The formation of South Ribble was a silent revolution

Princess Alexandra of Kent meeting Scouts and Brownies during the opening of the Civic Centre in December 1976
Princess Alexandra of Kent meeting Scouts and Brownies during the opening of the Civic Centre in December 1976

As South Ribble Council celebrates its 40th anniversary, we take a look back at its history, how it was formed, and the Royal opening of the Civic Centre in Leyland.

Before 1974 local services in ‘South Ribble’ were provided by the Walton-le-Dale and Leyland Urban District Councils and Preston Rural District Council.

However, in the most radical shake-up of council structures in the UK, an entirely new borough was formed to serve a population of 85,000 people.

Writing in the Leyland Guardian just before the changes, reporter Myra Hocking said: “At precisely 12 midnight on March 31, a silent revolution will take place– a revolution without fanfares, proclamations, crowds or any of the trappings which herald change.

“Yet for Leyland, as with local authorities all over the country, this stroke of midnight will dramatically bring to an end an era and life will never be quite the same again for anyone living within the urban district boundary.”

David Hunt, of South Ribble’s Museum and Exhibition Centre, was working as a student repairing roads with Walton-le-Dale Urban District Council when the changes were brought in.

He recalled: “It really was monumental. For more than a thousand years the areas had the independence to manage their own affairs whether it was through the parish, the Local Board or the Urban District councils.

“It was also the first re-organisation of local authorities since the county councils were created in the 1880s, and South Ribble was different from many of the other areas because a completely new structure had to be created.”

Dr Hunt added: “Of course the first problem was what to call it. Some people thought it should be known as Leyland Council but there were very strong objections, and ‘South Ribble’ was decided upon.

“The main advantage to being a new council was that South Ribble Borough Council could be progressive, since it didn’t have the same baggage that other authorities had to contend with.”

Despite being forward-thinking, the new authority didn’t have one official base and officers were spread across the borough and Preston – some even working from a wooden shed in Leyland town centre.

In fact, one of the first priorities for the new council was to establish a single headquarters for the new authority.

And it was decided that 2.31 acres of land at West Paddock could be used for what would become one of the first dual purpose town halls to be built after the changes were brought in.

The plans, which cost £1m, included a council chamber and committee rooms that could be hired by the public and open plan office space that could be adapted to suit changes over the years.

The work was awarded to the lowest tender, put forward by B. B. Kirk (Constructions)Ltd, and the foundation stone was laid on March 27, 1975, by the first Mayor of South Ribble, Coun Ron Smith.

At the ceremony, he was given an inscribed silver trowel by the building firm, the first piece of silver to be received by South Ribble Council.

An illustrated brochure was also produced to mark the occasion and advertise the facilities that would be open for public use.

The Civic Centre, made from a pre-cast concrete frame, took 18 months to complete and was officially opened by Princess Alexandra of Kent on December 1, 1976.

The Queen’s cousin, who was accompanied by her ladies in waiting, was greeted by a guard of honour formed by local youth organisations including the Girls Venture Corps, Boys Brigade, Scouts and Brownies before entering the new building where she met councillors, their husbands and wives, council officials and representatives of local organisations and industrial firms.

Hundreds queued in the teeming rain for a glimpse of the Princess, who unveiled a commemorative plaque marking the occasion.

She also took time to tour the new offices and speak to workers from the different departments.