The Local Government Act 1894, which created Parish Councils in England and Wales, and transferred the civil functions of the Church to Parish Meetings and Councils, was given by Royal Assent in March 1894.
Bersted Parish Council was formed at this time, and the first elections were held in October 1894. Throughout the nation, the elections were by a show of hands at a public meeting. Nine Councillors were elected for the Parish of Bersted to serve a population of only 333 (1891 cencus), and the irst meeting of Bersted Parish Council was held on 1st January 1895. The Councillors elected Mr F. Turner to be the first Chairman of the Parish Council.
The 1894 Act gave Parish Councils a number of powers; perhaps the most important of these was the power to provide allotments to people who had no land of their own. There were other powers devolved; such as the power to deal with nuisances prejudicial to health, to use wells and streams for water supply, to repair highways, and to make byelaws for recreation grounds. Parish Councils also took over responsibility for burials, which Bersted did in conjunction with Bognor as there was no graveyard in the Parish. The power to raise money was very restricted.
The early meetings
At one of the early meetings of Bersted Parish Council a Committee was formed to ascertain what books, documents and other similar items could be found in the Parish which should now be placed under the control of the Council. The Committee reported that "nothing of importance was found" and the rector was thanked for his co-operation. But he cooperated less well in July 1895 when, for the second time he was asked to re-site a Church fence.
The first Clerk for Bersted was Mr Mitchell. He wrote the minutes of meetings in beautifull copperplate hand-writing in a leather bound book. His salary was £8 per annum. There was also a Treasurer - a job which is now that of the Clerk. Mr Mitchell left the job in 1897.
By mid-1897 members of the Council were expressing their concern with the way in which they had been elected. "In opinion of this Council, the election of Parish Councillors by a show of hands is unfair to the majority of the Electors of this Country; that such a mode of election is not calculated to reveal the real wish or feeling of the electorate; that it should be entirely abolished and some simple and inexpensive form of ballot substituted." It took until 1948 to convince the Government.
Discussions on roadways, footpaths, drainage and allotments took a great deal of the time of the Council in the early years. At one meeting the Clerk was instructed to write to the Home Sectretary to point out that the closure of Bersted churchyard meant burials were taking place in footpaths.
Queen Victoria and the Edwardian era
In the first ten years of the Council's existence, the county saw the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, followed by her death in 1901. All these events, and others, passed without a mention in the Bersted Parish Council chamber as Councillors tackled local problems such as the erection of a gas works, railway improvement, and refuse disposal. Street lighting was first considered in 1910. (it was not until the 1960s that the Council actually provided lighting in the Parish). The coronation of King George V saw the formation of a Festivities Committee in Bognor, to which Bersted contributed "a sum not exceeding £10". A proposal to inform the Rural District Council that there was a need for accommodation for the working classes was not carried.
First World War
The minutes tell us that a War Distress Committee was formed in the early weeks of the Great War, but there is no mention of what the Committee did, and no further mention of the War throughout 1914 and 1918.
Between the Wars
In 1923 the Clerk was instructed to write to the Chief Constable of Sussex drawing attention to the fact that visitors were trailing streamers from the backs of charabancs passing through the Parish. Councillors thought that this practice was rather dangerous.
Earlier in 1910, the Council had requested a speed limit of 10mph for vehicles travelling through North Bersted Street. In 1936 the Clerk wrote to the County Surveyor complaining that North Bersted Street was too narrow for traffic, now that a footpath had been made.
In the 1930s, when war seemed imminent, the duties for civil defence were handed to Borogh and District Councils and the importance of Parish Councils waned.
Second World War
Meetings were held sporadically throughout the War, and the Council continued to discuss matters close to home - footpaths, cesspits and the like. The Council was invited to participate in various fund-raising events for the War effort. £23 was sent to the Fighter Fund in 1940, and in 1943 the Council was invited to participate in War Weapons Week, Dig for Victory, and Wings for Victory. There is no record of the amount collected for Wings for Victory, but the Council received a certificate of thanks to display at its meeting place, which was then the school in North Bersted Street.
In 1944 the people of Bersted raised £499/0/5d for the Salute the Soldier week.
There were no meetings between April 1945 and February 1946, so we have no records of how, or even if, the Parish celebrated Victory. But in April 1946 the Clerk was asked to enquire about obtaining a supply of Victory Mugs. His efforts were unsuccessful.