More About Tithes

The change from payments in kind to cash payments did not remove all complaint about the system. There was sustained interest in further change – with abolition the ultimate goal – and in Penallt the following report appeared in the parish magazine for March 1889. (The link with the price of corn is interesting – a fall in the price hit the clergy as well as the farmers.)

“The Monthly Meeting of the Men’s Union was held on 22nd February when the subject which has been unanimously chosen at the last meeting, i.e. Tithes, was introduced by the Vicar, the Rev. R. Goldney.” He pointed to their origin in the Old Testament times and their survival in the early Christian Church. “As England became an organised State, tithes as by custom due, were recognised and enforced by the various Acts of Parliament. These tithes were paid in ‘kind’ or goods and fruits of the earth till 1836, when money payments were substituted by Act of Parliament, this Rent Charge to vary with the price of corn on a seven years’ average. The fall in the price of corn had, of late, seriously affected the incomes of the clergy, £100 of the tithe being worth only £81 or 19 percent less than the nominal value, besides heavy deductions for rates, taxes and expenses of collection. He calculated that in the Parish of Penallt, with a nominal Tithe Rent Charge of £156 a year, only about half that sum was available for personal use and maintenance of the Vicar, besides his glebe.

Referring to the cry for Disendowment of the Church, Mr. Goldney made it clear that the so-called Abolition of Tithes, for which some hoped as a relief from their burdens, would in reality be no relief at all as Tithes would have to be paid to the State, whose agents would collect them far more rigorously than the Parson, and they would be devoted to objects, which would in appreciable way benefit the farmer. As it was, Tithes secured to every Parish in England valuable religious privileges, which, in poor country districts especially, would be withdrawn, if the endowments of the Church were diverted to secular purposes, and a great injustice would thus be done to the poorer members of the community. Mr. Pelham mentioned that with regard to the amount claimed by the Vicar, the apportionment and map, which every parishioner had a right to inspect, was decisive. Mr. Goldney announced that he was engaged in drawing a corrected tithe list, which had not been amended for many years, and expressed hope that every tithe-payment would refer to the apportionment and satisfy himself that the amount on his notice paper was exact. A general discussion followed.”

It is not clear on what grounds the Vicar claimed that tithes would have to be paid if not to the Vicar to the state, but it was sound politics to claim that, if this happened, the farmers would face a much more rigorous regime. The system which has survived in one form or another for centuries was finally abolished only in 1936. But in 1889, Mr. Goldney was defending one of his sources of income, (and the power to remit the charge in cases of extreme poverty). He received all the income from tithes but complained about deductions he could not evade. In fact, however, he was more fortunate that many of his predecessors. Before the Reformation “the Church” taught that the tithe should properly be divided into four parts – one for the bishop “if he needed it” (!), one for the parish priest, one for the repair of the church and one for the poor of the parish. But a cursory glance at the history of the system shows how complicated and various were the customs, legal rights, evasions and mis-uses, both before and after the 16th century, and that the Act of 1836 to begin to regularise the system acceptably was long overdue.

[from: Penallt Revisited]