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History of Norfolk County Council

From Tudor times until 1889 the County of Norfolk was administered by the justices of the peace (or magistrates) through the system of quarter, general, special and petty sessions.

The Local Government Act of 1888 created a new governing body for the counties: the county council. Here are some of the key dates in Norfolk’s development.

24 January 1889

County council elections were held in Norfolk. Electoral registers record that in each parish a handful of women who occupied property in their own right had the right to vote in these (but not Parliamentary) elections. 

7 February 1889

The first meeting of the Norfolk Provisional County Council was held at the Shirehall.

13 April 1889

The first meeting of the fully-constituted council took place at the Shirehall. A joint committee of the county council and quarter sessions controlled the police and courthouses.

The council took responsibility for the Norfolk County Asylum and 267 county bridges, the maintenance of 824 miles of main roads (this doubled within two years) and control of the contagious diseases of animals.


Two further levels of local government were created for the counties: rural and urban district councils and, below them, parish councils.

A few women were elected as parish councillors in the elections of December 1894. 


The county council was made responsible for elementary education throughout Norfolk, with the exception of the county boroughs of Norwich and Great Yarmouth and the municipal borough of King's Lynn.  


The Qualification for Women (County and Borough Councils) Act 1907 enabled women to become county and borough councillors.


An extension to the Shirehall - known as Shirehall Chambers - was opened to provide accommodation for the increasing numbers of county council staff.

However, the growth in services came to a halt during the First World War, when there were shortages of staff, materials and money.


The County Asylum was taken over as a war hospital and its existing patients were transferred to other hospitals in the region. By 1919 about 45,000 servicemen had been treated there.


The government gave the county council £100,000 to help with the post-war reconstruction of its road system as war traffic – including massive flows of men and materials to Norfolk ports – had ruined road surfaces and weakened bridges.


By this year, Norfolk County Council had spent more than £1 million in buying 13,000 acres of land and equipping holdings for 2,400 ex-servicemen.

The Land Settlement (Facilities) Act of 1919 had established a fund of £20m to pay the costs incurred by county councils in providing such smallholdings. 


The county council decided to move its headquarters from the Shirehall complex to a site in Thorpe Road, Norwich.

A number of houses were converted into offices over time and three purpose-built office blocks were constructed in their former gardens.


The Poor Law Unions were abolished and their powers and assets were transferred to county councils and county borough councils. 

Norfolk County Council acquired the responsibilities and properties of 19 unions, including workhouses, infirmaries and children's homes.


The hospital at Little Plumstead Hall opened for mentally disabled people of all ages.

This was the completion of a project towards which the county council had been working for several years, under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913. 

1930 and 1931

The county council and the Ministry of Transport agreed on the trunk-road network which exists today: the A10, A11, A17 and A47. 

The government took charge of these roads as part of the agreement.


The air raids precautions committee of the county council was created and during the Second World War 20,000 people served the county as ARP volunteers. 


The Butler Education Act was passed, requiring local education authorities (LEAs) to provide secondary education for all eligible pupils.

King's Lynn Municipal Borough ceased to be a LEA in 1945 and transferred its duties and assets to Norfolk Education Committee. 


The Town and Country Planning Development Act gave the County Council extensive duties and powers to control change and development in Norfolk. 

Although it delegated powers to the district councils, the present appearance of the county is largely the result of policies formulated by the county council, published in the County Development Plan of 1952.


The county council’s various hospitals (including St Andrew's, Little Plumstead and Drayton Lodge Maternity Hospital) were transferred to the Ministry of Health on the creation of the National Health Service.

However, the council still had wide responsibilities for health, including the care of mothers and young children, midwifery and health visiting.

1 January 1968

The Great Yarmouth and Norwich Police Forces amalgamated with Norfolk County Constabulary to form the Norfolk Joint Police.

May 1968

The Queen officially opened the new County Hall on the outskirts of Norwich.

The council had outgrown its Thorpe Road site, so purchased Bracondale Lodge and its 31 acres of land for the construction of a new council and police headquarters.

The 18th century house and its garden were demolished to make way for the new building.


The organisation of the health and welfare work of the council was simplified by combining the welfare, children's and health committees into the social services committee and by creating the new social services department. 


The formation of the Norfolk Area Health Authority saw most of the county council's remaining health obligations passed over to the NHS. The post of county medical officer of health, created in 1908, was abolished.

1 April 1974

The local government reorganisation saw urban and rural district councils abolished.

They were replaced in Norfolk by the five new district councils of Breckland, Broadland, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk.

The county boroughs of Norwich and Great Yarmouth also became districts. Many of their functions, properties and staff were transferred to the county council.

Education, social services, the fire brigade and libraries all became county functions and the districts came to an agreement with the county council to have a joint museums service.


The government ordered that various services provided directly by the council's own workforce should be subject to compulsory competitive tendering. 

Eventually several semi-independent business units were formed such as NPS (Norfolk Property Services) and NCS (Norfolk County Services for restaurant, cleaning and grounds maintenance services).


The two-tier county and districts system was retained in Norfolk, unlike in several other English counties where unitary authorities were created under the Local Government Act 1992.


The Local Government Act of 2000 brought about a radical change to the committee system by introducing the concept of the cabinet to local government. 

Norfolk was one of the first county councils to have a cabinet when it took part in a pilot scheme which commenced in 1999.