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[Common Council]

The COMMON COUNCIL is likewise of very early origin; it is a modification of the ancient COMMONALTY. Various opinions are entertained as to the share which the commonalty, or citizens at large, possessed in the local jurisdiction. It is beyond dispute, (and it is a proud fact for the city of London, as it shows their acknowledged importance in all time) that the great body of the citizens was very early considered as an integral part of the city constitution. The charter of Henry I. mentions the folk-mote, a Saxon appellation and which may fairly be rendered the court or assembly of the people. The general place of meeting of the folk-mote was in the open air, at St. Paul's Cross in St. Paul's-church-yard: they elected sheriffs, justices, &c. It was not discontinued till after Henry the Third's reign; but it had been considered as the supreme assembly of the city. It was called together by the tolling of a great bell. From the great increase of the city's population, the intermixture of the non-freemen with the inhabitants rendered this mode of meeting inconvenient, dangerous, and sometimes tumultuous; and the system of delegation was then had recourse to. A certain number of representatives were chosen out of each ward, who being added to the lord-mayor and aldermen, constituted the Court of Common Council. At first only two were returned for each ward; but it being afterwards considered that the collective assembly thus chosen was an insufficient representation, in 1347 the number was enlarged. It was provided that each ward should elect common councilmen according to its relative extent—not fewer than six nor more than twelve: since then there has been some further increase in the numbers, and the present aggregate number is two hundred and thirty-six. The common councilmen are chosen after the same manner as the aldermen, with this only difference, the lord mayor presides at the election of an alderman, and the alderman at the election of common councilmen. The court debates with open doors in general; but it has the power, though it is rarely exercised, of excluding strangers; and in the general management of its business, its rules, proceedings, committees, &c., are much like those of the house of commons. They cannot assemble without summons from the lord mayor, and then for one sitting only; but it is his duty to call a meeting whenever it should be demanded by requisition, and the law compels him to assemble the court a certain number of times during his mayoralty. They are annually elected on St. Thomas's day; and the elections are carried on in churches, which cannot be deemed the most seemly course of proceeding. Should there be contests, they are conducted in the vestry rooms or workhouses. The court's general business is to make laws for the due government of the city, to guide its police, to manage its property; in fact, the court of common council is the city's legislature. Only twenty-five out of the twenty-six wards return common-councilmen: Bridge ward without is unrepresented, except by an alderman.

City of London
...... Aldermen
...... Sheriffs
...... Recorder, Judicial Franchise
...... City Companies
...... Common Halls
...... Military Government

City of Westminster

Borough of Southwark

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819