The Local Government Act 1888 (51 & 52 Vict. c.41) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. It came into effect on 1 April 1889, except for the County of London, which came into existence on 21 March at the request of the London County Council.
Following the 1886 general election, a Conservative administration headed by Lord Salisbury was formed. However the Conservatives did not have a majority of seats and had to rely on the support of the Liberal Unionist Party. As part of the price for this support the Liberal Unionists demanded that a bill be introduced placing county government under the control of elected councils, modelled on the borough councils introduced by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.
Accordingly, the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 19 March 1888, by the President of the Local Government Board, Charles Ritchie. The Bill proposed the creation of elected county councils to take over the administrative functions of the magistrates of the Quarter Sessions courts, that ten large cities should be "counties of themselves" for the purposes of local government and that each county was to be divided into urban and rural districts, based on existing sanitary districts, governed by a district council. The county and district councils were to consist partly of directly elected "elective councillors" and partly of "selected councillors", chosen by the elective councillors in a similar manner to aldermen in municipal boroughs.
The counties to be used for local government were to be the historic counties of England and Wales. A county council was to be formed for each of the ridings of Yorkshire and the three divisions of Lincolnshire (Holland, Kesteven and Lindsey). In addition a new County of London was to be formed from the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This would have led to the creation of fifty-seven county councils. The boundaries of the counties were to be those used for parliamentary purposes, adjusted to include urban sanitary districts on county borders within a single county.
Existing urban and rural sanitary districts, created in 1872, were to be redesignated as urban and rural districts. Urban districts that lay across county boundaries were to be included in the county with the greater part of the population in the 1881 census. Existing rural sanitary districts were to split on county lines to form rural districts.
There were a large number of changes to the Bill as it passed through parliament. The terms administrative county and county borough were introduced to designate the new areas of local government, while the "selected councillors" became "county aldermen". The government withdrew the sections relating to the creation of district councils, which were eventually brought into existence by the Local Government Act 1894.
Members of both houses made representations on behalf of counties and boroughs, and this led to an increase in the number of local authorities.
The population limit for county boroughs was lowered twice, firstly to 100,000, then to 50,000. A number of smaller counties corporate were also given county borough status. Mr Ritchie conceded on 8 June:
"Now that they had gone down so far in population as 50,000 there arose a question as to the admission of boroughs which had not so large a population as 50,000, but which had very peculiar claims. He referred to the counties of cities. [...] Two or three of these cities had so small a population that he did not propose to deal with them in this way. The best course was to give the names of the cities which he proposed to include. They were Exeter, Lincoln, Chester, Gloucester, Worcester, and Canterbury."
The effect of these changes was to increase the number of county boroughs from ten to fifty-nine. With a population of around 50,000 at the 1881 census, the City of London was initially proposed for county borough status.
The councils were subject to triennial elections, the first taking place in January 1889. The county councils elected in 1889 were known as "provisional" councils until coming into their powers on 1 April. Every administrative county was divided into electoral divisions, each returning a single councillor. Following the election, the county councillors then elected county aldermen, there being one alderman for every three councillors. The London County Council had a different constitution, with two councillors elected for each parliamentary constituency in the county, and a ratio of one alderman to six councillors. The councillors appointed a chairman and vice chairman, who had a one-year term of office, although they could be reappointed.
The powers and responsibilities transferred from the quarter sessions to the councils were enumerated in the Act. These included:
† The council could also declare a road a "main road" and take over its maintenance, and purchase existing bridges or build new ones.
County borough corporations also exercised these powers, in addition to those of a municipal borough.
Control of the county police was to be exercised jointly by the quarter sessions and the county council through a standing joint committee. The committees were replaced by police authorities by the Police Act 1964.
The Act also ensured that the boundaries used for what it terms "non-administrative purposes" would be synchronised with the borders between the administrative counties. The non-administrative purposes were stated to be "sheriff, lieutenant, custos rotulorum, justices, militia, coroner, or other", thus approximating to the functions of modern ceremonial counties.
The counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire were undivided so far as they were one county at the passing of the Act. The three ridings of Yorkshire and the three parts of Lincolnshire therefore retained their status.
County boroughs were to be administrative counties of themselves. The Act provided that each county borough that had previously been part of a county (i.e., was not a county corporate) should continue to be part of that county for non-administrative purposes. If a county borough did not have a separate commission of assize, oyer and terminer and jury service, or gaol delivery, it was deemed to be part of one or more adjoining counties for those purposes. The Act also provided for certain financial adjustments between county boroughs and adjoining counties.
