|Administrative / biographical background:
The Public Health Act, 1848 (11 & 12 Vict., c.63), the result of much agitation and propaganda against the insanitary nature of urban and industrial areas, was passed "to improve sanitary conditions of Towns and populous places" and to place the supply of water, sewerage, drainage and the cleansing, paving and maintenance of urban streets under the same local management and control, subject to the same general supervision. The Act, which was adoptive, applied to the whole of England and Wales except for the City of London, the area of responsibility of the Commissioners for Lighting and Watching of Regents Park and certain specified areas under the jurisdiction of Commissioners of Sewers. The general supervision of the matters with which the Act concerned itself was to be exercised by a General Board of Health, consisting of the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests as Chairman and two other Commissioners appointed by royal warrant.
The Act, other than excepting specific areas, did not define precisely the requirements of size or population or rateable value of the areas which might adopt its provisions limiting itself to vagueness on this point. Areas which did adopt the Act were to have elected Local Boards of Health, which had powers to appoint the necessary officers to carry out their duties and to levy general and special district rates to finance its operations. Where elected, Local Boards of Health became responsible for sewerage and drainage, prevention of public health nuisances, upkeep and maintenance of highways, cleansing and paving of footways, registration and control of slaughter houses and common lodging houses. They might also provide 'pleasure grounds', water supply and burial grounds.
In Hertfordshire, the provisions of the 1848 Act were adopted in Ware (Local Board established 1849) Cheshunt (Local Board established 1850), and Watford (Local Board established 1850).
In 1858, the Local Government Act of that year (21 and 22 Vict., c.98) which substantially re-enacted the terms of the 1848 Act, was a little (but not much) more precise about areas which might adopt the Act and added to the powers of Local Boards of Health certain specified provisions of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847 (10 & 11 Vict., c.89) and the Town Improvement Clauses Act, 1847 (10 & 11 Vict., c.34) and additionally gave the Boards powers to control building lines when rebuilding of demolished properties took place. The 1858 Act dissolved the central General Board of Health, distributing its local government duties to the newly established Local Government Act Office of the Home Office (itself abolished in 1871 and superseded by the Local Government Board), its scientific and medical functions to the Privy Council and its duties with regard to contagious diseases to the War Office.
The 1858 Act was widely adopted, particularly after the enactment of the Highways Act, 1862. This latter Act provided that any area subject to the jurisdiction of a Local Board of Health established under the Public Health Act, 1848 and/or the Local Government Act, 1858, could not form part of a Highway District under this Act. In order, therefore, to retain control of their own highways and avoid being rated as one constituent part of a larger Highway District thus subsidising rural roads, many urban areas took an early opportunity to opt for a Local Board. In 1863, the Local Government Act (26 & 27 Vict., c.17) imposed a minimum population limit of 3000 for Local Board areas, the first definite limitation, to prevent ludicrous anomalies.
In Hertfordshire, the 1858 Act was adopted at Tring (1859), Barnet (1863), East Barnet (partly in Middlesex, 1863), Bishop's Stortford (1866), Baldock (1872), Hitchin (1873) and Stevenage (1873).
By the terms of S.4, Public Health Act, 1872 (35 & 36 Vict., c.79), Local Boards of Health were created (along with municipal boroughs and Improvement Act areas) Urban Sanitary Authorities and invested with the powers and duties specified in that Act. All Hertfordshire Local Boards were therefore from the date of passing of the Act (10 August 1872) constituted Urban Sanitary Authorities. The municipal boroughs in the county - Hertford, St. Albans and Hemel Hempstead - also became Urban Sanitary Authorities and records of their activities in this guise will be found amongst their own archives.
By the Local Government Act, 1894, Local Boards of Health were abolished and their functions transferred to the newly established Urban District Councils. It frequently happened that the minute books and ledgers in use in 1894 by the Local Board (whose Clerk usually became Clerk to the Urban District Council) continued to be used by its successor, hence the carry over of volumes beyond 1894 listed in this inventory.