1902 Encyclopedia > London > Government and Administration - Administrative History

(Part 2)


Administrative History

At first the municipal constitution of London was loose and disjoined in its form, resembling that of the shire rather than the town, but even from the time of Henry I. the independence of its jurisdiction was complete, and the citizens, besides the right of inheritance and tenure not then possessed by the rest of England, enjoyed exemption from the Danegeld and from similar obligations. By the 13th century the later form of the municipality was already shaped in its main features, although at this stage residence in the borough and not membership in a trade guild was the basis of citizenship. This is some respect premature development of municipal functions has always given to London a peculiar and unique position in respect of municipal government. Its charters, which in early times served as the model for charters to new incorporations, have defied the attacks of reform. The system of government was more heterogeneous and complicated than that of other English towns. London is practically a borough by prescription, and its special rights and privileges have made those who possess them distrustful of change. The mere extent of the new city surrounding the old, and the rapidity of its growth, have also tended to postpone the attempt to grapple with the problem of its government. Until 1855, when the Metropolitan Board of Works was formed, the whole administration of the metropolis was of a mediaeval character. The City was governed by old charters, confirmed but not interpreted by a special Act of William and Mary, and the various parishes of the rest of the metropolis had each its own peculiar system of administration, regulated by local Acts which differed widely in different localities. No direct change of vital importance was made in the constitution and functions of the City corporation by the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855, but the very existence of the Metropolitan Board implied a certain limitation of its authority, and the additional functions conferred by successive Acts on the Metropolitan Board have in some degree circumscribed its influence. As modified by the Act of 1855, the government of London within what is known as the metropolitan area consists of the City Corporation, the Metropolitan Board of Works, and thirty-eight vestries and district boards; while various authorities, to be afterwards mentioned, exercise jurisdiction in special matters over the whole area of the metropolis or in separate localities.

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