1974’s massive local government change

In this post we take a look at a largely and perhaps surprisingly unmarked event – the great changes to local government across England and Wales which occurred on 1 April 1974. We’ll focus particularly on the Chesterfield area.

The pattern of local government

A series of ‘All Change’ newspapers were distributed to local people – editionalised to each new district in an effort to describe the changes to local government on 1 April 1974. They were jointly produced by the county and the new district councils. The Chesterfield one was headlined ‘Three go into one’. Towards the bottom right, just in picture, is a photograph of the then Chesterfield council leader J Ford. The new Chesterfield Borough Council then comprised 54 councillors split over 22 wards.

Until April 1974 the pattern of local government in England had comprised city, town, rural districts, urban districts, parish and county councils. Staveley residents, for example, were served by Staveley Urban District Council, whilst those in Brimington sat in Chesterfield Rural District Council’s area as did other nearby parishes such as Ashover, Barlow, Brampton, Calow, Hasland, Heath, Sutton-cum-Duckmanton, Temple Normanton, Unstone, North Wingfield Walton and Wingerworth. There were 23 parishes (all with parish councils) in the Chesterfield rural district.

Chesterfield’s borough council is of ancient descent – see our chronology of Chesterfield’s history, which traces the corporation’s development. It was classed as a non-county borough and an ‘accepted district’ for education, which meant it administered primary and secondary education within its boundary. Prior to the April 1974 reorganisation the council comprised not only elected councillors but also 12 ‘Aldermen’ – who were elected by the councillors and other aldermen. There were aldermen on the county council too, but not on urban or rural district councils!

Overall perhaps a confusing picture.

Changes proposed

The changes had been fairly long in coming. Lord Redcliffe-Maud had presented the findings of a Royal Commission into local government to Parliament in June 1969. There had been thoughts that the then present system of local government, largely based on patterns established in the 19th century, was not fit-for-purpose.

We’ve reproduced an extract from one of the plans showing the Redcliffe-Maud report’s proposed pattern of local government for ‘counties’ in this post.

A map extract from the so-called Redcliffe-Maud Report of 1969. The report contained some controversial proposals, which many disliked. The red boundary was a redraw of the county (called ‘provinces’ in the report). For Derbyshire this would have included the transfer of Dronfield and Barlborough to outside the county, likewise some areas in the north-west. Burton Upon Trent would have been transferred into Derbyshire. The ’12’ is the ‘unit’ number – named as Sheffield and South Yorkshire in the report. The complexity of local government at ‘district’ level might be judged from the then existing authority boundaries shown in black.

Aggrieved by the proposals

Some local communities were much aggrieved by moves to place them outside the county. Barlborough is just one example – where a transfer into what was then described as ‘Sheffield and south Yorkshire’. The report had concluded that the parish, along with three others in the Chesterfield rural district, were ‘so much under the influence of Sheffield’ that they should be included in the ‘Sheffield unit’. Barlborough fought a notable campaign against the proposals, but there were others too.

The front cover of the 1970 guide to Chesterfield Rural District Council’s area gives a representation of the district itself. At this time Clay Cross was an urban district, Chesterfield a borough and Staveley an urban district. To the north was Dronfield – also an urban district.

More local to Chesterfield, Brimington was generally seen as being happy with its position in Chesterfield Rural District Council. Many in Staveley were not pleased with proposals which would see an end to their urban district status and combination, with Brimington, into a much larger Chesterfield district council.

The plans also ended up creating some county authorities that were less than universally welcomed – such as Avon and Humberside. Both were abolished in 1996 and replaced by unitary (all purpose) authorities.

The Local Government Act of 1972 brought in the finally agreed proposals for both England and Wales and a period of transition followed. Elections for shadow authorities were held the following year.

There are still a few remnants of the old Chesterfield Rural District Council around. This road sign, on display in the Brimington Community Centre entrance foyer, was saved by the parish council in 1990. You can read more about it and local government in the parish from the blog published by the Brimington and Tapton Local History Group here.

