Politics and government in St Albans, 1685-1835
The corporation of St Albans, from the time they obtained their first charter from Edward VI in 1835, were a select body. For most of the period 1685 to 1835 they showed a decreasing concern for the government of the borough, though they jealously guarded their rights to govern. The chief administrators in the town were the borough magistrates and the trustees and commissioners of the statutory authorities. The most active of the borough's courts was granted by act of Parliament. A turnpike trust maintained the principal road through the borough. Early in the 19th century paving and lighting commissioners took over the duties of parish and borough officers and provided a minimum of health and cleanliness in the borough. The chief function of the corporation was political. Their ability to create freemen and the mayor and town clerk's activities at the poll enabled the corporation to play a decisive part in the return of members for the borough. At the beginning of the period, the borough was subjected to the influence of two of the most powerful figures of the age, the 1st Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Much of the political history of the borough is concerned with the struggles of the Marlboroughs and their heirs with the Grimston family, the largest landowners in the immediate neighbourhood of St Albans. The opponents of the corporation were to be found mainly in the vestry of the Abbey parish, the most populous of the three parishes within the borough's boundaries. An action that the vestry brought in the Court of Chancery in 1724 ended disastrously for the corporation, and the after effects of this law suit can be traced for almost a century in the corporation's affairs. But, on the whole, the town's inhabitants showed an amused toleration of the corporation and its workings. Dissenters, renowned for their probity, readily accepted their guineas after an election. There were troublesome individuals, but the corporation possessed the ability to transform the irritants that entered their shell into useful ornaments--thus ambitious attornies became town clerks. In theory, the act regulating municipal corporations is a logical point at which to conclude, for it marks the end of the old corporation founded upon chartered rights. In practice it is not so logical. The ease with which the members of the old corporation carried on their activities in the new council suggests that it was not charters or acts of Parliament but custom that provided the animus to the government of the borough.