Local Government in Ivybridge during the first half of the nineteenth century had been of a parochial basis under the ancient four parishes of Harford, Cornwood, Ugborough and Ermington. Whilst in 1836 the ecclesiastical district of Ivybridge was formed, taking in parts of these four parishes, it wasn’t until the second half of the nineteenth century that local administration was addressed, driven largely by public health issues.
The Public Health Act 1848 saw the introduction of an organised structure for public health across the nation. In areas which were reporting high death rates, with diseases such as cholera, an elected Board of Health was required but this only covered around 10 per cent of the urban population. The creation of a truly nation-wide Public Health Service did not occur until 1872 with the Public Health Act which mapped out the country into Sanitary Districts and elected Boards of Health. This brought the supply of water, sewerage, drainage, street cleansing, paving and environmental health regulation under a single local body.
On 6 Jan 1873 the eleven strong members of the Local Board of Health were declared in Ivybridge. In rural districts at this time, only ratepayers in respect of property and land situated within the district were eligible to vote in the election of board members. Furthermore, large property owners could have multiple votes depending on the overall value of their estate. It therefore followed that it was generally wealthy property owners or members of the professions that secured office. The first board was made up of William Abbot; Edward Allen, John Allen and John Allen Jnr; Robert Ford; Francis Holman; Samuel Head; William Mallett; Whinfield Robinson; Benjamin Sherwell and James Hill Toms.