British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Municipal Corporations Act reduced the number of Great Britain’s incorporated towns, gave all the towns uniform laws, and eventually allowed cities and towns to combat numerous problems associated with their growth.

Summary of Event

In British history, the period between 1815 and 1848 was a time of political distress, disorder, agitation, and change. The period saw fundamental political and constitutional reforms, deep sectional and sectarian controversies, much social misery, and many outbreaks of popular violence. It also witnessed an extraordinary and precocious development of political parties and party politics, some important administrative innovations, and the elaboration of fiscal and financial policies that set the pattern for the rest of the century. Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 (Great Britain) Great Britain;city government [kw]British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act (Sept. 9, 1835) [kw]Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act, British (Sept. 9, 1835) [kw]Municipal Corporations Act, British Parliament Passes (Sept. 9, 1835) [kw]Passes Municipal Corporations Act, British Parliament (Sept. 9, 1835) [kw]Corporations Act, British Parliament Passes Municipal (Sept. 9, 1835) [kw]Act, British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations (Sept. 9, 1835) Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 (Great Britain) Great Britain;city government [g]Great Britain;Sept. 9, 1835: British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act[1940] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Sept. 9, 1835: British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act[1940] [c]Government and politics;Sept. 9, 1835: British Parliament Passes Municipal Corporations Act[1940] Perkins, Joseph Melbourne, John

Three lines can be traced through this crowded formative period of Victorian British history. The first line traces the repudiation of the classic eighteenth century constitution Constitutions;British Great Britain;constitution derived from the revolution settlement of 1688-1720 and its reconstruction in terms more acceptable to contemporary society. The second line traces the conflict of institutions and interests Church, Dissenters, agriculture, industry, and the urban workers. The third line traces the social and administrative problems created by population expansion, urbanization, and industrialization.

None of these issues existed in isolation. They were interconnected, and none can be properly understood except in the context of the whole society of which they were a part. In addition, individually they do not tell the entire story. Although there was much talk and some reality of class warfare, at no point were social divisions absolute. Solidarity did not exist among the aristocracy, middle classes, or working classes. Each of these classes was merely an abstraction which, while not meaningless, dissolved under careful analysis into a host of subdivisions, opinions, interests, and activities. After 1832, the alliance between the reform Whig government and its radical utilitarian advisers produced the Municipal Corporations Act Whig Party (British);and Municipal Corporations Act[Municipal Corporations Act] in 1835. The act can be viewed as a natural corollary of the Reform Act of 1832 Reform Act of 1832 because it extended administrative reform to the local level.

The Municipal Corporations Act was one of several major pieces of reform legislation passed by the Whigs Whig Party (British);and Municipal Corporations Act[Municipal Corporations Act] after 1832. A commission appointed in 1833 to look into the conditions of town government in England and Wales reported in April, 1835, that municipal governments were scandalous and that reform was needed. On the basis of that report, the Whigs introduced a measure in the House of Commons on June 5 that called for a comprehensive reform of local government. Despite serious opposition in the House of Lords, the Municipal Corporations Act was passed on September 9, 1835.

Before this measure was enacted, England and Wales had nearly 250 separate incorporated towns which, over the centuries, had become self-perpetuating and closed corporations. All of them may not have been as corrupt and inefficient as the commissioners’ report indicated, but they certainly were not designed to meet the problems of an industrial society. The Municipal Corporations Act reduced the total number of boroughs to 178. The act also gave all the boroughs a uniform constitution, under which they were to be governed by elected councils consisting of mayors, aldermen, and councillors.

The new town councils were to be elected by all male householders who had resided in the towns for at least three years. A third of the councillors were to be elected each year. Men who wished to be councillors had to meet certain property qualifications: in the larger boroughs one thousand pounds in capital or a tenement tax of thirty pounds, and in the smaller boroughs five hundred pounds in capital or a tenement tax of fifteen pounds. The councillors selected mayors from among their own members. The mayors served as chairmen of the councils and held office for one year. Aldermen were selected by the councils from among their own members for terms of six years, with half their members retiring every three years.

The functions and powers granted to the newly elected councils were few. They lost the power of administering religious trusts that had belonged to the old corporations; however, they retained the power to levy local taxes when municipal income was insufficient to meet their needs. They were also responsible for lighting Lighting;gas Great Britain;street lighting and safeguarding their towns’ streets, and they were given the power to make bylaws. It was not until later during the nineteenth century that town councils were given broader powers by Parliament.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 was a result of a compromise between the Whig Whig Party (British);and Municipal Corporations Act[Municipal Corporations Act] majority in the House of Commons and the Tory majority in the House of Lords. The original bill sent to the House of Commons was based on the recommendations of the Municipal Corporations Commission, which was primarily the work of two Radicals: Joseph Perkins, the commission’s secretary; and John Melbourne, Melbourne, John its chairman. The Radicals wanted to insert the principles of universal suffrage and annual elections. The Tories, fearing the possible destruction of aristocratic and monarchal principles, were opposed. The bill was amended to include a property qualification for councillors, and a clause was added requiring one-third of the councillors to be aldermen who had held office for six years instead of three and were not directly elected by the public.


The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 did not apply to all towns in England. For example, London was omitted, and rural districts were left in the administrative control of the justices of the peace. Towns incorporated after the act was passed had to apply for charters from the Crown. The important towns of Manchester Manchester, England;charter and Birmingham Birmingham, England;charter were left without charters and did not receive their first municipal governments until 1838.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 established a general scheme of government still retained by most English boroughs. Consolidating Acts in 1882 and 1883 extended charters to some sixty small towns.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arnstein, Walter L. “Reform or Revolution.” In Britain Yesterday and Today: 1830 to the Present. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1994. This chapter provides a concise narrative of the issues surrounding the early period of reform and places the act into the historical context of British and European development.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Briggs, Asa. The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1999. Comprehensive study of the period of British history spanning the end of the Georgian period through the middle of the Victorian period of English history. It details the Victorian ideals that influenced and guided this period of English history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Victorian Cities. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. Briggs wrote numerous works on the Victorian era. This book demonstrates his interest in social and economic movements. By studying six cities, he reveals the essential components of Victorian society. Because the Municipal Corporations Act established the legal framework for most Victorian cities, Briggs discusses the act and analyzes its effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cole, G. D. H., and Raymond Postgate. The British Common People, 1746-1946. London: Methuen, 1961. History of the English working classes by socialists who contend that the reform movement of the 1830’s in England was successful mainly because of working-class efforts. The authors consider the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act to be the most important legislation passed after the Reform Act of 1832, since it extended middle-class control to the local level and was a natural corollary of the Great Reform Bill.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Halévy, Elie. The History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century. Vol. 3 in The Triumph of Reform, 1830-1841. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1961. A pertinent volume from the monumental work on nineteenth century England by the French authority on the period. This work focuses on the early reform movement and gives detailed coverage of the 1835 act, specifically relating it to other constitutional changes from a utilitarian perspective.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodward, Llewellyn. The Age of Reform, 1815-1870. Reprint. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. Originally published in 1938 as volume 13 in the Oxford History of England series, Woodward’s work is considered to be one of the classic accounts of reform during this period.

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