Boring History: Independence Day

In which Chris Sams manages to tenuously link Independence Day to Medway politics..

The 4th of July is one of those dates we remember much like 1066, 1940 and 1348, I mean who can forget the date that Will Smith and that doctor from Jurassic Park saved the world from alien invasion?

The 4th July is, of course, the American Independence day. A date when the American nation celebrates breaking the union of the thirteen colonies with the English Empire in a move that is seen as driven by taking control of their own affairs, greater freedoms and democracy but in reality was all about dodging paying tea tax. Seems fair? Well, the mists of time and a popular history has hidden a few of the salient facts..

Following the Seven Years War (part of the Austrian War of succession) that took place between French Canada and the English North American colonies, France had to secede its territories to Britain thus leaving the whole of the North American colony devoid of any hostile European power beyond Louisiana and Florida. The London government decided to save money and remove a standing army from the colonies and rely on local militia. The colonies demanded to have a regular army present but when Parliament suggested that they should pay for it and tried to dump excess tea from India on them to raise the money. Things got ugly, there were protests, a rich arrogant elite in Westminster refused to listen (sounds familiar), a hapless local military commander marched out to capture militia stores, a fire fight ensues and the full weight of the Crown’s army is sent out backed up by Hessian mercenaries. Anyway – I digress. 

The American War of Independence is somewhat of a hobby of mine, at least the military side. I was always fascinated by the way that the Crown won most of the battles on land but still found itself defeated.

So what tenuous link will I use to drag this to Medway politics? 

Well, there were several stories I considered writing with my favourite being to talk about the famous turn coat Benedict Arnold who became disillusioned with the Colonial cause and swapped sides to the Crown with the hope of giving the strategic fortress of Westpoint over without a fight. Years ago I wrote about Arnold for my politics blog comparing a certain Labour councillor and how they defected from the Liberal Democrats to an independent then onto Labour taking their ward with them but ultimately I like my Twitter timeline free of politics and stress so I’ve left that one alone. Another example would be when Mark Reckless defected to UKIP or Rehman Chishti’s swap from Labour to Conservative.

There is comparing Brexit to Amexit (Is that a thing? Can I make that a thing?) but that is flogging a dead horse at the moment and again, I like peace, quiet and history research not angry Brexiteers calling me a remoaner and flooding my timeline.

I’m now moved to talk about something less confrontational and definitely more boring – Mexit – the Medway town’s exit from Kent and its own declaration of independence.

The independence day of the Medway towns is the 1st April 1998 when Gillingham Borough Council was fused with Rochester-upon-Medway City Council to take on the new guise of Medway Council – a borough council with the powers of a non-metropolitan county and district council all rolled up into one big package and more importantly, separate from Kent County Council. There was resistance to this and the Liberal Democrat councillors in Gillingham, who ran the borough, refused to officially close their last council meeting thus, technically leaving the borough council still in existence. 

With all events in history this event was preceded by moves and amalgamations over many years with the first serious moves being made during the Second World War when in 1944 an amalgamation board was formed in the Medway towns to discuss the possibility, a possibility that would have got official backing as the Local Boundary Commission of 1948 recommended such a move but nothing transpired but in 1956 Strood rural was admitted to the group. In 1960 the group proposed the absorption of Gillingham & Rainham and Chatham would be absorbed into Rochester-upon-Medway which the Gillingham delegates roundly refused believing the towns should go forward as one rather than under the banner of one. Later that year the committee voted to dissolve itself and the whole scheme was put on hold.

On the 1st April 1974 the Borough of Medway was formed from Chatham, the City of Rochester and a sizable chunk of Strood rural. This break was made possible by the 1972 Local Government Act which aimed to give larger urban areas their own dedicated elected representatives. Although called the Borough of Medway Rochester was allowed to continue to be a city and lead with its title and in 1979 the whole borough was renamed the City of Rochester.

On the 1st April 1998, following a Local Government review Gillingham and the City of Rochester were dissolved and formed into the Unitary authority of Medway Council separating all of the towns from Kent County Council completely and giving the unitary authority power to use its collected taxes for use within the authority and had its own elected councillors. 

Hardly the battle of Saratoga or Yorktown but it did the job. The big problem with the whole Mexit thing was that Rochester lost its city status causing all manner of issues further down the line, including failed bids for the whole authority to become a city, the City of Rochester Society, and a certain political party writing to Nick Clegg to block the 2010 bid.. But all this feels like it should be in another boring history post at another time. 

chrisChris Sams is history writer published by @fonthillmedia. He is a @_uow graduate studying War at Sea 1914-18. Read more at boredhistorian.blogspot.co.uk

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One Reply to “Boring History: Independence Day”

  1. Prior to the merger taking effect from 1/4/98 (with the elections having been held with the GE in 1997) I was a member of the ‘negotiating team’ from RuMCC with GBC. When we started Gillingham Liberals (including former Cllr Bob Sayer) were in favour of the amalgamation. They may then have realised that in a ‘greater Medway’ they would have little chance of controlling the new authority (unlike their previous success in GBC)! They then changed their views on the merger.

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