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In England a civil parish (usually just parish) is the smallest area used for local government. In Wales the equivalent body to a Parish council is termed a Community council. Scotland also has bodies called Community councils, but these are not equivalent to and have fewer powers than English parishes and Welsh communities.
Districts may be divided into several parishes. Parish councils have various local responsibilities. Typical activities undertaken by a parish council include allotments, parks, litter collection, maintenance of a village hall , public clocks, and entering Britain in Bloom. They also have a consultative role in planning. Parish councils have the power to raise funds through a range of mechanisms including by levying a tax on the Council tax payers of the parish.
Some parishes are deemed too small to have a parish council and instead have a parish meeting; an example of direct democracy. Parishes can be grouped with other parishes and share a common parish council.
A parish council can also be called a Town Council or a City Council (but not all city or town councils are parish councils). It can become a Town Council unilaterally, simply by making a resolution to do so. City status however is granted by the crown. In England, there are currently six parishes with city status : Chichester, Ely, Hereford, Lichfield, Ripon, and Wells. The Chair of a Town council or City council will usually have the title Mayor.
Sometimes a city or town is abolished as a district, and it is considered desirable to maintain continuity of the charter until a parish council to replace it can be set up. In this case Charter Trustees perform some of the functions of a parish council, and maintain traditions such as mayoralty. An example of such a city was Hereford, whose city council was merged in 1998 to form a unitary Herefordshire. The area of the city of Hereford remained unparished until 2000 when a parish council was created for the city.
Whilst as their name suggests, Civil Parishes arose out of the ecclesiastical parish system, their purpose was to administer the Poor Law. The entire country of England was divided into parishes, each responsible for the maintenance of the poor people born in the parish. A rate (property tax) was levied in each parish.
How ancient the division of parishes is, may at present be difficult to ascertain. Mr. Camden says, England was divided into parishes by Archbishop Honorius, about the year 630. Sir Henry Hobart lays it down, that parishes were first erected by the council of Lateran, which was held A.D. 1179. Each widely differs from the other, and both of them perhaps from the truth, which will probably be found in the medium, between the two extremes. We find the distinction of parishes, nay, even of mother churches, so early as in the laws of King Edgar, about the year 970. The civil division of England into counties, of counties into hundreds, of hundreds into tithings, or towns, as it now stands, seems to owe its original to King Alfred; who, to prevent the rapines and disorders which formerly prevailed in the realm, instituted tithings; so called, from the Saxon, because ten freeholders with their families composed one. These all dwelt together, and were sureties, or free-pledges to the king for the good behaviour of each other; and if any offence were committed in their district, they were bound to have the offender forthcoming. And therefore, anciently, no man was suffered to abide in England above forty days, unless he were enrolled in some tithing or decennary. As ten families of freeholders made up a tithing, so ten tithings composed a superior division, called a hundred. In some of the more northern counties these hundreds are called wapentakes. The sub-division of hundreds into tithings seems to be most peculiarly the invention of Alfred; the institution of hundreds themselves he rather introduced than invented, for they seem to have obtained in Denmark; and we find that in France a regulation of this sort was made above 200 years before; set on foot by Clotharicus and Childebert, with a view of obliging each district to answer for the robberies committed in its own division. In some counties there is an intermediate division between the shire and the hundred, as lathes in Kent, and rapes in Sussex, each of them containing about three or four hundreds a-piece. Where a county is divided into three of these intermediate jurisdictions, they are called trithings, which still subsist in the large county of York, where, by an easy corruption, they are denominated ridings; the north, the east, and the west.
As Local Government was restructured in the 19th Century, some parishes were designated Urban Sanitary Districts and had their powers greatly increased. Smaller parishes were grouped together as Rural Districts but still retained some responsibilities. However the Poor Law obligations were now given to "Unions" of a number of parishes, in order to have sufficient resources to establish and administer workhouses and "outdoor relief". In 1929 the old Poor Law system was abolished, central government now assuming responsibility for welfare payments. In 1974 rural parishes were retained but most urban areas became "unparished".
- Community councils in Wales and Scotland
- List of civil parishes in England
- UK topics
- Freguesia—civil parish in Portugal
- www.nalc.gov.uk The National Association of Local Councils represents English parish councils and Welsh community councils
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