Before the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848, Burnham (which included the hamlets of Highbridge and Edithmead) was very much in the hands of the Vestry and the Church wardens, though the 1832 Poor Law Act meant the relief of paupers had passed to the Board of Guardians at Axbridge, where a new “workhouse” was built, dubbed the “Bastille of the Poor”.
Following a government enquiry, a Board of Health was set up in 1850; bit by bit, they took steps to bring services like water, sewerage, gas and street repairs to the town.
By 1895, an urban district council was established in Burnham to replace the Board, but it had no responsibility for Highbridge (which had become a separate ecclesiastical parish when a new church and vicarage was built in 1859, the gift of Mrs Fownes-Luttrell, who lived at Badgworth Court. The tall church spire had to be removed in 1911, as the original foundations were not strong enough to take its weight).
Highbridge, then a rapidly growing village like Burnham Without, came under Axbridge Rural District Council - but only until 1897 when it, too, became an Urban District with its own town hall.
1889 saw the establishment of County Councils (in the place of Quarter Sessions which had had many county responsibilities), and the first three initial meetings for Somerset were held – not in Taunton – but in Highbridge, called by the High Sheriff. To mark the centenary in January 1989, the writer of this piece obtained £500 from the County’s chairman, Mr Hobhouse, for the making of a fine refectory table of seasoned English oak and this now stands in the new Highbridge Community Hall. In 1933, with both towns expanding, and the salaries of qualified officers to be met, the two urban district councils amalgamated to form Burnham Urban District Council.
In 1961 Burnham Urban District Council was granted its own Coat of Arms by royal warrant, based on a design by Miss Diana Lee from Burnham. The low lighthouse and the setting sun represent Burnham, whilst Highbridge is represented by the “high bridge” (the original no longer exists) which gave its name to the town, and the bulls’ head which represents the market and agricultural interests.
The heraldic water in the shield (alternate blue and white wavy bars) represents both the River Brue at Highbridge and the sea at Burnham, whilst the gold on the shield is said to represent the sands at Burnham. The motto “lumen monstro pro salute” roughly means “a great light to greet you” referring of course to the lighthouse.
1974 saw the creation of Sedgmoor District Council, an amalgamation of Bridgwater Borough and Rural Districts, Burnham Urban District and parts of Axbridge Rural District (which at 55,000 was one of the biggest "rurals" in the country).
Burnham Urban lost most of its own decision making powers, and reverted back to a "parish" - Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge Town Council - but was granted the right to call its chairman "Mayor" and put Highbridge back into its title.