The Act did not in terms affect the status of cities and towns which were counties corporate. Most of the counties corporate became county boroughs and therefore administrative counties of themselves, but while other county boroughs continued to be part of their existing counties for all other purposes, that did not apply to existing counties corporate. Those that did not become county boroughs became part of adjacent administrative counties but retained their existing lieutenancies and shrievalties.
Under section 48 of the Act all liberties and franchises, with the exception of those that became separate administrative counties, merged with the county they formed part of for parliamentary elections. The Cinque Ports, together with "the two ancient towns and their members" (which for some purposes, such as lieutenancy, were considered a distinct county), were to become part of the county where they were situated. Section 49 allowed for the creation by provisional order of a council for the "Scilly Islands" to be established as a unitary authority outside the administrative county of Cornwall. This was duly formed in 1890 as the Isles of Scilly Rural District.
|Geographical county||Administrative county||County boroughs|
|Isle of Ely|
|Cheshire||Cheshire||Birkenhead, Chester, Stockport (part)|
|Devon||Devon||Devonport, Exeter, Plymouth|
|Durham||Durham||Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland|
|Gloucestershire||Gloucestershire||Bristol (part), Gloucester|
|Hampshire||Hampshire †||Portsmouth, Southampton|
|Lancashire||Lancashire||Barrow, Blackburn, Bolton, Bootle cum Linacre, Burnley, Bury, Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham, Preston, Rochdale, St Helens, Salford, Stockport (part), Wigan|
|Lincolnshire||Lincolnshire, Parts of Holland|
|Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven|
|Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey||Lincoln|
|London||London||City of London: remained a separate county, but returned members to the London County Council, which exercised some powers within the City.|
|Norfolk||Norfolk||Norwich, Great Yarmouth (part)|
|Soke of Peterborough|
|Northumberland||Northumberland||Newcastle upon Tyne|
|Somerset||Somerset||Bath, Bristol (part)|
|Staffordshire||Staffordshire||Hanley, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton|
|Suffolk||East Suffolk||Ipswich, Great Yarmouth (part)|
|Sussex||East Sussex||Brighton, Hastings|
|Yorkshire||Yorkshire, East Riding||Kingston-upon-Hull, York (part)|
|Yorkshire, North Riding||Middlesbrough, York (part)|
|Yorkshire, West Riding||Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield, York (part)|
‡ Newport became a county borough in 1891
|Geographic county||Administrative county||County boroughs|
A number of urban sanitary districts lay in more than one county. In each case, county boundaries were altered so that each town lay entirely within the administrative county that contained the largest part of the district's population in the 1881 census.
|Counties until 1889||Urban Sanitary District||Administrative county or county borough from 1889|
|Berkshire and Oxfordshire||Oxford||County Borough of Oxford|
|Breconshire and Glamorgan||Merthyr Tydfil||Glamorgan|
|Breconshire and Monmouthshire||Ebbw Vale||Monmouthshire|
|Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire||Cardigan||Cardiganshire|
|Cambridgeshire and Suffolk||Newmarket||West Suffolk|
|Cheshire and Derbyshire||New Mills||Derbyshire|
|Cheshire and Lancashire||Hyde||Cheshire|
|Stockport||County Borough of Stockport|
|Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, West Riding||Mossley||Lancashire|
|Derbyshire and Staffordshire||Burton upon Trent||Staffordshire|
|Durham and Yorkshire, North Riding||Barnard Castle||Durham|
|South Stockton||Yorkshire, North Riding|
|Essex and Suffolk||Sudbury||West Suffolk|
|Gloucestershire and Somerset||Bristol||County Borough of Bristol|
|Hertfordshire and Middlesex||East Barnet Valley||Hertfordshire|
|Kent and Sussex||Tunbridge Wells||Kent|
|Lancashire and Yorkshire, West Riding||Todmorden||Yorkshire, West Riding|
|Leicestershire and Northamptonshire||Market Harborough||Leicestershire|
|Leicestershire and Warwickshire||Hinckley||Leicestershire|
|Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire||Stamford||Lincolnshire, Parts of Kesteven|
|Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, West Riding||Crowle||Lincolnshire, Parts of Lindsey|
|Goole||Yorkshire, West Riding|
|Norfolk and Suffolk||Great Yarmouth||County Borough of Great Yarmouth|
|Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire||Banbury||Oxfordshire|
|Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire||Peterborough||Soke of Peterborough|
|Staffordshire and Warwickshire||Tamworth||Staffordshire|
|Warwickshire and Worcestershire||Redditch||Worcestershire|
|Yorkshire, East Riding
and Yorkshire, North Riding
|Filey||Yorkshire, East Riding|
|Malton||Split in 1890 into two urban sanitary districts: Norton in Yorkshire, East Riding and Malton in Yorkshire, North Riding|