Book Review – City of Coventry Municipal Handbook 1955-56

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In the days before the Internet people got their information from books! The Municipal Handbook is a combination of reference book and pocket diary. Coming in at 6 by 3½ inches with 324 pages this leather bound handbook can fit into your pocket but packs a massive amount of information about Coventry and the City Council.

On the frontispiece is the city’s coat of arms, like the current one, but lacking the Eagle and the Phoenix. On the back of this is a photograph of the current Lord Mayor in civic regalia, Alderman Thomas Henry Dewis JP.

Following the contents list is some basic information about the city including the Parliamentary representatives, the area of the city at different dates, the population at different dates (265,500 in 1955), the rateable value, rates levied and outstanding loan debt(£26 million in 1955). The MPs at this time were Richard Crossman, Maurice Edelman and Miss FE Burton.

On the next page a table shows the changes in the boundary of the city between 1842 and 1932 and the areas included from outside local authorities. This shows that the city expanded from 1486 acres in 1842 to 19,167 in 1932 the date of the last boundary review (it is now 24377 acres). Opposite this is a list of all the national and local legislation adopted by the Council.

There are then eleven pages of information giving the names, addresses, occupations and place of business of every councillor, and the names and addresses of every non councillor who sits on a committee or subcommittee. It was a different era and privacy was not seen as a necessity back then!

The dates of election and retirement of all 16 Aldermen and 48 councillors is then listed, with the councillors shown for each of the 16 wards of the city (there are now 18). Some of the names seem very familiar: Pearl Hyde, Alice Arnold, George Hodkinson, Sidney Stringer, Gilbert Richards, Kenneth Benfield, Wilfred Spencer, Winnifred Lakin and Harry Richards, to name but a few.

A table following again lists all the councillors, this time showing their “seniority in service” as both councillor and Alderman. The longest serving member at that time was Alderman Alice Arnold, who had 35 years and 7 months of service.

Most importantly the next page lists the order of civic processions; first in line are the Sword and Mace Bearers, followed by the Lord Mayor and Recorder. The list goes down to Council officers in position 16.

Pages 29 – 38 lists the names of the Council representative on some 80 public bodies, including the Aerodrome Owners Association, Birmingham University governors, the Mayoress’ Club for Discharged Servicemen, many voluntary schools and a host of charities.

Pages 39 – 59 list all of the committees and sub committees of the City Council, their purpose and membership – a staggering total of 64 of them! The breadth of responsibility of the Council at this time comes over in the committee structure, with things such as the Waterworks and Fire Brigade Committee, the Watch Committee, the Aerodrome Committee and the Health Committee but the sheer amount of “governance” is gobsmacking. At that time the Council had recently lost control of its electricity and gas utilities through nationalisation and civil defence, hospital and social welfare responsibilities were transferred to other public bodies but the Council was still in control of water, public transport, Police and the courts.

Pages 65 – 155 list all of the departments and services of the city council, listing the key staff and the details of the service, the properties they manage and the usage. For example the Baths Department gives the history of each of the three public baths, the number of bathers, and the income and expenditure for each year from 1942 – 1954. This sort of detail is provided for each department of the Council. The Engineers Department lists the number of plans approved and built for houses and other buildings for every year from 1924 – 1954. The salary scales for all the classes of council employees are included, as is the Head Teacher and the number of pupils on the roll of every primary and secondary school.

The Parks Department pages outline every park and open space in the city, its size, date of acquisition and details of how it was acquired and any relevant history.

The Police Force at that time consisted of 379 officers, 9 of whom were women!
The Transport Department reports that in the year to 31st March 1955 there were 100,604,099 passengers! This had grown from 85,910.427 in 1945/46.

There are several pages dedicated to justice in the city, listing all the city’s Recorders from 1390. All the Justices of the Peace are listed, together with their addresses.

There is a page about the history of the Council House and another about the history of St. Mary’s Hall and two pages about the history of sewerage and sewage disposal in the city. There is a page about the Second World War. Nine pages list the municipal history of the city in date order. All of the Mayors of the city since John Ward in 1346 and Lord Mayors since 1953 are then listed.

A list of the “Honorary Freemen” of the city includes such notable names as Andrew Carnegie, Sir William Fitzthomas Wyley, Sir Alfred Herbert and Lord Nuffield,

A whole section of 15 pages includes the “Instrument of Management and Government for County Primary and Secondary Schools“ and the “Rules of Management and Articles of Government” for these schools. This is followed by 22 pages of similar rules for the running of the Council.

The diary section of the handbook runs for the municipal year from August 1955 – July 1956 and is pre-printed with the details of every committee and subcommittee meeting. The Handbook ends with a seven page index. There is also a handy pocket at the back for keeping business cards and bus tickets.

Well it would take a massive effort to download all this information on the Internet. To find it combined here in this useful little book is a fascinating find. The Council produced this handbook annually for many decades and they now provide a treasure trove of interesting information about our city.

John Payne

Dewar

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