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County Borough of West Ham

County Borough of West Ham

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West Ham was a local government district in the extreme south west of Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

 from 1886 to 1965, forming part of the built-up area of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, although outside the County of London
County of London
The County of London was a county of England from 1889 to 1965, corresponding to the area known today as Inner London. It was created as part of the general introduction of elected county government in England, by way of the Local Government Act 1888. The Act created an administrative County of...

. It was immediately north of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 and east of the River Lea.

Area and boundaries

The borough included Plaistow
Plaistow, Newham
Plaistow is a place in the London Borough of Newham in east London. It formed part of the County Borough of West Ham in Essex until 1965.Plaistow is a mainly residential area, including several council estates; the main road is the A112 - Plaistow Road, High Street, Broadway, Greengate Street and...

, West Ham
West Ham
West Ham is in the London Borough of Newham in London, England. In the west it is a post-industrial neighbourhood abutting the site of the London Olympic Park and in the east it is mostly residential, consisting of Victorian terraced housing interspersed with higher density post-War social housing...

, Stratford
Stratford, London
Stratford is a place in the London Borough of Newham, England. It is located east northeast of Charing Cross and is one of the major centres identified in the London Plan. It was historically an agrarian settlement in the ancient parish of West Ham, which transformed into an industrial suburb...

, Canning Town
Canning Town
Canning Town is an area of east London, England. It is part of the London Borough of Newham and is situated in the area of the former London docks on the north side of the River Thames. It is the location of Rathbone Market...

 and Silvertown
Silvertown is an industrialised district on the north bank of the Thames in the London Borough of Newham. It was named after Samuel Winkworth Silver's former rubber factory which opened in 1852, and is now dominated by the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery and the John Knight ABP animal rendering...

 - all of the current-day London Borough of Newham west of Green Street
Green Street, London
Green Street is a road in the London Borough of Newham, England. There is an official website for this road.The southern portion is the location of the Boleyn Ground, home to West Ham United...

. At the time of the 1901 census it was the ninth most populous town or district in England with a population of 267,308. Although West Ham did not become officially part of London until 1965, the borough formed part of London's built-up area, was part of the London postal district
London postal district
The London postal district is the area in England, currently of , to which mail addressed to the LONDON post town is delivered. The area was initially devised in 1856 and throughout its history has been subject to periodic reorganisation, contraction and division into increasingly smaller postal...

 and the Metropolitan Police District
Metropolitan Police District
The Metropolitan Police District is the police area which is policed by London's Metropolitan Police Service. It currently consists of Greater London, excluding the City of London.-History:...


From 1934 to 1965 it was surrounded by the County Borough of East Ham
County Borough of East Ham
East Ham was a local government district in the far south west of Essex from 1878 to 1965. It extended from Wanstead Flats in the north to the River Thames in the south and from Green Street in the west to Barking Creek in the east...

 to the east, the municipal boroughs of Wanstead and Woodford
Municipal Borough of Wanstead and Woodford
Wanstead and Woodford was a local government district from 1934 to 1965 in southwest Essex, England. A merger of two former urban districts, it was suburban to London and part of the Metropolitan Police District.-Background:...

 and Leyton
Municipal Borough of Leyton
Leyton was a local government district in southwest Essex, England, from 1875 to 1965. It included the neighbourhoods of Leyton, Leytonstone and Cann Hall. It was suburban to London, forming part of the London postal district and Metropolitan Police District...

 to the north, and the metropolitan boroughs of Poplar
Metropolitan Borough of Poplar
Poplar was a local government district in the metropolitan area of London, England. It was formed as a district of the Metropolis in 1855 and became a metropolitan borough in the County of London in 1900. It comprised the civil parishes of Bow, Bromley and Poplar until 1907, when it also became a...

 to the west and Greenwich
Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich
The Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich was a Metropolitan borough in the County of London between 1900 and 1965. Within the area of the borough were the Royal Naval College , the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Park. It bordered the boroughs of Woolwich, Deptford, Lewisham...

 to the south.


