VCH Volume: 
Middlesex XIV

Volume XIV focuses on Local Government and Social Life. Although Local government does not always seem the most exciting aspect of local history, in Westminster its complexity makes it a fascinating and challenging subject. Westminster was a unique community with the multiple layers of authority which for a long time co-existed. The VCH account will analyse how those civil organizations responded to the new problems of quite sudden urbanisation, as well as the intrusions and interests of national government in the local arena on its doorstep. The account will  examine Westminster's evolution from a collection of medieval manors and eight parishes, each with their own vestries, look at the role of the burgess court of Westminster, the Duchy of Lancaster's jurisdiction south of the Strand, the Westminster Sewers Commission, and the local boards which developed in the 19th century, and show how the wider powers of the Metropolitan Board of Works culminated in the creation of Westminster City Council which was in charge of local government from 1900. A discussion of how the layers of local authority functioned and provided poor relief will be amplified by accounts of the various public services and utilities - refuse, sewerage, watch and constables, lighting, water, gas, electricity, baths, burial, libraries, open spaces, and medical care - with brief descriptions of their associated buildings. There will also be lists of the High Stewards and Lord Mayors, and the city plate and insignia.

Social Life  will focus on several important local aspects, in particular charities and education. Charities have always played a large part in Westminster's local life, particularly in the two older parishes of St Margaret's and St Martin's, with several sets of almshouses and provision of food, coals, and money to help the poor, loans for craftsmen, and apprenticing. They also played an important part in the story of education, with several charity schools founded in the 17th century, their pupils dressed in coloured coats, green, black, blue, and grey. The charity story continues less colourfully with 19th-century schools and donations for the poor, before the introduction of publicly-funded schools. Other aspects of social life include newspapers, theatres and cinemas, opera houses and music halls, sport, loyal volunteers, and other societies. All these, and the buildings that housed them, shed new light on a local community life, which thrived alongside Westminster's role as a national cultural centre.



A project to research the parish history of St Clement Danes has started with work on the extensive collection of vestry minutes in the Westminster City Archive, led by the VCH Middlesex Research Officer, Dr Mark Latham.

The history of individual charities is currenly being researched by a VCH volunteer, Jonathan Comber. He has already completed an account of Westminster's loan charities.

Draft texts can be found here.