The City of London and the evolution of Wards are totally interlinked in the City’s evolution and history.
In the 7th Century, the Saxons founded a great port, “Lundenwic’” to the west of the deserted area known as “Londinium”.
It comprised self governing “wards”. It’s senior inhabitants being called “Aldermen”. Every Free-Man was allowed to attend “folk moot”s (Ward mote), meetings where communal decisoins were made. The authority of the King was represented by “shire reeves” (sheriffs). These “moots” were held on a regular basis between the Aldermen and the residents of their Ward.
This settlement survived until AD 851 when the invading Danes burnt the City and killed all the inhabitants. In 886 King Alfred of Wessex returned to the ruined Roman City, repaired the walls and built a harbour and market. Lundenburg became the wealtiest and most important City in England.
By 1130 there were twenty Wards, the fisrt Lord Mayor took office in 1189. In 1206 there were 24 Wards. By 1285, 40 “worthy and substantial citizens” (between 1 to 4) from each ward met regularly to consult with the Aldermen on City matters.
Wardmotes are still held every year outside election years, to allow residents, tenants and property owners to have an opportunity to play their part in City Government, meeting their elected representatives, and having an opportunity to raise any concerns and ask questions of their Alderman and Common Councilmen.
Once every 4 years the Ward electorate are able to elect their Common Councilmen. The next election will be due in 2021. Aldermen, one for each ward, are voted in for a period of 6 years.
The Common Council is made up of the Lord Mayor, 24 other Aldermen and 100 Common Councilmen – it meets every three weeks. Unlike other local authorities the Corporation of London has no party politics.
Many Common Councilmen and Aldermen are business people committed to ensuring the City of London remains the world’s top financial centre.
THE COURT OF COMMON COUNCIL
From early times the Folkmoot was used as a way of informing the citizens of civic actions and obtaining their consent for them, while the Court of Husting, transacted some administrative business such as the enrolment of deeds and wills and settling legal disputes.
The Court of Aldermen developed from the administrative side of the Court of Husting whilst The Court of Common Council grew from summonses from the Aldermen for commoners to help them to make decisions.
The Common Council and the Corporation are therefore unique in local government today as they evolved organically from earlier bodies.
Most other councils in the UK were either created or substantially reformed in the nineteenth century.
The Corporation is probably the oldest local authority in the country. The beginnings of local government can be traced to the time at which towns secured the right to appoint their own officials and so control their own affairs. Although the City’s right to govern itself has been subject to royal intervention at different times, it can trace the election of officials by London back to the second quarter of the twelfth century. It was also the first English town to have its own Mayor, who first appears around 1189.
The Oath of the Commune in 1193 allowed the Mayor to summon “worthy and substantial citizens” to assist in deciding civic matters. There are several examples of citizens summoned from the Wards, often in a ratio determined by the size of the Ward.
The earliest documented example of this is in 1285 when forty citizens were summoned. Their numbers varied from between one and four from each Ward.
The Council is first referred to as ‘the Common Council’ in 1376 and assumed some legislative functions before the end of the fourteenth century. It became particularly involved in the finances of the Corporation. As municipal services developed so did the need to raise taxes to provide for them.
Therefore the Common Council became more involved with the decision-making process as the assent of the citizenry was needed when taxes upon them were proposed. It also met more frequently. Since the eighteenth century it has been the main governing body of the City, acquiring many of the duties previously overseen by the Court of Aldermen and undertaking major municipal projects, such as street improvements and the construction of markets. It absorbed the duties of the City Commissioners of Sewers in 1897, and so became a rating authority.
In 1322 it was agreed that ordinances for the whole commonalty were to be made by an assembly consisting of two people elected from each ward, while in 1346 the number of representatives from each ward was laid down depending on the size of the ward. In this way, the notion of representation of the citizens through the wards was developed.
Although the Common Council was elected by the members of the City Guilds for a short period, it has been elected by the ward electorate from 1384 to the present day. The electorate consists of residents and certain ratepayers. There are 25 wards in the City. For each ward, one Alderman and a number of Common Councilmen (the number varies depending on the ward) are elected at the wardmote.
The Wards and their elected Number of Common Councilmen comprise.
Aldersgate 6 CCs
Cripplegate 8 CCs
Portsoken 4 CCs
Queenhithe 2 CCs
Farringdon Without 10
Castle Baynard 8
Farringdon Within 8
Coleman Street 4
Lime Street 4
Broad Street 3
Bread Street 2
Bridge and Bridge Without 2
THE CIVIC CONSTITUTION
The Common Council has a number of features and rights that make it unique amongst local authority councils. Under its charters the Corporation is empowered to alter or amend its own constitution by an Act of Common Council when it benefits the Corporation and the City to do so. Recent Acts of Common Council address subjects such as elections to the Common Council and the elections of ward and Corporation officers.
Much of the work of the Common Council is delegated to Committees which are mainly made up of Members of the Common Council.
Based on CLRO Information Sheet 8
Publication by Corporation of London Records Office, PO Box 270, Guildhall, London EC2P 2EJ
(Tel: 020 7332 1251, Fax: 020 7710 8682, E-mail: corpoflondon.co.uk
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