Vestry and Select Vestry: Assets, Liabilities or Irrelevances in the Development of Chorley 1780-1830?
John Edward Harrison
(Dept of Humanities, University of Central Lancashire)
This project will analyse the role of the Vestry and Select Vestry in Chorley, 1780-1830.( The Vestry was the lowest tier of local government, operating within parish or township boundaries and having in the 16th and 17th centuries taken on former functions of the manorial court as well as new responsibilities for highways and the poor derived from tudor statutes.) The period 1780-1830 witnessed profound social, industrial and economic change in Chorley, as elsewhere in Lancashire. However it could be argued that there was little overt “local government” to organize and administrate the needs of the town and its people. Indeed J D Marshall (1974) uses the term “Local Non-Government.” This study will test Marshall’s interpretation and will identify any systems of government, formal or otherwise, how they evolved and the “political” forces that were active and influential in the town.
Most of the main primary sources are to be found in the Lancashire Record Office. The most important of these will be the minute books of the Vestry, Select Vestry and committees. Other sources will include parish and estate records, wills, a local Act of Parliament and directories.
Historiography and the Project’s relationship to it
The project will be a Lancashire study, but it will also relate the experience of Chorley to the wider context of local government developments in Lancashire and nationally.
Urban History has gone through many changes over the past 150 years, and these have been identified and summarised by Crosby (2005), particularly from the perspective of Lancashire and Cheshire. He welcomed the widening of research to include not just the large urban centres, but also the smaller towns and argued that “We lack a deep understanding of the processes whereby many market towns emerged in new roles and in new guises, as important industrial centres.”
The study of local government in Chorley in this key period will contribute to this understanding and will relate to the work of Peter Clark, and particularly to the study of small towns. Clark stated that “Uneven attention has been given to different kinds of urban community”(1976). In addition it will enable a reflection on David Eastwood’s (1997) research on parish government in a national sense, including his view that “the capacity of the English state was crucially dependant upon its ability to mobilize local elites as governing elites.” The study will also consider Henry French’s summary of work on the “Middle Sort of People” (2000) and seek to identify them and their role in the development of Chorley in this period.
There has been an imbalance in research on local governance in Lancashire in this period, which largely favours the urban communities of the east and south-east of the county with Taylor on Bolton (1995), Foster on Oldham (1974), and Joyce on Burnley (1980). In the period under study most of the population in Lancashire and nationally lived either in rural communities or small towns. This study of Chorley will start to address this deficiency as Chorley is not part of south east Lancashire and has a different social, cultural, industrial and economic profile to most other studies.