22. Administration—Past and Present.

The early Teutonic settlers in our county lived in towns or, as they would now be called, villages. A town was an enclosure surrounded by a hedge or a palisade. The inhabitants co-operated with one another in the cultivation and use of the neighbouring land. The whole of such an area was a township. The agricultural affairs of the township were discussed at meetings presided over by the town-reeve or the lord’s steward.

For the detection and punishment of crime, and to facilitate the levying of taxation, the townships were grouped into Hundreds or Wapentakes. The latter were a Danish institution and received a Danish name. In the region of this county they were so arranged that the Trent formed the boundary between two sets, whilst the Fosseway and North Road passed through them. Each had its own council or moot, consisting, in theory, of the lord, the priest, and four representatives from each township. This moot was usually held on or near a prominent hill.

About the tenth century our shire was formed. Until the twelfth century it contained eight wapentakes, viz. Rushcliff, Bingham, Newark, Broxtow, Bassetlaw, Oswardbeck, Lida, and Thurgarton. Subsequently Oswardbeck was combined with Bassetlaw, and Lida with Thurgarton. The shire was ruled by an Earl appointed by the Witan or moot of the kingdom. The Sheriff an officer of great importance, was chosen by the King.

In these divisions and their respective moots were the germs of the present system of government. Then, as now, there was a combination of local with central government. The functions of this have now become more clearly defined and may be classified under three heads, viz. poor-relief general welfare, and justice.

With the introduction of Christianity came the priest, who naturally took up his abode in the town and looked after the spiritual welfare of one or more townships. The area of his activities became his parish. To the parish meeting all the business originally done at the township meeting in course of time gravitated. During the last century acts were passed which separated secular from ecclesiastical affairs and established civil parishes. These generally correspond to the original townships. In Nottinghamshire there are nearly 250 civil parishes. When the population is less than three hundred the business of the parish is done at a meeting of the ratepayers called the parish meeting. If the number is greater it is done by an elected body, the parish council.

To economise the cost of carrying out poor-relief several civil parishes, whilst having their own poor-rate, may unite and form a Poor-Law Union. Of these there are eight, viz. Basford, Bingham, East Retford, Mansfield, Newark, Nottingham, Southwell, and Worksop. The work of the union is done by the Board of Guardians, who consist of at least one guardian elected from each parish.

Matters which affect the general welfare of the community, e.g. roads, drainage, education, etc., are dealt with by the District and County Councils. Each district consists of one or several civil parishes. In some the population is sufficiently great to impart the characteristics of a town (in the modern sense). These are called Urban Districts, e.g. Worksop and Hucknall. The others are called Rural Districts and have the same boundaries as the Poor Law Unions except where these overlap the Urban Districts.

Nottinghamshire became an administrative county in 1889. Its council consists of a chairman, 17 aldermen, and three times that number of councillors.

Two other important areas have yet to be mentioned, viz. Municipal Boroughs and County Boroughs.

The former is an urban district which has received a charter from the Crown. It has a council of its own made up of mayor, aldermen, and councillors. It has other functions in addition to those of an ordinary district council, e.g. it may have its own police force. The Municipal Boroughs of Newark and East Retford are very ancient; that of Mansfield is modern.

The Guildhall, Nottingham.
The Guildhall, Nottingham.

The City of Nottingham is one of the sixty-four County Boroughs in the country. As such it is exempted from the control of the County Council and has all the privileges and powers of a county itself. Its council has the same Constitution as that of a Municipal Borough.

For Parliamentary elections Nottinghamshjre is divided into four divisions, each of which sends one representative. The Parliamentary Borough of Nottingham happens to have the same boundaries as the County Borough. It has three divisions and three representatives.

All the administrative bodies so far considered are elected by the people of the locality. Those who administer justice are not so elected but are appointed by the King. In the administration of justice cases brought by one person against another are distinguished from those brought by the Crown against breakers of the law. The former are civil, the latter criminal cases.

For dealing with criminal cases about one hundred and ninety-three justices of the peace have been appointed in Nottinghamshire. Only two justices are necessary to hold the Petty Sessions for the punishment of minor offenders. One justice may decide whether there is ground for more serious accusations to be dealt with at the Assizes or Quarter Sessions. The latter are held four times a year at Nottingham, Newark, and Retford, and must be attended by a number of justices.

The more important civil and criminal cases are tried before judges of the Supreme Court at the Assizes. These are held at various towns which are grouped according to the density of the population into circuits. Nottinghamshire is in the midland circuit. The County Court is presided over by a judge and deals only with minor civil cases. For County Court purposes England is also divided into special circuits. Nottinghamshire and a portion of the West Riding of Yorkshire form County Court Circuit No. 18. In this circuit there are eight districts, of which six are in this county, viz. Bingham, Retford, Mansfield, Newark, Nottingham, and Worksop.

Ecclesiastically Nottinghamshire is now in the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, though formerly it was in that of York. In 1836 it was transferred from the diocese of York to that of Lincoln. In 1884 it was joined with Derbyshire, which belonged to the diocese of Lichfield, to form the diocese of Southwell.

In early times a group of villages in the north of the shire was exempted from the local organisation of the county and the jurisdiction of the Sheriff. This constituted the Liberty of Southwell and Scrooby. Within this group exclusive privileges in all legal matters were granted by the Crown to the Archbishop of York. The Court was held at Southwell.