Wantage Improvement: a potted history by Julie Mabberley of Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

TWO HUNDRED years ago in the early 1800s,Wantage was suffering from a lack of investment and gained a reputation as a den of iniquity where drunks, murderers and thieves roamed the streets.

In June 1828 the government passed the Wantage Improvement Act.

It was described as an act for lighting, watching, cleansing, paving and otherwise improving the Town of Wantage in the County of Berkshire.

The first paragraph of the Act stated:

"Whereas the Town of Wantage is large and populous, and is a great thoroughfare for travellers, and the streets, lanes and highways and other public passages and places within the town are not properly lighted, watched and cleansed and the same are subject to various nuisances, annoyances and obstructions. It would tend to the safety, convenience and advantage of the inhabitants and of the public if the streets, lanes and highways and other public passages and places within the town were properly lighted, watched and cleansed and if the foot pavements were properly paved…"

Improvement Acts allowed the commissioners to fund their work by levying rates.

A book by a previous contributor to the Herald, Kathleen Philip, tells me that the Wantage Improvement Commissioners were appointed in 1828 and two of the first were Daniel and Rice Trinder.

I wonder if they could be ancestors of our current Major (Steve Trinder).

The commissioners were responsible for all roads, drains, gutters and sewers as well as ensuring adequate lighting throughout the town. They were also responsible for appointing the Watchmen (the fore-runners of policemen).

They all did their jobs well and Wantage started turning back into the attractive market town we see today.

The powers given to the commissioners were passed to the various councils before the turn of the century and over time we were moved from Berkshire to Oxfordshire and to be part of the Vale of the White Horse District Council.

Perhaps it is timely that as our councils consider the move from the existing structure to some form of unitary authority, that our commissioners (now councillors) have improved some of our road surfaces and installed some new street lighting.

So if we are following the topics of the 1828 Improvement Act, we should see further improvements to drains, gutters, sewers and pavements soon.

Can we add health services, schools, parking, public transport and leisure facilities to the list of areas for improvement too?