MEMORY LANE: When two became one - council merger sparks Buxton power struggle

Buxton Advertiser archive, Jan 1917, The first mayor of the newly formed Borough of Buxton W F Mill performs his first public duty, unveiling the Bennett Street shrine to those serving in the war
Buxton Advertiser archive, Jan 1917, The first mayor of the newly formed Borough of Buxton W F Mill performs his first public duty, unveiling the Bennett Street shrine to those serving in the war

Buxton was once governed by two district councils who did not always see eye to eye - and the decision to merge them sparked a desperate power struggle.

The centenary of the incorporation of the Borough of Buxton is fast approaching, but how many residents realise that as recently as 1916 the town was divided and run by two separate councils.

The Buxton Urban District Council governed west of the river Wye and Fairfield UDC to the east.

The old Fairfield Town Hall can still be seen serving as the home of Fairfield Band.

At the time authorities were far more powerful, running water, electricity and gas supplies, police and fire services and having a host of powers which have since been lost to regional and national government.

It seems absurd now but not only were different sides of some streets under the different councils but those running matters were not always inclined to cooperate.

Buxton Advertiser archive, the first mayor of the borough of Buxton W F Mill elected at the creation of the boto on New Years Day 1917

Buxton Advertiser archive, the first mayor of the borough of Buxton W F Mill elected at the creation of the boto on New Years Day 1917

For example at the height of the Great War Fairfield caused offence by refusing to lend their steam roller to Buxton – at the time Buxton was processing all Fairfield’s rubbish and sewerage for a nominal £50 a year.

It was all part of a desperate struggle by the smaller authority to retain its independence. A fight they continued for many years.

Fairfield was a rural parish made up mostly of farms and in the 1890s the built-up area only extended to a handful of streets around Fairfield Road and Waterswallows.

It did however control a lot of the land which was needed for the future expansion of Buxton’s industry and housing. In fact it was already enjoying a building boom in the years before the councils merged.

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1974, Buxton's last mayor addresses the final meeting of Buxton Town Council fifty seven years after the Borough's
 incorporation

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1974, Buxton's last mayor addresses the final meeting of Buxton Town Council fifty seven years after the Borough's incorporation

In contrast Buxton found itself a prosperous but small town with a need to grow and increase its population.

Absorbing Fairfield became the major priority for the Edwardian civic leaders.

Buxtonians demanded a high level of public services and all the modern developments like electric light, but as there were relatively few residents it resulted in a high level of local tax – the rates.

In contrast Fairfield residents paid lower rates as their council didn’t provide the same services.

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1900s, London Road during Buxton's Edwardian heyday

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1900s, London Road during Buxton's Edwardian heyday

Not surprisingly the farmers of rural Fairfield saw nothing to recommend the scheme and did everything possible to prevent and delay it.

By 1916 the editor of the Buxton Herald was complaining at how long the saga had been going on and called for the issue to be dropped.

He was bitter in his condemnation of the foolish and vexatious objections from Fairfield residents which had delayed matters for so many years.

But within a few months the issue would be finally settled, Fairfield council met for the last time in December 1916.

In paying tribute to what it had achieved, Dr Sawdon told the meeting that the time had come to bury the hatchet and work hand in hand with their colleagues from Buxton.

The first meeting of the newly-incorporated Borough of Buxton was on New Year’s Day 1917.

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1920s, Buxton civic leaders including the mayor, clerk of the borough and the 9th Duke of Devonshire (centre) in the Crescent outside the Old Hall Hotel

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1920s, Buxton civic leaders including the mayor, clerk of the borough and the 9th Duke of Devonshire (centre) in the Crescent outside the Old Hall Hotel

The plan to install the Duke of Devonshire as mayor was scuppered when he was made Governor General of Canada!

W F Mill was elected the first mayor and he called on all involved to pursue unity and progress: “I was born within a stones throw of here and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the honour you have done me.”

His first public duty was the unveiling later that week of the Bennett Street shrine to those serving in the war.

The following Sunday the first mayoral church service was filmed by the Pathe newsreel cameras.

An interesting postscript, and marked contrast with modern times, is that when the new authority took over education from the county council it had to pay them compensation as the county had been making a profit on the district’s schools – spending far less than the amount raised in the corresponding rates.

READ MORE FROM MEMORY LANE

Firefighting in Buxton through the years

FLYING SCOTSMAN: One man’s vision which saved world-famous railway locomotive

Do you remember the Buxton floods of 1973 and 1998?

Buxton’s water - a source of controversy

Do you remember ‘The Rig’ in Buxton?

New Mills can be proud of its Victorian town hall

The building which was the town hall of Fairfield until  1917

The building which was the town hall of Fairfield until 1917