The Parish Council
The Parish Council was created in 1988 and covers the area known as Bridgtown, within the Cannock Chase area of Staffordshire.
There is a lot of misconception about the roles of Councillors and the responsibilities of the Council. The Parish Council is within but not part of Cannock Chase District Council nor Staffordshire County Council. They are separate bodies and have their own roles. The Parish Council has no responsibility for Highways, Waste Collection, Litter, Police, Dog Fouling, Severn Trent workings. It has a part-time Clerk for four hours a week and seven voluntary Councillors meeting every two months.The Parish Council does not own any land nor buildings.
What are Parish Councils?
Local councils are the first tier of governance. They are democratically elected local authorities and exist in England, Wales and Scotland. The term ‘local council’ is synonymous with ‘parish council’, ‘town council’ and ‘community council’.
There are over 10,000 local councils in England and Wales, representing the concerns of local residents and providing services to meet local needs. Parish councils have a wide range of powers including looking after community buildings, planning, street lighting, allotments. They also have the power to raise money through council tax. Here is a link to what some Parish Councils do. Every one is different and operate according to the needs of the area.
Local councils are made up of locally elected councillors. They are legally obliged to hold at least one meeting a year. Most meet on a six-weekly cycle to discuss council business and hear from local residents. In addition to this, any committees or sub-committees dealing with specific subjects must also hold regular open sessions.
How do you become a parish councillor? To qualify to be a parish councillor you must be:
· A British citizen, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union.
· At least 18 on the day that he or she is nominated as a candidate
· A registered local government elector within the parish
· A resident in the parish, or within three miles of the parish, or working full time in the parish for at least 12 months prior to the nomination or election day.
A person is disqualified from holding office as a parish or town councillor if:
· They hold a paid office, or other place of profit in the council
· They are the subject of a bankruptcy restriction order or interim order.
· They have been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than 3 months imprisonment within the last five years · They incur illegal expenditure (when acting as a councillor) of over £2,000, or are found guilty of using corrupt or illegal practices
How are Parish Councils funded?
The funding for parish councils is allocated by the district council and is taken from the area’s council tax; this is called an annual precept. The income and expenditure for the next financial year are calculated in the form of estimates and this amount is added to the local council tax and then returned to the parishes in two yearly installments.
A Brief History of Bridgtown
The earliest information describes a mill in Walk Mill Lane and this is supposed to date back to the sixteenth century, being quite close to the old Roman Road, the Watling Street. There was also a toll-keeper’s cottage on the Walsall Road but not much besides prior to the nineteenth century. At this time the name Bridgtown was not used.
In 1859 there was Long House Farm on the Watling Street and 6 houses on the Walsall Road. Soon after that the land was developed by the Wolverhampton Building Society following the opening of the local collieries. Streets were laid out and houses were built. The Bridgtown Estate belonged to the then Lord Hatherton. Its boundaries were Watling Street, Bridge Street, Walsall Road and North Street. The land on the other side of North Street was known as the Bridgtown West Estate and belonged to a Mr. Cotterell. The name Bridgtown was almost certainly devised because of the high numbers of bridges and, indeed, it seemed to be impossible to enter Bridgtown without crossing either over or under a bridge!
The Walsall to Hednesford railway line had been constructed between 1856 and 1858, causing the level of the Walsall Road to be lowered considerably near to the junction with Bridge Street. Soon afterwards came the development of the canal system and the construction of the 13 locks between Churchbridge and Leacroft. Bridgtown had superb communication links, by road, by railway and by canal. By the time 1870 came the village was growing rapidly and was considered to be a fine example of modern planning. By 1880 people were talking about Bridgtown becoming bigger than neighbouring Cannock and residents were demanding their own railway station.
As well as the collieries came the pioneering work of men like William Gilpin and Cornelius Whitehouse, developing industries that made use of local coal supplies. So it was that Bridgtown was a thriving energetic community all through the first half of the twentieth century. Then the nature of industry began to change and planners wanted to separate housing from industry. The days of Bridgtown seemed to be numbered and the village came near to extinction in the early 1980s. But planners did not reckon on the indomitable spirit and will of the Bridgtown people. The village lives on and today regeneration continues apace!
Reproduced by kind permission of David Williams – Bridgtown History Society.
In 1988 the Parish Council was formed, following a local group called BRAG (Bridgtown Residents Action Group) was set up to negotiate with planners of the time, to stop it being made a industrial area. The area still has a legacy of industrial units but is slowly changing its profile to a residential area.
There has always been hot debate about the spelling of Bridgtown as some early OS maps show it as Bridge Town. No definitive answer has been found as to why it changed its spelling, except that it was more than likely a typing error along the line.
This link is to the Cannock Chase Parishes Order 1987, with Secretary of State for the creation of new Parishes. Interesting the population of Bridgtown was then 800 whilst neighbouring parish was just over 5,000, both parishes have expanded but the one beyond recognition.
Another document of interest is the North Street Conservation area draft which can be viewed on here.
It lists the Pre 1884 properties and 1884 – 1902 properties, which form part of the conservation area including the former building where Ma Pardoe (Doris Jones) was born in 1899 at 19 North Street.
BRIDGTOWN RESIDENTS ACTION GROUP – a brief history by David Williams
The BRAG story
The story begins in 1962 when Cannock Urban District Council put forward a planning strategy that the Bridgtown area would in future years be “primarily for industrial use”.
