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History of the Town Council

Early Years
Up until the later 19th century, a body connected with the church, the Parish Vestry, was the main form of civic administration in Cromer. As well as looking after the spiritual needs of the townspeople, the Vestry exercised a more down to earth side. This included managing the local roads and facilities, such as the town pumps and common lands, and keeping order. Parish officers in Cromer included a Town Clerk, a Town Surveyor and one or more Parish Constables.

In 1845, following a storm which devastated the seafront and, it was claimed, which threatened the very existence of the town, the Cromer Protection Commissioners were set up by Act of Parliament. Their task was to manage the sea defences of the town and to levy from the townspeople a “Protection Rate” to pay for necessary work. The Commissioners coexisted with the Vestry and its later replacements, the Local Board and the Cromer Urban District Council. The Commissioners ceased to exist after WW2, when Cromer UDC took on their responsibilities.

The Local board
In 1884, as the result of national Public Health Acts, a Local Board of Health was set up in Cromer. This was an elected body answerable to central government. Its main responsibility was to maintain public heath, particularly by preventing epidemics such as cholera and typhoid, which were greatly feared at the time. The Local Board’s duties also included rubbish disposal and sanitation, and safety on the roads. After 1893, it introduced byelaws to ensure that the designs of any new houses were not likely to cause health problems, for at this time it was thought that good house ventilation could avoid disease, which was believed to be spread by a foul air or “miasma”.

Shortly before the introduction of byelaws related to building construction, the Medical Officer reflected on the town: “The general rebuilding of the town during the last few years has had the happy effect of doing away with some of those old rookeries that disfigured the place at one time; and although no building bye-laws are yet in force to regulate the building of new houses, I have good reason for believing the local builders have not taken advantage of this circumstance to construct insanitary houses, as they might do if they were so minded”.

Another preoccupation of the time was maintaining Cromer’s reputation as a high quality resort. The Board even rented the beach (the “foreshore”) from the local lords of the manor, so that it could introduce byelaws to curb activities which might lower the tone, such as fairground amusements and mixed bathing.

To assist the Board, there was a Medical Officer and a Town Surveyor. The Medical Officer, Dr Shephard Taylor, missed a number of Council meetings due to illness, perhaps a side-effect of his job. The first Surveyor was local builder John Newman. He was replaced in 1888/9 by skilled Norwich architect Augustus Scott, who had a growing professional reputation and who was to design many outstanding buildings in Cromer. Mr Scott occasionally clashed with the Council, such as when he felt that his salary of £45 p.a. was inadequate, but the Council also clashed with him when it felt he was not spending enough time in Cromer. Such disputes were usually settled by Mr Scott threatening to resign, and the Councillors backing down.

Elected bodies such as the Protection Commissioners and Local Board allowed townspeople to have a voice in Cromer affairs. However, these roles were generally confined to local businessmen and the gentry, as a payment of at least £25 rates p.a. was needed to become a Commissioner, or £24 10s.to become a member of the Local Board.

Cromer UDC
Following the Local Government Act of 1894, the Local Board became the Cromer Urban District Council. The last meeting of the old Board was on 4th January 1895.

The new UDC had wider powers than the Board, so was able to have a greater influence on issues such as town planning. During the next twenty years, the Councillors rolled up their sleeves and set to work. The Council took over the once-independent gas and water companies, introduced electricity and new street lighting to the town and greatly improved the roads. Under the guidance of Augustus Scott, roads which had been “macadamised” (loose granite chippings placed on a clay bed) were replaced by an early form of ‘tarmac’ (tar mixed with granite chippings), and pavements were surfaced in cement or tarred granite. The Council adopted a number of new roads following large land sales of 1885, 1890 and 1891, and incorporated the adjacent housing development at Suffield Park into the town. While the same townspeople could serve on the UDC and as Protection Commissioners, some councillors felt their noses put out of joint, feeling the Council should also manage the seafront. One councillor complained of the Commissioners, “They will do nothing themselves, and will not allow others to do anything”.

Finding a Home for the Council
The Local Board and its replacement, the UDC, met in the offices of the Town Clerk, the solicitor Peter Hansell, at 10 Church Street, which is still a solicitor’s office today. Cromer had acquired a Town Hall in Prince of Wales Road in 1890, but this was a private venture largely devoted to entertainment, filled by a cinema during the winter months and live entertainments during the summer. The local paper does record the Council meeting here, but by the end of the 19th century, a permanent, and perhaps quieter home was sought - “At present the various officials of the town are located in different directions, and the work this means is enormous”.

In 1899, the UDC purchased Fountain House and the adjoining Fountain Lodge in Church Street (today the TSB bank) for use as Council offices. Surprisingly, there had also been an idea to build a new fire station and underground public conveniences here at the same time, but this was abandoned. The renovation of the building was slow, and it was not until 1908 that the local paper could report works were nearly complete. The entrance was through large doors in West Street. Inside, the colour scheme was a little strong for modern tastes; the walls were a rich plum colour, except in the council chamber where the upper half was a light green. The council chamber had a well crafted, horseshoe-shaped arrangement of tables supplied by the Cromer furniture shop of A. H. Fox.

In 1928, the UDC decided to buy North Lodge, a private house on the east side of the town, and develop this as Council Offices, and at the same time turn the surrounding garden into a public park. After modernisation of the building, the distinctive horseshoe-shaped tables were settled into their new home, together with a fine carved mayor’s chair. The Council offices were ready for use a year after the Park was opened, in 1930. The furniture is still in use by the present Town Council, and with the addition of paintings, such as of the famous lifeboat cox’n Henry Blogg, and line drawings of the town and a board listing former mayors, they give a feeling of the history of the town. The Council enlarged and improved the Park, acquiring what is now Rocket House Gardens just before WW2.

Post War Years
In the years following the Second World War, the Council renovated the seafront and pier after years of war-time neglect, and added the attractive sunken gardens on the Runton Road. Perhaps the Council’s biggest challenge was the repair work after the 1953 storm and floods which had devastated the area. Parts of the sea wall were rebuilt, and once again the pier repaired.

In 1972, a Local Government Act radically altered the system of local government. Cromer UDC was merged into a larger authority, the North Norfolk District Council. North Lodge was retained, as the home of Cromer Town Council.

Today, the Town Council continues to represent local people, encouraging events such as the Carnival, and together with the District and County Councils, helps to keep Cromer a very fine place to live, work and to visit.

Information kindly supplied by Andy Boyce (Cromer Preservation Society).

© 2016 Cromer Town Council
Email: info@cromer-tc.gov.uk