Local Government & Services

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


Town Hall

The former Bradford on Avon Town Hall

In the medieval period Bradford was the centre of a Hundred, the land division below the Shire or County and of a large Manor and Parish. Although burgesses and a market were mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and two representatives were sent to Parliament in 1295, Bradford does not appear to have received a charter like neighbouring towns, or at least none has been recorded. This situation was perhaps the result of the Abbey of Shaftesbury’s possession of the town and manor.

Nevertheless, Bradford continued to function as a market town with relevant officers and referred to itself as the Borough, but there was no corporation or mayor. Some matters were dealt with by the churchwardens of the parish. Many of the functions of local government were carried out by the Wiltshire Court of Quarter Sessions, which had jurisdiction over things like roads and bridges, police and licensing. These functions and others passed to Wiltshire County Council, which was set up under the Local Government Act of 1888.

Eventually a body called the Town Improvement Commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 1839, consisting of the local Justices of the Peace and 60 other, unelected, residents who qualified by owning property worth £20 a year or had £1,000 estate. Its powers meant that it did not need to apply for an Act of Parliament to carry out many improvements to the town.

The Local Government Act in 1894 established the Bradford on Avon Urban District Council (UDC) for the town and the Bradford & Melksham Rural District Council (RDC) for the outlying areas of both towns (including also Hilperton and Staverton, once parishes of Trowbridge). Both councils were seated in Bradford, the former in Westbury House, the latter in Abbey House.

In common with the districts of the rest of the country, the old UDC and RDC were dissolved at the end of 1973. From then until 2009 Wiltshire was divided into a new tier of District Councils below the County tier. West Wiltshire District Council took over the areas of Bradford, Melksham, Trowbridge, Warminster and Westbury.

Wiltshire Council, a unitary authority, now governs the former Wiltshire County area minus Swindon (the former Thamesdown District), with some functions devolved to the Bradford Area Board -comprising the former Hundred area, minus Atworth and Broughton Gifford (which have now been allocated to the Melksham Area Board), but with the addition of the Trowbridge parish of Staverton. The Bradford Town Council, with a Chair who is styled as Mayor, but still no corporation, now has local responsibilities for the former UDC area. Further devolution of services from Wiltshire Council -library, swimming pool, allotments, parks, cemeteries and playing fields- is expected.

The functions of the Hundred have become gradually eroded until there ceased to be local Bradford magistrates and the large Ancient Parish of Bradford was broken up, under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1866, into the separate Civil Parishes of Atworth, Bradford, Holt, Limpley Stoke, South Wraxall and Winsley that continue today.