Residents took not much notice of that. Why should they? Bridgtown existed because of industry. They had lived with it all their lives. Ask anyone who lived in Bridgtown in those days. They would remember for example the clunk, clunk, clunk sounds coming from Wynn’s Foundry. They remember the awful smogs that blighted our lives in those days. Industry was noisy, dirty and smelly.
Time passed and people got on with their lives and, as time went by, industry began to change too. Lots of smaller firms and industrial units appeared and the big smelly factories disappeared.
But in 1976 came the bombshell! There had been little further consultation with residents since that Council decision 14 years earlier but the local council now decided to act on it and had made more detailed plans. The plan was to demolish all of the houses in Bridgtown over a 15 year period, running down the Primary School and just keeping some of the local shops in order to service the workforce of the new industries.
The first most people knew about these plans was when a notice came through their letterboxes. Local resident Jim Leighton had found out about the plans by accident. Jim sent out the notices and invited everyone to a meeting at the War Memorial Club in Union St. The room was packed and the words used by angry locals to describe the plan were rather more basic than those used by the council officers.
The result of the meeting was that an organisation was formed called BRAG. The depth of feeling was shared by everyone from the Bridgtown area, from professional people and local business people to the humblest workman. Another meeting was called at Bridgtown Social Club which had a larger room but yet again the room was packed with residents!
It was at this point that the true spirit of Bridgtown people came to the fore. The council were saying that most of the property in Bridgtown was too old to modernise but the locals were having none of it. Everyone was determined to show the council that it was not houses that they planned to destroy but a real living vibrant community. The overwhelming feeling was that the only way to stop council plans was by everyone standing together in order to make their community even stronger. Every opportunity was be taken to act as a community and to raise funds for the cause.
- The first real opportunity to make a stand came with the celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in June 1977. A massive Village Party was arranged and a Fancy Dress Parade was held. In the parade one of the floats showed semi-detached houses, one half falling into disrepair while one half was looked after and modernised. The message was obvious.
- Loads of other events were held, bringing the community together and raising a “fighting fund” to keep BRAG going. Here are some of the ladies from the village in their Music Hall costumes for one such event. Other events were held of all sorts, varying from jumble sales to cheese & wine parties.
- All the time letters were being sent to Cannock Council, to the County Council, to parliament, to anyone who might have some influence. A letter was even sent to the Duke of Edinburgh following comments he had made about living communities. BRAG members appeared on TV, etc., etc. A large grant was obtained from the Joseph Rowntree Communities Trust to support the cause. However, Bridgtown residents were so determined and proactive in their efforts that the grant was hardly used. Years later the grant was returned to the Trust as Bridgtown had only ever used the interest gained on the grant.
- Through a work contact one of the committee arranged a delivery of wood from broken packing cases from a Black Country firm. Volunteers collected up the wood and made it up into little bundles to give to elderly residents for firewood as most houses still burned coal in those days. This so demonstrated the community spirit of “looking after our own” that it became a weekly event. The old folk became so grateful that they began to give donations to help BRAG along. More importantly, it made the community spirit stronger and stronger.
Through a contact a group of radical students came along to support the cause. They caused a lot of publicity and painted murals with wording such as “You are entering Free Bridgtown”. But Bridgtown people were not happy with such an approach. They wanted to fight their cause in their own way.
The fight went on and on but Cannock planners showed no signs of changing their plans. Residents opposed every planning application for more industry but people were also becoming scared as their homes were devalued so much. It became impossible for anyone to get a mortgage in Bridgtown because of the Council plans. People were frightened of losing everything and some tried to sell their houses but they couldn’t. Houses changed hands for £200 or £300, this at a time when house prices across the country were rocketing! One house was even sold for £95. But the fight went on! The people of Bridgtown would not give in.
After 5 or more years of fighting their cause signs begin to emerge that the strength of their cause was being recognised and eventually in the early 1980s the council agreed to a status quo. No more houses would be demolished and a plan was formed so that there would be designated “housing areas” and designated “industrial areas” but these would take many years to adjust. But residents had come too far now to stop at this point. BRAG continued to fight for its community and eventually the opportunity arose to form a Parish Council. These plans were accepted and, in May 1988, elections for a Parish Council took place and BRAG as an organisation was wound up. It had served its purpose and marked its place in history. The battle had been won after a fight lasting twelve long years!
- From then on the story is a positive one. A small community centre was opened in North St with Jim Leighton performing the opening ceremony.
- The Bethel Church hosted a service to commemorate the inauguration of the Parish Council
Since then has begun the regeneration of Bridgtown. One new housing estate followed in the 1990s with many smaller developments for apartments, etc. A massive new development was built on the site of the former Lucas’s factory. A further new housing development based right in the heart of the village was also put before planners. Fred Pritchard, himself a former Bridgtown resident, has been in the forefront of many new developments including the dominant Ramada Hotel. From the community point of view that complex also housed the Bridgtown Community Centre. This fact symbolises a bright future for Bridgtown, but without BRAG Bridgtown would be no more. No wonder that people like our colleagues in the History Society are happy to rejoice in our heritage and are proud to proclaim that we have Bridgtown blood in our veins.
David Williams – January 2012