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Home » Rural Democracy in the Making: Hemblington Parish Council, 1969-2019

Rural Democracy in the Making: Hemblington Parish Council, 1969-2019

Parish Councils were first formed as a result of the Parish Councils Act of 1894. That Act had been introduced by the last government of the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone as part of vision of rural democracy, creating village parliaments and to some extent sought to free villagers from the dominant influence of local landowners in the affairs of parish communities. Interestingly women were eligible to vote, and there was no property qualification to be a councillor. However, the creation of new parish councils was optional for communities of less than 300 residents and when the annual meeting of Hemblington Parish was held in 1894 it was decided not to form a Parish Council. That decision was only reversed in May 1969.

Hemblington was not uncommon in deciding against creating a Parish Council. Despite the great Liberal dream of 7000 new parish councils as a form of Peoples Magna Carta, that figure was only slowly reached. In Norfolk before 1935 only 30 Parish Councils had been created. Many more followed the Second World War and a steady number thereafter. But before 1969 village government in Hemblington was confined to annual parish meetings, which appointed overseers of the poor and after the 1902 education act elected a school manager (or governor) for Hemblington School. The parish meeting did not take advantage of the 1908 act to acquire allotments for local residents but in 1910 they did decide a parish constable was needed. After the First World War the Annual Meeting funded the war memorial tablet in the church and the purchase of a funeral bier; in the interwar period it encouraged the erection of the 12 council houses in Pedham. The annual meetings were chaired between 1896-1916 by Arthur Charles Hargrave, a local farmer (who died in 1944 at Salhouse) and thereafter from 1916 to 1949 by Godfrey Weston of Gables Farm where the meetings of the parish traditionally took place. Other local names which recur in the minutes as overseers and school managers include well-known ones such as Youngs and Jermy.

Weston’s retirement in 1949 was followed by some instability with three chairmen in three years but at a time when other parishes in Norfolk were acquiring new councils in abundance after Second World War it was not until the annual meeting of 1968 that this was first reconsidered in Hemblington. The then chairman Eric ‘Husky’ Martin, a Pedham shopkeeper, who had been the mainstay of the parish meeting after Weston, urged the formation of a parish council in the light of the growth of the village. This had the support of Christopher Wace, Weston’s successor at Gables Farm but also a member of the local Rural District Council; 15 members of the public attended the meeting with the majority in favour of a new council, especially to deal with matters ‘particularly affecting children of the new villagers, transport, roads &c and the old tip’. Subsequently in March 1969 the local [Yarmouth] Labour MP, Dr Hugh Gray, who lived in the village, endorsed the idea and gave a short talk on ‘Parish work and commitment’. Finally, in May 1969 the first elections were held, followed by the first meeting in Hemblington School on 16 July 1969, duly reported with accompanying photograph, in the EDP. [See https://archantnorfolk.newsprints.co.uk/view/37951492/hemblington%20pc%20m11855%20il%2016%20jul%201969%2002_jpg].

In March 1969 the chairman had been ‘sure that once established Hemblington Parish Council would grow strong roots’. Such hopes proved premature, no sooner had the Council been created than some began to have second thoughts. In 1972 following the resignation of the first clerk, Councillors Youngs and Jermy favoured joining Blofield Parish Council and this possibility was mooted for a number of years with Blofield at first not very keen on the idea, and when they did press for a merger, Hemblington was less keen again. As a result, the Council survived.
In its early years, its primary and greatest impact was in the creation of Pedham Green – not as its appearance suggests an old village green but until 1969 an unsightly sand and gravel pit, in which rubbish was regularly tipped. Slowly, if at times contentiously, it was turned into a pleasant open space, with the acquisition of seats and suitably ‘rustic play equipment’. It formally became Pedham Green in 1978. Pedham remained the focus of much Parish Council concern – the state of its roads, drainage, buses, modernization of council houses and for many years a fruitless campaign for mains drainage. Unsurprisingly, one of the first concerns of the Council was the Bird in Hand cross roads, but no solution was found to its improvement which still remains a recurring subject at meetings.

Sadly the Council lacked the funds to acquire the Gospel mission hall in Cuttons Corner as its parish hall. But the minute books and correspondence of the Council also contain other fascinating reminders of the 1970s and early 1980s – the ‘Emergency Welfare Committee’ in which Mrs Mary Doggett (of The Willows, Pedham Road) was prominent was formed during the Power cuts of 1972; in 1983 when a water strike was threatened, Christopher Wace offered to make his bore hole available if needed. We are also reminded that this was the nuclear age but the Council turned a deaf ear in November 1980 to a plea to appoint a Community controller to function in the event of a nuclear attack, although it did reluctantly send a representative to a Blofield committee.
Alongside these more transient concerns, planning policy has been the most constant and contentious area of the Council’s work – in its early days, the Council had always been ready to consider in-filling while opposing ribbon development. In this way, Pedham was transformed into much more densely settled part of the village. More contentiously, the development of Cuttons Corner saw the first real encroachment onto agricultural land with the gradual (but sadly still continuing) disappearance of Neave’s small-holding. In 1986 the Parish Council reluctantly agreed to see the phased development of this site, so long as it provided ‘good quality housing’, with improved drainage and sewerage for the area. 1989 was therefore entitled by Mrs Bell, the long-serving chair of the Council as ‘the year of development’, with Hemblington doing its bit for the Broadland plan for 2000 new houses. 1990 we should note was deemed the year of ‘no thank you’ – no link road from the Blofield bypass, no more houses at Cuttons Corner, no football pitch; no rubbish tip and no parish rate for the coming year.

The more mundane matters HPC deals with includes walking annually the parish footpaths – and we still use the Noticeboard on the Bird In Hand corner, although this is in need of replacement, and nowadays it is supplemented by the website. We recently purchased the telephone kiosk in Pedham, which contains a defibrilator; and appropriately for our fiftieth year a village sign is in preparation.

The Council also owed much to the personal commitment of its original members, those most responsible for its success. The first is Mrs Lilian ‘Bunny’ Bell, perhaps the ‘mother of the local community’; she chaired the Council from 1973 until 2001, active on a wide variety of issues, but was adamantly opposed to typewritten minutes, hand-written ones were she thought historic. There were no typed minutes until 2001. Secondly the long-term vice chairman of the Council Christopher Wace of Gables Farm who served on the council until the early 2000s, was ever attentive to its needs where tree planting or ground maintenance was required, or putting his barns at the council’s disposal for fund-raising events. Finally Roy Randall Jermy served the Council for many years, author of an evocative memoir, One Man’s Story of Life in Pedham. A full list of current and past councillors from 1969 until 2019 may be found on the Council website.

Anthony Howe, July 2019