Chosen by David Barling, Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, West Sussex County Council
This fascinating minute book records the concerns and activities of local residents at a period that includes the First World War and its aftermath. It shows how the Parish Council dealt with a wide variety of issues and it is remarkable how many of these still resonate in the modern era. Street lamps and the need for ‘motor danger signals’ were discussed in October 1909 whilst repairs to the Chequers Archway were raised on more than one occasion. In the same month the Parish Council resolved to pursue their application to the County Council for a ten mile an hour speed limit for ‘motor cars through the Lighting Area of Steyning’.
Parish councils and parish meetings were established under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1894 and form the basic unit of local government. The responsibilities of parish councils are wide ranging and include the provision and upkeep of some local facilities (such as allotments) and maintenance of footpaths, cemeteries and village greens. Importantly, parish councils act as a channel of communication between local people and larger local government bodies, such as District Councils.
The records of Steyning Parish Council reflect these wide-ranging responsibilities. This early minute book also refers to the repair of roads, the appointment of parish officials (such as a new assistant overseer and clerk to the Parish Council), and the water supply to the allotments. The administration of the fire brigade also features regularly including the vexed issue of new uniforms and the apparent lack of commitment of one particular captain.
Later minutes are equally interesting. One minute book covers the Second World War and provides an insight into the impact of the war on Steyning. An issue which was of great local importance was the calling up of farm workers which had serious consequences for agricultural communities. The Parish Council went as far as to pass a resolution expressing their concerns about the situation which was sent to larger local government bodies including Chanctonbury Rural District Council, West Sussex County Council, the Sussex Rural Community Council, and the local MP.
The minutes also refer to the Canadian soldiers who were stationed in Steyning, with a request that residents to their best to make them feel at home. Damage by enemy action is recorded too, with a minute noting that seven houses in Church Street were destroyed and many others damaged in March 1943.
Parish council records can also include correspondence with local residents and other bodies, maps, plans and documents relating to property, reports (the Steyning Parish Council records include a report on a proposed library), copies of relevant by-laws, and emphemera relating to local events. These records are sometimes an underused resource but they provide a fascinating insight into the life of a community and its residents and they are documents which definitely reward a closer look.
Find out more about the current activities of Steyning Parish Council on their website.