, with the powers of a parish council. It also established the Local Government Commission for England to carry out reviews of existing local government structures and recommend reforms. The Local Government Commission was wound up in 1966 and replaced with the Redcliffe-Maud Commission. In 1969 it recommended a system of single-tier unitary authorities. This report was not accepted by the Government.


Local Government Act 1972 - abolished all previous administrative districts to establish a uniform two tier system across the country. Shropshire County Council was retained to generally administer the county and provide certain county-wide services such as policing, social services and public transport. The second tier of the local government was divided into districts. Such districts were permitted to style themselves as borough councils or district councils, the difference was purely ceremonial. The new system of local government came into force in 1974 but only lasted only 12 years. By the 1990s, it was apparent that the “one-size fits all” approach did not work equally well across England and Wales.


Local Government & Housing Act 1989 - stipulated that council committees must roughly reflect the political party makeup of the council.  Before then, it was permitted for a party with control of the council to pack committees with their own members.


Local Government Act 1992 - established the Local Government Commission for England to examine the issues and make recommendations on where unitary authorities should be established.


1998 - Telford & Wrekin Council was created as a unitary authority, with the rest of the county remaining two-tier.


Local Government Act 2000 - required councils to move to an executive-based system, with the council leader and a cabinet of councillors acting as an executive authority.


2009 – Shropshire Council replaced Shropshire County Council.




History of Local Government in England


Local Government in England


Political Make-up of Local Councils