West Ham underwent rapid growth from 1844 following the Metropolitan Building Act. The Act restricted dangerous and noxious industries from operating in the metropolitan area, the eastern boundary of which was the River Lea. Consequently, many of these activities were relocated to the other side of the river and to West Ham, then a parish in Essex. As a result, West Ham became one of Victorian Britain's major manufacturing centres for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and processed foods. This rapid growth earned it the name "London over the border". The growth of the town was summarised by The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

in 1886:

"Factory after factory was erected on the marshy wastes of Stratford and Plaistow, and it only required the construction at Canning Town of the Victoria and Albert Docks
Royal Docks
The Royal Docks comprise three docks in east London - the Royal Albert Dock, the Royal Victoria Dock and the King George V Dock. They are more correctly called the Royal Group of Docks to distinguish them from the Royal Dockyards, Royal being due to their naming after royal personages rather than...

 to make the once desolate parish of West Ham a manufacturing and commercial centre of the first importance and to bring upon it a teeming and an industrious population."

Many workers lived in slum conditions close to where they worked, leading to periodic outbreaks of contagious diseases and severe poverty. It had become apparent that local government in the parish of West Ham was not adequate to meet the needs of the area which was divided between the parish vestry, highway board
Highway district
Highway Districts were areas in England and Wales united for the maintenance and repair of highways. They were first formed in 1862 and consisted of groupings of civil parishes in rural areas...

 and the Havering and Dagenham Commissioners of Sewers. Problems centred on provision of adequate paving, water supply, fire fighting and control of development. In 1853 a group of ratepayers initiated moves to improve local administration. This led to a public enquiry by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

' brother Alfred, a medical officer, who published a report in 1855 severely critical of conditions in the slum areas.

Accordingly the Public Health Act 1848 was applied to the parish, and a local board of health
Local board of health
Local Boards or Local Boards of Health were local authorities in urban areas of England and Wales from 1848 to 1894. They were formed in response to cholera epidemics and were given powers to control sewers, clean the streets, regulate slaughterhouses and ensure the proper supply of water to their...

 was formed in 1856. The board had 15 members: 12 elected and 3 nominated by the Commissioners of Sewers.


In November 1878 the inhabitants of the parish decided to petition the privy council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 for a charter
Royal Charter
A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and...

, incorporating the town as a municipal borough
Municipal borough
Municipal boroughs were a type of local government district which existed in England and Wales between 1835 and 1974, in Northern Ireland from 1840 to 1973 and in the Republic of Ireland from 1840 to 2002...

This was in reaction to proposals to enlarge the area governed by the Metropolitan Board of Works
Metropolitan Board of Works
The Metropolitan Board of Works was the principal instrument of London-wide government from 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council in 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London's rapid growth, which it successfully accomplished. The MBW...

 to include adjoining districts with a population of 50,000 or more: the primary aim of incorporation was to prevent the inclusion of West Ham in an enlarged London municipality. This initial application was unsuccessful. However, encouraged by the 1883 incorporation of Croydon
County Borough of Croydon
Croydon was a local government district in north east Surrey, England from 1849 to 1965.-History:A local board of health was formed for the parish of Croydon St John the Baptist in 1849. On March 9, 1883 the town received a charter of incorporation to become a municipal borough...

, a second petition was submitted in May 1885. Following an inquiry in October 1885, a scheme for the creation of the borough and dissolution of the board of health was made in June and the charter was granted in July 1886. A corporation consisting of a mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

, 12 aldermen
An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The term may be titular, denoting a high-ranking member of a borough or county council, a council member chosen by the elected members themselves rather than by popular vote, or a council...

 and 36 councillors replaced the board, with the first elections held on 1 November. The first mayor was John Meeson, head of a local lime burning and cement making firm, and a former chairman of West Ham Local Board.

County borough

The Local Government Act 1888
Local Government Act 1888
The Local Government Act 1888 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which established county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales...

 created elected county council
County council
A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.-United Kingdom:...

s to administer services throughout England and Wales. Where a municipal borough had a population of more than 50,000 at the 1881 Census
Census in the United Kingdom
Coincident full censuses have taken place in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom every ten years since 1801, with the exceptions of 1941 and in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in 1921; simultaneous censuses were taken in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, with...

 it was created a county borough
County borough
County borough is a term introduced in 1889 in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , to refer to a borough or a city independent of county council control. They were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in England and Wales, but continue in use for lieutenancy and shrievalty in...

