Parliamentary Records

Sources for Epsom and Ewell History
Sources for Epsom
and Ewell History

Parliamentary Logo

Parliament has been leaving an archival trail of its influence on Epsom and Ewell since 1605, when James I had an Act passed to authorise a highway through Nonsuch Park. A few hundred yards of this are still in existence as Royal Avenue. James probably had its own convenience in mind rather than that of the public when he proposed legislation for an access route by which carts could trundle down to Nonsuch Palace to stock it with furniture before his visits: but the Act turned out to be the first of a series lasting until 1839 which authorised work on the highways, usually to be paid for by setting up a turnpike trust.

The Railway Acts, which followed from 1837 to 1892, are much more informative. Highway Acts had specified the route in a short description, being mostly concerned with setting the rates and arrangements for tolls. Railway Acts came with much more supporting documentation, including maps of the route, and reports of public enquiries in which the case for and against the proposed line was supported by statistics and local knowledge.

Parliament had its greatest influence on the landscape in the Enclosure Acts. That for Ewell went through in 1801, followed by one for the Liberty of Kingswood in 1807. Curiously, Epsom had applied for an Act as early as 1731 (a schedule of owners made in 1733, SHC: 6029, may be related to this) but enclosure did not take place until 1870, and then by an order of the enclosure commissioners and not a separate Act.

Road and rail were the business of Public Acts. The designation of Local and Private Acts was mostly reserved for those setting up local government, beginning in our area with the 1849 Act which established the Epsom Local Board of Health. The series has continued to our own day. So have Parliamentary attempts to sort out hospital provision, beginning long before the NHS in 1884, and continuing in the shape of various Healthcare Trusts ever since. Gas was the subject of Local Acts since 1877, before which it had been the responsibility of local bodies. Electricity first attracted the eye of the legislators in 1897.

The traffic has not all been one-way. People petition Parliament: for 'measures to promote national thrift' (1880) and for and against various the local government arrangements. The Grandstand and West Park Hospital were both involved in petitions that went all the way to the top. The preservation of Epsom Common and of Epsom and Walton Downs were the result of sustained lobbying before schemes received Parliamentary approval.

Like other archives, those of parliament have received assorted papers in addition to their main business. Thus the Collection has come to include letters of Lord Beaverbrook, photographs of MPs, and reports of a speech made by Lloyd George at Tadworth Camp.

A schedule of Parliamentary papers has been taken from Portcullis, the online Parliamentary Archive Catalogue. Documents can be accessed at the House of Lords Record Office. Incidentally, there is no House of Commons RO: the papers specifically of the Commons were mostly burnt in the fire of 1837.

The schedule of Parliamentary papers

The material available through Portcullis does not exhaust the field of Parliamentary records. Mention should also be made of the Journals of the House of Lords and House of Commons (from 1510 and 1547 respectively); of the Statutes of the Realm and Statutes at Large, which should contain the text of all Acts; of Hansard, which covers debates from 1803; and of command papers, blue books, and committee reports. It should also be remembered that there are many national reports to parliament - for instance, the returns of papists 1705/6, 1767 and 1781 - which are likely to contain significant material on Epsom and Ewell, but which will not be found indexed by those names.

This schedule was extracted and edited from the Portcullis website by Eddie Hughes.

Jeremy Harte
February 2013