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Bletchley Council Offices
Before the introduction of local councils, public responsibilities had been vested in a variety of different 'Boards' and bodies - the Highways Board, Burial Board, etc - and although worthy in their aspirations, the overall result produced a somewhat wasteful and inefficient system.
On 13 August, 1888, Queen Victoria then set her signature to an Act which would amend the laws relating to local government in England and Wales, and theron 'A council shall be established in every administrative county.'
Following the formation of the County Councils, there came into being the Rural District and Urban District Councils, and, of local relevance, by Local Government Board Order No. 32776, Fenny Stratford and Simpson amalgamated to form an Urban District Council in July, 1895.
By a narrow vote the first Chairman was a local hay and corn dealer, James Baisley, and the new Council held responsibility for such matters as sanitation, water supplies and housing.
During the following years the resulting benefits then became increasingly apparent, and directly lead to a consequent decrease in the mortality rate.
In 1898 a formal agreement was reached to transfer Bletchley Parish to the UDC and, agreed by public meeting, this was finalised, except for the name, on 1 April by Government Board Order 37157. However, not until 16 May 1911 did the name formally change to Bletchley, with Water Eaton being included within the Council's jurisdiction in 1934.
Regarding accommodation, in the early years the Council endured a somewhat nomadic existence, and this was evidenced in early January, 1896, by a decision that the premises in the High Street, lately occupied by the Cooperative Society, should be acquired as the Council Offices, at a rent of £25 pa.
A list of the necessary furniture would then be compiled by John Chadwick, the newly appointed Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances, and at the opening of the tenders that of George Pacey was accepted, at 10s 6d per chair, Is 6d per square yard for lino, £3 10s for a large table, and £3 for a small table.
Yet when eventually delivered the tables were not accepted, and 'in accordance with the order of his tender' Mr Pacey would arrange to have new ones manufactured.
As a permanent centre for the Council, the Town Hall and the old Wesleyan Chapel, in the High Street, had both been suggested, and in consequence the Local Government Board Inspector held an enquiry. However, his deliberations duly ruled out the Town Hall as being unsuitable, whilst as for the old chapel, built in 1813, on account of this antiquity no sanction for a loan would be forthcoming.
Plans were therefore proposed for a new building, and in 1903 the Council at last moved into purpose built offices, designed by John Chadwick. At a cost of £2,000 the premises had been constructed by the firm of Tranfield and Co., a family with origins in New Bradwell, and with this being their first major project perhaps the venture proved even more challenging, since the site had allegedly once been a pond! Apart from the usual Council business, by invitation on 14 April 1910, about 50 people attended a meeting at the Council Offices where Dr C Deyns, presiding, said that 'the time has arrived when a determined effort should be made to establish a horticultural society in the district.' Mr Leon subsequently gave the use of Bletchley Park and although the idea soon caught on, no shows would be held during World War One, a conflict at the beginning of which not only did Captain John Chadwick, the Surveyor to the Council, enter military service, but also his staff as well. Yet this was excepting the elderly clerk, Thomas Best, who was placed in charge of the Surveyors Department. His namesake son was then appointed as deputy surveyor in 1915, but when on the death of Thomas Best senior he was passed over for the position, with, at a salary of £250 pa, Mr Charter Wilson appointed instead, he promptly resigned.
Against the possibility of aerial attack, in 1916 the Council applied to insure the Council Offices with the County Fire Office for £2,000, but although the premises would be spared an airborne assault, during the same year came the tragic news that 20 year old Lt. Douglas Chadwick, the son of John Chadwick, had been killed in action.
After the war, in 1921 the Council Offices would accommodate the town's first library, and this was perhaps included amongst the caretaking duties of Annie Mead who, (since the intended applicant, Mrs Tearle, had proved unable to accept the duties), was appointed to the position of caretaker at the Council Offices in June 1926. The situation paid a wage of 12s 6d a week, with the free provision of a house, gas, and coals.
Born at Leighton Buzzard, Miss Mead was a daughter of the late William Mead, a parcels carrier who had moved to Bletchley over 50 years ago. Being well known as a toffee maker, in his younger days he had been a confectioner, and Miss Mead came to Bletchley to look after him in 1920, when he became ill. Two years later he died, and, living on the premises, Annie and her sister, Edith, would eventually take up the caretaking duties at the Council Offices. With the outbreak of World War Two there would then be a new and important role for the Council Offices, at the rear of which on Friday, 1 September, 1939, following an appeal for sandbag fillers many volunteers reported for this duty the next morning.
Their efforts then seemed fully justified when at the Bletchley Report Centre, accommodated in the Council Offices, just after 7.30am the first air raid warning in the town was received on Wednesday morning, although the 'All Clear' would sound soon after 9am. With a continuing increase in ARP duties, including having to now clean the Control Room and the Food Control Room, Annie not surprisingly sought an increase in pay, and by the subsequent agreement her weekly wage would be raised from 20s to 30s, payable from 18 November, 1939.
