Cumbria Archive Service - records of County Councils

The Local Government Act of 1888 created 61 county boroughs (in large towns) and 62 administrative counties (in ancient counties). These were to be governed by elected county councils. In 1889 Cumberland and Westmorland County Councils came into existence and took over the administrative and financial duties of the quarter sessions which had governed the counties since the 16th century.

The Local Government Act of 1972 created the new county of Cumbria consisting of the former counties of Cumberland and Westmorland and parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Cumbria County Council succeeded Westmorland and Cumberland on 1 April 1974.  Below are links to online catalogues:

Cumberland County Council - also contact Carlisle Archives directly for other records not listed online

Westmorland County Council - link to online catalogue

Cumbria County Council - link to online catalogue

The main functions discharged by Cumberland and Westmorland County Councils have varied over the years but are summarised below in alphabetical order:

Civil Defence  Cumbria County Council Emergency Planning unit continues this function in a modified way.

County Buildings  These are now the responsibility of Cumbria County Council's Resources Directorate but previously has been under the remit of Construction Services Department (Building and Design Division) and Corporate Services Department (Property Client Unit).

Education In 1903 the County Council took over responsibility for elementary education from the School Boards. After the 1944 Education Act the Education Department provided primary, secondary and technical education. Under the 1989 Education Act, schools can now opt out of the control of the Local Education Authority.

Electoral Registration  Inherited from the Quarter Sessions but surrendered to the newly created District Councils on local government re-organisation in 1974.


Fire County Fire Brigades were established in 1947.

Health  Health and Welfare responsibilities of County Councils increased substantially after 1929 when the Poor Law Unions were abolished and their duties transferred. The provision of hospitals ceased to be a County Council function in 1948 with the creation of the Health Service. In 1974, County Councils lost responsibility for ambulances, clinics and health centres to the newly formed regional and area health authorities.

Legal Services  (provided for the County Councils).


Motor Vehicle Licensing (Between 1903 and1978 after which the Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea assumed this task).

Planning (After the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947).

Police A joint Cumberland and Westmorland police force was created in 1857 and was answerable to the Quarter Sessions. In 1889, control of the police passed to a joint committee comprised of Justices of the Peace and County Council members.

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths

Roads and Bridges Responsibility for the upkeep of main roads and bridges was inherited from the Quarter Sessions and was fulfilled by the County Surveyor and Bridgemaster. The Westmorland County Surveyor also took over the maintenance of the Windermere Ferry in 1920.

Weights and Measures Taken over from the Quarter Sessions in 1889. Cumbria County Council's Trading Standards now continues this function and is responsible for wide areas of consumer protection.

Welfare In 1889 County Councils were responsible for provision of asylums for pauper lunatics. Its welfare activities were considerably extended in 1929 with the abolition of Poor Law Unions and Boards of Guardians. The Welfare Department (now succeeded by Cumbria County Council's Adult and Local Services Directorate) provided assistance for children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

County Council Records It is difficult to categorise and summarise such a large quantity of records. Minute books record the decisions of the County Council and its committees. The departments of the County Councils produce(d) a wide variety of records. The main series include letter books and correspondence, account books, files, reports, plans and title deeds.