Local boards or local boards of health were local authorities in urban areas of England and Wales from 1848 to 1894. They were formed in response to cholera epidemics and were given powers to control sewers, clean the streets, regulate environmental health risks including slaughterhouses and ensure the proper supply of water to their districts. Local boards were eventually merged with the corporations of municipal boroughs in 1873, or became urban districts in 1894.
Further information: Improvement commissioners
The first local boards were created under the Public Health Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vict. c.63). The aim of the act was to improve the sanitary condition of towns and populous places in England and Wales by placing: the supply of water; sewerage; drainage; cleansing; paving, and environmental health regulation under a single local body. The act could be applied to any place in England and Wales except the City of London and some other areas in the Metropolis already under the control of sewer commissioners.
The Act was passed by the Whig government of Lord John Russell, in response to the urging of Edwin Chadwick. This was supported by reports, from the Royal Commission on the Health of Towns (formed in 1843) and local branches of the Health of Towns Association (formed in 1844), of poor and insanitary conditions in many UK cities.
The act created a General Board of Health as a central authority to administer the act. There were three commissioners: the president of the board being the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Woods and Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings, the other two members being appointed by warrant. The board was originally to be dissolved after five years, but acts of parliament were passed annually allowing for its continuation.
Chadwick was appointed a commissioner, and the board was strongly associated with him.
In 1852, Edward Gotto was employed to carry out the national General Board of Health Survey.
The board finally ceased to exist on 1 September 1858.
Local boards could be formed in two ways:
In the latter case a superintending inspector appointed by the General Board would hold an inquiry into the sewerage, drainage, supply of water, state of burial grounds and other matters relating to the sanitary condition of the town, and where necessary define boundaries for the district of the local board.
Where the boundaries of a proposed local board's district were the same as an existing local unit, the act was applied by Order in Council. Where a new district was created this was done by provisional order of the General Board, confirmed by Parliament.
Members of local boards were either:
Where a local board district coincided with a borough, or was entirely within a borough's limits, all the members were selected by the corporation. Where a district was entirely outside a municipality, all the members were elected. In districts which were partly in and partly outside a borough the board had a mixture of selected and elected members. Selected members did not have to be members of the corporation. Borough mayors were ex officio board members.
Those entitled to elect board members could have multiple votes depending on how much property they owned. This ranged from one vote for owners of property worth less than £50, to six votes for those holding more than £250 of property. It followed that board members were generally wealthy property owners or members of the professions.
The powers and duties of a local board of health were enumerated in the act:
The 1848 Act was replaced by the Local Government Act 1858 (21 & 22 Vict. c. 98). The act came into force in all existing local board of health districts on 1 September 1858. The act made some changes to the procedure for constituting a local board and gave them some additional powers. There was also a change in nomenclature: the authorities created by the 1858 act were simply entitled "local boards" and their areas as "local government districts".
When the General Board of Health was abolished in 1858 its responsibilities in respect of local government passed to the Secretary of State of the Home Department, in whose department a Local Government Act Office was formed to administer the local boards. In 1871 a separate agency was again formed entitled the Local Government Board, with a President who was frequently a Cabinet member. The Local Government Board also took over the duties of the Poor Law Board.
The procedure for adopting the act and constituting a local board was laid out in sections 12 – 17 of the act, and was similar to that in the 1848 act.
Changes made included:
The method of electing members of the board remained the same, although existing or new boards could now be divided into wards.
The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 had included model clauses for the government of towns which could be adopted in all or in part by existing borough corporations, local boards of health or improvement commissioners. The application of these was very uneven, so they were incorporated into the 1858 act, all local boards gaining these powers.
Areas covered by the clauses were:
The local board also took over any lamps, lamp posts and gas posts provided by the Lighting and Watching Act 1833, and was given a new power to provide a market place where one was required or inadequate.
The number of local boards peaked at 721 in 1873. In that year the Public Health Act 1872 merged local boards into municipal boroughs and improvement commissioners where they shared the same district. 419 of the local boards had been formed under the Public Health Act 1848, the remaining 302 under the Local Government Act 1858.
The number of local boards was inflated in 1862–63, as communities adopted the act in order to avoid being grouped into highway districts under the Highways Act 1862. Many of these local government districts had a population of fewer than 500, and several fewer than 100. Further legislation was passed in 1863 to limit the population of a new local government district to 3,000 or more. Some of these small authorities survived as urban districts until the county review orders of the 1930s.
The Public Health Act 1875 designated local government districts as urban sanitary districts, with the local board becoming the urban sanitary authority. The titles of the district and board did not change however, the local board assuming extra duties as a sanitary authority.
Local boards and local government districts were finally abolished by the Local Government Act 1894, when all urban sanitary districts became urban districts. A new urban district council was to govern the district. The new council was to be directly elected by all those entitled to voted in parliamentary elections, replacing the weighted property voting system used for local boards.