In fact her retirement had been scheduled for 31st December, but after considerations the Council decided to renew the appointment until 31 March, 1940, and this was subsequently extended until 30 September, 1940.
Maintaining a telephone watch for an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, as full-time members of the Council staff Mr W Bradbury and Mrs Olive Moser, not only carried out all the clerical and administration work of the ARP Department, but also the clerical work of the Fire Brigade and the AFS, and this was all in addition to their normal employment!
At the Report Centre, a full time officer of the Council would generally be on duty from 8.30am until 7pm each day, and volunteers would then attend 7pm until 10pm.
Manning the telephone, to which a loud gong was attached, a night operator then took over, with the provision of a chair bed to sleep on.
In the event of a possible air raid, on receiving a "yellow alert' the Report Centre would call the fire station, and either from there or the police station the regular fireman would be summoned by a bell system, a bell having been installed in each of the firemen's homes, worked on the Post Office open wire system.
In April 1940 the ARP Committee then announced that in place of the existing 0.9hp siren the Home Office Divisional Officer had suggested installing a 4hp Gent model.
With the original siren being kept in reserve, this, at an estimated cost of around £40, was then fixed on the Council Offices, where in early May perhaps as an omen the Coronation clock suddenly stopped one Tuesday evening, and began to go backwards! During the monthly air raid test, in early June 1940 the new 4hp siren was then heard for the first time, and being found to have a louder note experiments were duly made to increase the sound even more, which was eventually achieved by fixing an upper sounding board.
In the event of an air attack, the Air Raid Casualty Centre for the town was to be located at the Council Offices in the ARP Report Centre, and in other wartime uses the Council Chamber of the Council Offices would be variously rented by the Bletchley Food Control Cornmittee and also H M Office of Works, being sometimes also used for County Court sittings.
As for the Council yard at the rear of the building, here would be established the depot for the Decontamination Squad, consisting of 18 fully trained men led by Mr J Thurlby. With the imminent threat of a German invasion, secret plans were made to blow up the Council Offices, and with key areas designated for 'defence to the last', in preparation for a siege tinned rations were stored on site. As winter approached, with the probability of ice and snow attention was then given to finding a means of keeping the air raid siren at the Council Offices operational, and this was resolved by a letter of 18 October, 1940 from the Senior Regional Officer at Aylesbury, which stated 'It is understood that the cost of the heater without a thermostat is £4 10s and the expenditure will rank for grant subject to the terms of the relevant financial regulations'.
No doubt the siren would also help with the heating, by drawing a typical start current of 60amps!
Even in 1942 invasion was still viewed as a very real danger, and at a meeting on Thursday 5 March of the ARP Committee Major General Blount, by a letter dated 24 February, asked permission to use the Council Chamber - 'in case of necessity' - as a local defence battle headquarters. This was duly agreed, but thankfully such measures would not be required. After the end of the European war, in late July, 1945 the Fire Force Commander wrote to the ARP Committee asking if the Council would transfer the use of the air raid siren to the National Fire Service.
This was for the purpose of calling part-time members of the brigade to any fires that occurred between 8am and 10pm and on condition that the NGS saw to the repairs, this request was agreed.
However, with the siren remaining in the present position only the control point would be transferred to the police station.
Despite her earlier contracts, Annie Mead would remain as caretaker at the Council Offices until 1946, and indeed it was only the effects of a road accident, in the autumn of 1945, that hastened her retirement.
On leaving the caretaker's house she would then live with her sister at 11 Abbey Road, a council house in Simpson, and in fact it had been arranged by the Council that the sisters should have the property subject to the tenant's wife undertaking the caretaking duties, for £2 a week, at the Council Offices.
Thereby the tenant, Mr L Odell, would be granted, rent free, the occupancy of the Council Offices house. As for Annie Mead, aged 78 she died on 6 January 1947.
In 1960, Mrs D Ramsbotham would be elected the first woman Chairman of BUDC and this was a responsibility that now seemed to be burgeoning for, due to an increase in staff, plans were being proposed to extend the Council Offices.
Then in another timely move, with the hands on one side of the previous clock having been missing for many months, on Monday 19 July 1965, the new clock on the Council Offices came into operation, at 6.10pm.
Being a 42 inch Smiths English Clock System, the timepiece had cost £250, and in further expense earlier during the year machinery costing £4,000 and weighing 32 cwt, was installed for the Treasurers Department of the Bletchley Council Offices.
This was a replacement for the worn out manual system of book keeping, and the main section of the new apparatus would be a card puncher, verifier and sorter, with most of the equipment located in the former stables at the rear of the building. (Horses had been acquired buy the parish in 1888 to pull the dust carts, and, replacing those of the local coal merchants the same horses would additionally be used to pull the fire engine).