, with the powers and duties of both a borough and county council.

As West Ham had an 1881 population of 128,953 it duly became a county borough on 1 April 1889. The borough, while independent of Essex County Council for local government, remained part of the county for purposes such as the administration of justice and lieutenancy
Lord Lieutenant
The title Lord Lieutenant is given to the British monarch's personal representatives in the United Kingdom, usually in a county or similar circumscription, with varying tasks throughout history. Usually a retired local notable, senior military officer, peer or business person is given the post...



The borough acquired the horse-drawn tram
A tram is a passenger rail vehicle which runs on tracks along public urban streets and also sometimes on separate rights of way. It may also run between cities and/or towns , and/or partially grade separated even in the cities...

 services in its area in 1898, electrified them in 1904, and extended the network. There was also through running of the corporation trams and those of the London County Council
London County Council Tramways
The London County Council Tramways was an extensive network of public street tramways that was operated by the council throughout the County of London, UK, from 1899 to 1933, when they were taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board....

 system. West Ham operated 134 tram cars on 16.27 miles (26.2 km) of tracks when they became the responsibility of the London Passenger Transport Board
London Passenger Transport Board
The London Passenger Transport Board was the organisation responsible for public transport in London, UK, and its environs from 1933 to 1948...

 in 1933. The borough ran its own fire brigade which was absorbed into the London Fire Brigade
London Fire Brigade
The London Fire Brigade is the statutory fire and rescue service for London.Founded in 1865, it is the largest of the fire services in the United Kingdom and the fourth-largest in the world with nearly 7,000 staff, including 5,800 operational firefighters based in 112 fire...

 in 1965. The corporation's electricity generation and supply undertaking was nationalised in 1948, when it was transferred to the London Electricity Board
London Electricity Board
The London Electricity Board was the public sector utility company responsible for electricity generation and electrical infrastructure maintenance in London prior to 1990. It was shortened to LEB in its green and blue logo, consisting of the three letters...


Following the passing of the 1929 Local Government Act the Council took over responsibility for certain health services, such as the large Whipps Cross Hospital (now the Whipps Cross University Hospital
Whipps Cross University Hospital
Whipps Cross University Hospital is an NHS-run University Hospital in Whipps Cross, Waltham Forest, London, United Kingdom which housed London's first Hyperbaric Unit....

(in neighbouring Leyton) which they developed until it passed into the new NHS in 1946.


Under the original charter the borough was divided into four wards: Canning Town, Forest Gate, Plaistow and Stratford. Each ward returned nine councillors, with three councillors elected in each ward for a three-year term on 1 November each year. In addition to the 36 directly-elected councillors there were also 12 aldermen, who were elected by the council itself, giving the town council a total membership of 48.

In 1899 the wards were redrawn: the borough was divided into 12 wards, each returning 3 councillors. The number of councillors remained at 36. The 1899 wards were as follows: No.1 or New Town, No.2 or Forest Gate, No.3 or High Street, No.4 or Broadway, No.5 or Park, No.6 or Upton, No.7 or West Ham, No.8 or Plaistow, No.9 or Hudsons, No.10 or Canning Town, No.11 or Tidal Basin and No.12 or Custom House & Silvertown.

In 1922 the number of wards was increased to sixteen, each represented by three councillors and one alderman. The size of the council was thus increased to sixty-four members. The names of the wards, which continued in use until 1965, were: Beckton Road, Bemersyde, Broadway, Canning Town & Grange, Custom House & Silvertown, Forest Gate, High Street, Hudsons, Newtown, Ordnance, Park, Plaistow, Plashet Road, Tidal Basin, Upton and West Ham.


The borough was notable for having the first Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 controlled council in England. Following the London Dock Strike of 1889
London Dock Strike of 1889
The London Dock Strike was an industrial dispute involving dock workers in the Port of London. It broke out on 14 August 1889, and resulted in a victory for the strikers and established strong trade unions amongst London dockers, one of which became the nationally important Dock, Wharf, Riverside...