A new era begins

Staveley Urban District Council was one of the 30 Derbyshire-wide authorities abolished on 1 April 1974. It had first been established in 1935 – until that date the town and its townships had been a constituent of the Chesterfield Rural District Council.

On March 31 1974, thirty former authorities across the county came to an end – including all the former rural and urban districts, the county borough of Derby and the county council. They were replaced with a new county council and nine district councils. Parish councils were not changed, but resultant unparished areas in the abolished districts could apply to become a parish (also termed town) council. This ultimately occurred in Staveley’s case.

Some functions, previously undertaken by districts, were transferred to the county council. This included responsibility for all schools, libraries and highways (though Chesterfield retained an agency agreement for some years with the county for the latter). Other services, such as water and health services were transferred to regional bodies. Many long-serving officers and councillors decided to retire at the same time of the reorganisation.

The county boundary did not generally change (apart from a minor redrawing bringing Tintwhistle into Derbyshire). Consequently, the community campaigns ‘to remain in Derbyshire’ may be judged to have been a success.

Locally a new North East Derbyshire District Council was formed by the merger of the former Clay Cross and Dronfield Urban District Councils and all the former Chesterfield Rural District Council parishes – except Brimington. Staveley Urban District Council, with the former parish of Brimington and all the former Chesterfield borough, were united to form a new Chesterfield Borough Council.

More changes

Since 1974 more changes have taken place, but have not been as radical and made at one time as those on 1 April 1974.

Some county authorities, such as that mostly envisaged as ‘Unit 12’ in the Redcliffe-Maud report – and indeed established for south Yorkshire, have come and gone. As have the days of passenger transport executives directly running bus services (resulting in the one time cheap bus fares policy in south Yorkshire). Then the Local Government Act of 1992 came resulting in further changes. Locally there have also been some small-scale adjustments to boundaries since 1974. Nationally there has been a move towards ‘unitary authorities’, with abolition of county authorities and creation of these all purpose bodies.

Powers of local councils have also changed, and there has an undoubted cut in funding from central government. But today there seems to be a move back to give local councils more powers to run things such as buses, with directly elected regional mayors also figuring. It remains to be seen whether or not these changes are both understood, necessary and sustainable and whether or not the scale of the great changes made in 1 April 1974 will ever be repeated.

The sadly neglected former Chesterfield Rural District Council’s HQ on Saltergate Chesterfield. It cost £21,000 and opened in March 1938, shortly after the much larger and grander Chesterfield Town Hall. The architect for ‘Rural Council House’, as it was called, was Mr EG Kington of the Chesterfield architectural practice Messrs. Houfton and Kington. It was vacated by the successor authority, North East Derbyshire District Council (NEDDC), from 2015, for a site at Wingerworth. It is now in private ownership and empty. The 1970s block to the right dates from the days of the then newly created NEDDC.

Sources used in this blog

  • ‘All change- the local facts about local government reorganisation’ 1974. (A series of local ‘newspapers’ publicising the change to local government. Published jointly by the new county and district councils).
  • Barlborough Historical Society ‘History of Barlborough’s campaign to remain in Derbyshire’ 1973
  • Borough of Chesterfield [council] diary 1973-74
  • Borough of Chesterfield guide c.1959.
  • Brimington and Tapton Local History Group ‘Road sign points to local government’s past in Brimington’ blog post originally published 4 November 2021.
  • Chesterfield Rural District Council, ‘Official guide’ 1970 and 1972
  • City of Sheffield ‘Sheffield: emerging city’ 1969
  • North East Derbyshire District Council, ‘Official guide’ 1977
  • Derbyshire County Council ‘Our first annual report 1974-75’ 1975.
  • Staveley Urban District Council ‘Staveley Official Guide’ c.1966.

This post was edited on 3 April 2024 to remove some typos and clarify some illustration captions.