Parish and Town councils occupy the lowest level in the British governmental structure and represent the interests of local communities. Although the parish once performed both civil and ecclesiastical functions, these functions were split in 1894, and church parishes are now quite separate. Not all areas of the country have civil parishes, but communities outside Greater London are able to request their own elected council. The larger parishes are able to style themselves as 'Town Councils' and I have listed these separately; the difference is more one of style rather than substance, though town councils tend to exercise more powers more widely. Parish councils must hold an annual meeting, plus at least three other meetings, each year. The smaller parishes do not have elected councils, but must hold parish meetings twice a year (although there is some reason to think that in some areas this does not actually happen). Those parishes that have 'parish meeting' status are indicated in the lists by a ⊗ symbol.
Civil parish councils can exercise a range of local powers, over matters such as the provision of allotments, cemeteries, bus shelters, traffic signs, and they perform a variety of local maintainance functions. The National Association of Local Councils has a full list of powers.
For some time there has been uncertainty in many discussions of English parishes as to exactly how many parishes and parish councils there are. In 2005 DEFRA estimated that there were approximately 8,700 parish and town councils, while the ONS identified 10,397 parishes (see discussion below) as at 1 April 2003. I have so far identified around 9,900 authorities, of which 8,092 are Parish Councils, and 591 are Town Councils. The remainder (1,209) I assume are probably Parish Meetings (i.e. they don't have councils).
I have added links to the websites of over 1,600 of the parishes and 392 towns. In fact I have seen more websites than this, but I have excluded those that basically only say how pretty their village is. To include a link there must be substantive information about the work of the parish council (e.g. minutes of meetings). I am happy to receive the URLs of parish or town council websites that I don't yet have.
If you are able to add missing councils, or shed further light on which parishes just have Parish Meetings, or otherwise improve the list, please email me. There are lists organised by local authority that might simplify the checking of parishes in your area.
There does not seem to be a complete list of parish councils held by central government. The latter relies on authorities lower in the structure to hold this information. The information publicly available from local authority websites is of very variable quality. Initially I trawled the local authorities for lists of councils, and the distinction I have made between Councils and Meetings initially relied on this. However, since I began the project, Richard Greenhill pointed out to me that the Office for National Statistics has coded lists of parishes, and I am grateful to him and to Chris Smart of the ONS for enabling me to have what I take to be a complete list of English parishes and their locations. However, the objective is to list political entities, and the problem is that the ONS list does not show which parishes have councils and which have meetings. Indeed, many parishes listed separately by the ONS are grouped together into single councils, i.e. there are fewer parish councils and meetings than there are parishes. I have tried to ensure that each parish on the ONS list is listed as a town, a parish, or is part of a group parish. As always, I shall be grateful for any corrections: it has not been easy.
Not only is there no central list of councils but there does not seem to a definitive policy on who should hold the list of parish councils in a given area. In some cases the county council has complete information, in others the counties leave it to the districts, and in yet others it is left to a county association of local councils (not all parishes belong to one of these). Some of these organisations do a good job and provide all the information one could reasonably expect. Others list the parishes, but fail to indicate which have councils, which just have meetings, and which are town councils.
A further problem is that the same parish council sometimes occurs on the websites of two different local authorities, presumably due to some confusion between political boundaries and postal boundaries. Also, parish councils are sometimes listed (together with plausible-looking contact addresses) by non-governmental sources, but do not appear in the lists of the relevant local authority.
Council names can be something of a moveable feast, with the parish council giving itself a slightly different name from that used by the authority listing it, or the ONS. Some of the council names refer to villages and not necessarily to actual parishes. Where there is some confusion, I have adopted the name used by the parish council itself.
Some areas do not have parishes, but local authority websites do not always indicate whether they do or don't have parishes. Thus, in the absence of parish information, it sometimes isn't clear whether there are parishes or not. This is particularly a problem with urban areas. Some local authorities give the impression that they don't understand the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical parishes and have responded to questions by referring me to local church organisations. I have assumed in such cases that they don't have civil parishes.
In a few cases, there was uncertainty about where a parish was located — it is amazing how many parish websites assume that you know where they are located. Ultimately I have relied on the ONS.
Finally, of course, I may simply have made mistakes - constructing a list of 9,000+ parish and town councils at some speed is unlikely to be completely error free.