, a number of Socialists and Progressives were elected to the council, formally becoming the Labour Group in 1897. The Group gained a majority on the town council in 1898. In reaction to this, a Municipal Alliance was formed by the West Ham Ratepayers Association and Chamber of Commerce to oppose the Labour Party. In 1900 they gained parity with Labour on the council and in the following year they took control. The Municipal Alliance retained power until 1910 when a Labour-Progressive coalition replaced it. Two years later Municipal Alliance councillors regained a narrow majority, which they held at the 1913 election. Elections were suspended for the duration of the First World War, and at the 1919 elections Labour won an overall majority which it retained for the rest of the borough's existence. The Labour majority was to increase over the years, with a small group of Ratepayers Association councillors supported by the Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 forming the opposition group. From 1947 the Conservatives contested elections in their own name, but after 1954 had no councillors elected. From 1954 to 1960 Labour held all the seats on the council, after which a number of Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 councillors formed a minority group.

Coat of arms

The coat of arms was granted by the College of Arms
College of Arms
The College of Arms, or Heralds’ College, is an office regulating heraldry and granting new armorial bearings for England, Wales and Northern Ireland...

 on 14 January 1887. The chevrons on the lower portion represent Stratford, taken from the device of Stratford Langthorne Abbey
Stratford Langthorne Abbey
Stratford Langthorne Abbey, or the Abbey of St Mary's, Stratford Langthorne was a Cistercian monastery founded in 1135 at Stratford Langthorne — then Essex but now Stratford in the London Borough of Newham...

. At the top right, there are crossed hammers, representing the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company
Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company
The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, Limited was a shipyard and iron works straddling the mouth of Bow Creek at its confluence with the River Thames, at Leamouth Wharf on the west side and at Canning Town on the east side...

 – the borough's main employer. The ship is representative of the Royal Docks
Royal Docks
The Royal Docks comprise three docks in east London - the Royal Albert Dock, the Royal Victoria Dock and the King George V Dock. They are more correctly called the Royal Group of Docks to distinguish them from the Royal Dockyards, Royal being due to their naming after royal personages rather than...

, and the area's long association with the sea.

Abolition and inclusion in Greater London

The omission of West Ham from the London-administered metropolitan area
Metropolis Management Act 1855
The Metropolis Management Act 1855 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that created the Metropolitan Board of Works, a London-wide body to co-ordinate the construction of the city's infrastructure. The Act also created a second tier of local government consisting of parish vestries...

, which took in nearby places such as Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

 and Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

, was first commented on in 1855 and West Ham Council later considered the case for inclusion in the County of London
County of London
The County of London was a county of England from 1889 to 1965, corresponding to the area known today as Inner London. It was created as part of the general introduction of elected county government in England, by way of the Local Government Act 1888. The Act created an administrative County of...

 in 1895 and 1907. The reluctance to proceed with amalgamation was largely explained by lack of perceived support, fear of financial disadvantage caused by increased rates, the detrimental effect of London planning laws on industry, and the desire to retain the independent civic institutions and privileges attached to county borough status.

The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London
Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London
The Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London, also known as the Herbert Commission, was established in 1957 and published its report in 1960...

 reviewed the local government arrangements of the Greater London Conurbation and in 1965 the county borough, and the County Borough of East Ham
County Borough of East Ham
East Ham was a local government district in the far south west of Essex from 1878 to 1965. It extended from Wanstead Flats in the north to the River Thames in the south and from Green Street in the west to Barking Creek in the east...

, were abolished and their former area was amalgamated with small parts of Barking
Municipal Borough of Barking
Barking was a local government district in south west Essex, England from 1882 to 1965. It included the town of Barking, eastern Beckton and the south western part of the Becontree estate. The district was within the Metropolitan Police District and experienced a steady increase in population...

 and Woolwich
Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich
The Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich was a Metropolitan borough in the County of London from 1900 to 1965.-Formation:The borough was formed from the civil parishes :*Eltham *Plumstead...

 to form the London Borough of Newham
London Borough of Newham
The London Borough of Newham is a London borough formed from the towns of West Ham and East Ham, within East London.It is situated east of the City of London, and is north of the River Thames. According to 2006 estimates, Newham has one of the highest ethnic minority populations of all the...

 in Greater London
Greater London
Greater London is the top-level administrative division of England covering London. It was created in 1965 and spans the City of London, including Middle Temple and Inner Temple, and the 32 London boroughs. This territory is coterminate with the London Government Office Region and the London...


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