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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): MCC/ES/EL
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1893-1965
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 17.83 linear metres
Name of creator(s): MCC | Middlesex County Council x Middlesex County Council


Administrative/Biographical history:

With the formation of the County Council in 1889, responsibility for repair and maintenance of main roads, county bridges and their approaches, passed into its jurisdiction. All other roads remained the responsibility of parish authorities. Middlesex County Council took over responsibility for the maintenance of 106 miles of road from 39 separate local authorities in 1889.

The MCC Highways Committee met for the first time on 14 May 1889 with the Earl of Aberdeen as the first Chairman. The first Engineer and Surveyor was F.H. Pownall, who had previously worked with the Court of Quarter Sessions. In 1890 offices were established at Middlesex Guildhall and a staff consisting of a deputy, 3 assistants, an office boy and 5 part time surveyors followed. In the twentieth century the department expanded and the county was divided into 3 parts, each under the supervision of a Divisional Surveyor. The Department had three functions: trunk and county roads; bridges and rivers and streams.

Entertainments Licensing
The Entertainments Licensing section of the Engineer and Surveyor's Department existed from 1889-1965. It reported to the Entertainments Licensing Committee.

Music and Dancing Licences
In 1751 the Disorderly Houses Act and the Public Entertainments Acts were passed in an attempt to maintain some order over places of public entertainment. They stated that public entertainments of music and dancing must be held in premises licensed by the Justices of the Peace. The Public Entertainments Act 1875 slightly amended this. Under the terms of the Local Government Act 1888 the powers of the Justices with regard to entertainments licensing passed to the newly formed County Councils. Middlesex County Council's jurisdiction was limited to the area within 20 miles of London and Westminster until 1894 when the Music and Dancing (Middlesex) Act was passed which gave the County Council control over the whole county. Licences were granted subject to inspection by a County Council surveyor who found the buildings met safety regulations. The annual fee for a licence was then five shillings. By 1914 539 premises had been licensed in the county for music and dancing. These buildings were church halls, school halls, public halls, swimming baths, and club rooms of public houses. The Middlesex County Council (General Powers) Act 1930 increased the fee to 10 shillings. The number of licences increased to 874 by the outbreak of war in 1939 and included premises such as Wembley Stadium and Haringey Arena. The most common type of premises to apply for licences however were church halls. The County Council assumed control of boxing entertainments in 1934 and wrestling in 1939. The Middlesex County Council Act 1934 consolidated the County Council's powers.

Theatre Licences
The licensing of theatres was revised by the Theatres Act 1842. For most of the county the Justices of the peace were the administering body. However for the Cities of London and Westminster and the Parliamentary boroughs of Finsbury and Marylebone, the Lord Chamberlain issued licences. Under the terms of the Act all theatres were required to have a stage separated from the rest of the building by a brick wall and to have fireproof or "safety" curtains. These had to be raised in one piece and used at every performance to demonstrate to an audience that they could work. Theatres were inspected annually to check these regulations and licences cost three pounds. As there were comparatively few theatres in Middlesex this was never onerous work. The County Council became the licensing authority for the whole of the county in 1894.

Cinema Licences
Films began to be shown in public at the end of the nineteenth century. As early as 1899 the County Council expressed concern as to the safety of the public at cinematograph showings. The Middlesex County Council prohibited the showing of public films in buildings which had been licensed for other purposes. The County Engineer had the power to issue permits to premises where the films apparatus had been inspected. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stated that all buildings showing films to the public had to be licensed, the Entertainments Licensing section of the County Council undertook this job. As the twentieth century progressed cinemas became increasingly popular and consequently many new ones were built in the county. By the outbreak of war in 1914 80 cinemas had been licensed; in 1937 this figure stood at 131. Cinemas were subject to rigorous regulations. They were required to have sufficient, unobstructed exits. The spacing of seats and gangways had to conform to regulations. The buildings themselves had to be constructed with as much non-combustible material as possible. There were strict safety rules governing the actual use and storage of the films and equipment. Finally, there were rules concerning the heating, ventilation and use of electricity in cinemas.

Cinematograph Act 1952
This Act extended and amended the provisions of the 1909 Act. Licences under the new Act were required for the showing of non-inflammable films. The Home Secretary had powers to make regulations dealing with the safety, health and welfare of children in public cinemas. The County Council could impose conditions regulating the admission of children.

Film censorship
All films for public viewing had to be passed before the British Board of Film Censors before they could be shown. Appeals against the Board's decisions however could be made to Entertainments Licensing authorities: the County Council was a member of a Joint Committee with the County Councils of Essex, London and Surrey and the County Borough of East Ham and so judged these appeals.

Sunday cinema
The Sundays Entertainments Act 1932 allowed cinemas to open in districts to which the Act had been extended by an Order approved by resolutions passed to each House of Parliament. Electors were usually given a referendum on this matter. In Middlesex all districts (except Friern Barnet and Sunbury-on-Thames which had no cinemas) opened cinemas on Sundays. There were regulations governing how long cinema staff could work. A percentage of Sunday takings (which could be set in advance) was paid to the County Council who distributed this money to local charities. In the period 1933-1957 715,021 was paid out.

Racing Licences
The County Council was empowered to appoint an accountant and a mechanic under the Betting and Lotteries Act 1934 to supervise totalisers at greyhound racing tracks. There were six such tracks in Middlesex and each licence ran for 7 years. The Racecourses Act 1879 forbade the holding of horse races within 10 miles of Charing Cross and introduced annual licences for all other grounds. There was one such course in Middlesex at Alexandra Park.

Pool Licences
Under the Pool Betting Act 1954 anyone with a pool betting establishment had to be licensed for a fee set by the County Council. The Act controlled football pool promoters and the like. The County Council had to employ an accountant to report on pool businesses whose fees were taken out of licence fees.

Hypnotism Licences
Under the Hypnotism Act 1952 the County Council regulated hypnotism demonstrations and all premises had to be licensed. No one under the age of 21 could take place in a demonstration.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Middlesex County Council Engineer and Surveyor's Department relating to entertainments licensing, 1893-1965, including records relating to licenses for individual buildings across Middlesex, including public halls, cinemas, public houses, hotels, public baths, social centres, canteens and sports stadiums; plans of buildings that were subsequently demolished, mainly cinemas and theatres; plans of buildings licensed by the MCC in 1965.

General administrative papers including Appeals Committee reports; copies of regulations and legislation; duties of staff; correspondence; car park returns detailing car park capacity; returns of seating capacities in individual cinemas; reports on film censorship; layouts of circuses and tents; liaison with the fire service and mobile cinemas.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The archives are arranged into the following series: MCC/ES/EL/GEN General policy; MCC/ES/EL/1 Buildings files; MCC/ES/EL/2 Plans of buildings demolished before 1964; MCC/ES/EL/3 Plans of buildings extant in 1964.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to these records rests with the Corporation of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Acquired with the records of its parent authority, the Middlesex County Council, and with successor authorities.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See also MCC/CL/ES/EL for more papers relating to entertainments licensing.

Publication note:

For further information on the history of the Middlesex County Council please see Middlesex by Sir Clifford Radcliffe (2 editions, 1939 and 1953), LMA Library reference 97.09 MID; and The County Council of the Administrative County of Middlesex: 76 years of local government, 1 April 1889 to 31 March 1965, by Middlesex County Council (1965), LMA library reference S97.09 MID.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
April to June 2009

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