OUR PARISH COUNCILS:
We have two parish councils, reflecting the dual nature of our community, but when did this manner of self-government come about?
During the nineteenth century most villages were managed by an church body called a 'vestry,' consisting of local landowners, senior villagers and clerics. The system had been in place for several centuries, and its responsibilities included highways, poor relief, and latterly education.
The 1894 Local Government Act however gave civil parishes for the first time the right to elect a parish council with powers to raise monies, and to initiate projects of village improvement.
Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 gave communities around the country an ideal opportunity to realise these new powers - and the Astons chose to mark the jubilee by the public subscription and purchase of our recreation ground, managed by the newly created councils.
As villages took stock of these new powers a new relationship emerged between parish and district councils, and villages began to influence expenditure and policy decisions. For example, when towards the end of the First World War Wallingford Rural District Council asked all parish councils what their housing needs might be after the war, the consultation in the Astons led to a programme of council housing, with significant provision in The Croft and Moreton Road being built in the 1920's and 30's.
(The government had become concerned by the poor health and living conditions of the working classes living in largely privately owned housing, and Lloyd George launched a popular campaign to “build homes fit for heroes.” The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 (The Addison Act) became the first large scale government intervention to build housing for social use, and local councils were given subsidies to build new houses).
Surprisingly, the planning role of parish councils was not particularly strong until as late as the 1960s, with village residents being unaware of applications until they were actually being built. In the Astons there had been a huge increase in new housing built between the late sixties and early seventies - a near 20% increase in under ten years. (It was probably this that led Aston Upthorpe applying to change from its annual parish meeting system to becoming a full parish council, as Aston Tirrold had had since the 1894 Act).
In 1969 a rapid consultation took place within the community, and “Aston Tirrold and Upthorpe: a Village Plan” was published in February 1970 - a comprehensive policy statement that was largely responsible for the minimal new development over the next forty years - and was taken into account by the district council’s planning department until relatively recently.
The village has continued to be proactively involved in determining its future, with a Village Appraisal in 1994, a Recreation Survey in 2000 (resulting in various improvements to the recreation ground, including the 2009 pavilion), and the recent Community Led Plan (2016).
OUR RECREATION GROUND:
In 1897 a management committee was set up, representing both Tirrold council and Upthorpe councils, which met on a regular basis to make decisions on financial matters and basic administration. Finances were limited, and on occasion sheep were introduced to the ground to keep the grass in a usable condition.
In 1989 when the parish councils began meeting together a proposal was made by Mike Page - the instigator of the joint meetings - that an independent management body be created which included representatives of all recreation ground users. The new body - the Astons Recreation Ground Association (ARGA) - introduced two new regular fund-raising events - the autumn safari supper and bonfire night - that continue to this day. These provided a significant income for the first time that would allow improvements to the ground to be made.
The adventure playground, which had been built to commemorate the 1953 coronation, was further developed in the 1980's with the area fenced in for the first time and a slide placed on the mound, donated by a generous resident, Mary Ackworth. Further improvements were made in the 1990's and again in 2011 with generous grants from the district council.
In 2000 the village held a millennium recreation survey to consult on future improvements to the recreation ground, which led to both the all-weather sports surface and the building of the new pavilion (2009). The finances and the administration of the recreation ground are now extremely sound, and plans are afoot for future projects to continue the achievements of the past.
OUR VILLAGE HALL:
After the 1894 Act many villages responded by building village or parish halls, especially after the First World War when many were built as memorial halls. But the Astons had the use of the Manor’s 'Play Barn' in Aston Street (sometimes called the Black Barn) for meetings and gatherings and did not take up this idea until Winston Churchill championed a post war programme of new halls. The Astons Women’s Institute responded by calling for a village meeting with a proposal to build a village hall, and in November 1944 that meeting was held and the vote cast in favour.
The site on Thorpe Street was bought in 1945 by public subscription, a charity trust deed created, a Nissen Hut bought and installed, and a management committee comprised of representatives from all village organisations plus individual ’village’ members elected. The list of organisations listed in the trust deed at that time were as follows:
“the Parish Council of Aston Tirrold, the Parish Meeting of Aston Upthorpe (now the Parish Council of Aston Upthorpe), the Parochial Council of Aston Tirrold and Aston Upthorpe, the Presbyterian Kirk Session Of Aston Tirrold, the Committee of the Women’s Institute, the Committee of the Football Club, the Committee of the Flower Show, subscribing members of the British Legion resident in the parishes - being not less than ten in number, and voting in accordance with Rules made or approved by the Committee of Management”.
The trust deed sensibly took care to include the arrangements for new organisations, and the committee now benefits from representatives of newer village groups - the Garden Club, Astons Café, History Group, and the Astons Performing Arts Club (APAC).
“If a new Organisation be formed within the Parishes “with aims of a social, recreational or educational character not inconsistent with those upon which the Trust Premises are held” the Committee shall have power, by a vote in favour of not less than a two-thirds of all the members, to allow such new Organisation to appoint an additional member of the Committee”.
OUR VILLAGE CHURCHES:
As the 1894 Local Government Act transferred powers to the new civil parish councils, and rural district and county councils, so ecclesiastical controls were redrawn.
Remaining powers were transferred to a new network of parochial church councils, by the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1921 and the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919. These councils became executive committees of the Church of England, and consist of clergy and churchwardens of the parish, together with representatives of the laity. Legally they are responsible for the financial affairs of the church parish and the maintenance of its assets, such as churches and church halls, and for promoting the mission of the church.
These arrangements did not include the nonconformist communities that had thrived through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of which the Astons was a particularly active example. The Church of England was the 'authorized' religion and continued dominant in government, the professions and academe. (A separate page is in preparation on religious nonconformity in the Astons).