Extract from booklet “A Century of Village Life 1894-1994 by Pauline Raymond VESTRY VERSUS PARISH COUNCIL

The established Church of England played an important role in the life of the Village in the nineteenth century, as it had for centuries.  The Rector of Sedlescombe presided over the meetings of the Vestry where any parishioner could attend and vote, although, for a time, the number of votes each parishioner had depended on the amount of rates he paid.  This was the situation in most parishes throughout the kingdom leading up to 1894 when, after a very troubled passage through Parliament, the 1894 Local Government Act brought parish councils into being.

Some of the considerable pressure for parish councils had come from the non-conformists, particularly the Methodists, who were gaining many converts and saw the creation of parish councils as a way of eliminating the power of the established church and unseating the Rector or Vicar from the position of chairman of the Vestry.  They believed that village halls would be provided which could be used by anyone of any denomination.  The Prime Minister of the day was Liberal Mr W E Gladstone.  He saw parish councils educating the agricultural labourers and bringing them into the democratic system.  Others hoped the birth of the parish council would bring the provision of allotments on land which could be compulsorily purchased or rented by the parish councils and be a step towards the public ownership of all the land of England.  And so, parish councils were born.

Sedlescombe’s first parish councillors – Enos Archer, James Brooks, H T B Combe, John Nightingale, Reuben Kenward, H Arthur Pratt, Rev. John Warner - were elected by show of hands at a meeting held in the Schoolroom on Tuesday 4 December 1894.  This method of electing councillors continued until 1948.  No record of the first election has been found but we know that it was under the chairmanship of Boyce Harvey Combe of “Oaklands”.  It is likely that it was well attended with lots of candidates, such was the considerable interest in parish councils in rural areas.  The following week, on 13 December, the first meeting of Sedlescombe Parish Council was held.  From then onwards, we have a record of every Parish Council meeting and, through these many words we can catch a glimpse of Village life.

The first business at the first meeting was election of the Chairman.  Two names were put forward:

  1. Harvey Trewythen Brabazon Combe, proposed by Methodist Reuben Kenward and seconded by publican, John Nightingale and
  2. Rev. John Warner, proposed by churchwarden Arthur Pratt and seconded by James Brooks who, as Parish Clerk, was responsible for the Parish Church records.

It was a close contest, but Harvey T B Combe won by just one vote.  Immediately, Rev. John Warner handed in his resignation as councillor and left the meeting, never to return.  Arthur Pratt followed him out of the door shortly afterwards.  However,  Arthur returned at the next meeting and, two years later, was himself elected as Chairman, a post he held for 24 years.

Is it right to draw the conclusion from this that, in Sedlescombe, there was indeed some acrimony between Church and Council?  The Rector did lose his power and has never been chairman of the Parish Council; a village hall was provided in 1921 on land given by a parish councillor; everyone, no matter what their job, is now embraced in the democratic system and allotments were provided by the Parish Council after 9 electors make a request for them in 1895.  Much later, in 1963, the allotment land was sold for housing and the allotments then provided by a private landlord.  The money that had been invested from the sale of the allotments was used to buy the Sportsfield in 1984.