Archive of the month

Archive of the month

“Worming in of North Country People” in Aylesbury Borough Council

Reference MB 3/4/1

Archive -Narbeth

Whilst cataloguing some records of the Aylesbury Borough Council, we have recently come across an interesting set of papers relating to the dismissal of Mr. R. E. Gillett, a workman in the Surveyor’s Department in Aylesbury Borough Council in 1938.

Gillett took his complaint to Councillor W.A. Narbeth, who took the case up. Narbeth alleged that Gillett’s dismissal was part of an organised attempt by the Surveyor’s Department to dispense with the services of local men in order to replace them with men from the north. This image shows part of the list drawn up by the department to refute the allegation. We have highlighted Aylesbury people in red.

 To modern eyes the case is fairly extraordinary, not least because it was played out substantially in public. The case caused a sensation, with extensive verbatim reports of correspondence between the main players and of the sessions of the Council dealing with the matter appearing in both the Bucks Herald and the Bucks Advertiser. The public galleries were full half an hour before the meeting was due to commence, the police having to supervise a crowd outside the hearing who were unable to get in.

Gillett had certainly approached the right councillor to get a hearing for his case, though he can have been less sure of victory. It was to be resolved at a special meeting of the Council by the verdict of Narbeth’s fellow Councillors, with whom Narbeth had a tempestuous relationship. His career was a controversial one, fighting his colleagues repeatedly over a series of different issues. In 1936, he was involved in a case that went to the King’s Bench with Counciller Mackrill that resulted in the resignation of the Borough Electrical Engineer. The case spilled over into 1937, with Narbeth challenging Mackrill to a by-election over the electricity supply. Further disputes covered proposals by the Council to build new offices, to buy playing fields at Weston Turville and about the Mayor’s role in managing housing at Southcourt. The disputes were sufficiently heated that Narbeth released pamphlets couched in inflammatory language appealing directly to the electorate.

This case was conducted in similarly ill temper, Narbeth accused his colleagues in general of lying and of cowardice. He accused the Mayor of being more interested in lunch than justice and Councillor Cheshire (who was a Trade Unionist) of letting down the working class. For their part, his colleagues approached Gillett and attempted to pressure him into giving up the case, accused Narbeth of bullying and described him as being ‘worse than Hitler’ for demanding that certain people attend the hearing and the right to question them.

Narbeth’s conduct gave Gillett some doubts about the wisdom of approaching him for representation. Narbeth did fight the case for Gillett but not before Gillett had written to his trade union to request that they take the case on instead. Given the background, it is unsurprising that the Council found against Narbeth, and Gillett’s dismissal was ruled legitimate.

Records of the Aylesbury Borough Council are held under reference MB 3. The Council itself was abolished in 1974 and its responsibilities transferred to the newly established Aylesbury Vale District Council. The original records are on display in the Archives Searchroom in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.