Reluctant reformers? : politics and society in Kingston upon Thames 1830-1900
The reputation of Kingston Borough Council during the nineteenth century has been that it was dilatory in operation and reluctant to meet the challenges that were associated with an expanding community. The thesis, reassesses that reputation, in comparison to similar communities, and addresses possible reasons for reluctance. As the main theme is the response of the local authority to both permissive and mandatory legislation imposed by central government, research has had to consider who constituted the local authority. Questions have therefore focused on the type of men who served on the council for the period following the introduction of the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 and ending in 1900. In particular, the occupational representation on the council has been analysed in order to establish whether there may have been influence from any one sector of the social and economic life of the borough, and whether that changed over the peirod of research. Answers have been sought also as to the level of kinship, both contemporaneous and between generations, and the social networks, or associations, which linked councillors. To facilitate analysis of data retrieved from sources that recorded the life and work of individual councillors, including council and newspaper reports, a computer database has been designed to bring together information from the contemporary sources, bith manuscript and printed. Capable of supporting analytical procedures, the database is in the form of a list of 240 names compiled from the councillors listed in the Council Minutes, Board of Guardian Minutes and the recorded proceedings of other formal bodies. Other possible causes for the manner in which Kingston council reacted to the needs of an expanding population have been sought. What influenced the decision making process most, was it inexperience, an inability to accept the changing machinery of government, both central and local, a lack of understanding of the role of modern local governance or other issues which fuelled the lengthy debates that preceded every move toward improvement? It has been necessary to consider the extent to which Kingston council's dilatory behaviour, if proven, rests with the caste of men who exercised authority, concern about finance or whether there was a combination of contributory factors. What emerges from the analysis is a picture of a council dominated by a group of men who made up the burgeoning middle class society of the borough. It would be a exaggeration to call them a self-perpetuating oligarchy, but they certainly had a core of first families who, for much of the nineteenth century, sought to maintain the status quo. By studying the various inputs into a particular local authority, for instance the level of competence, local circumstances, reaction to change, professionalism and financial management, to name but a few, it could be possible to determine why it functioned as it did and make a contribution to the administrative history of the region.