Once the agreement between tithe and land owners had been made, the chairman of the meeting sent it to the Tithe Commission in London “and the commissioners, by themselves or by some assistant commissioner shall cause inquiry to be made…whether the agreement has been made without fraud or collusion and whether or not it ought to be confirmed.” This necessitated a visit to the parish by a local agent or assistant tithe commissioner and some mention of their roles is worth making. “Although both assistant commissioners and local agents worked locally in the parishes and townships, local agents were only required to visit places where tithe-owners and landowners had agreed the rent-charge to be paid in lieu of tithes, and to report on the fairness of this agreement. An assistant commissioner’s duties were more diverse. Part of his time was spent reporting on agreements which had been reached, but from 1840 a significant proportion of it was in parishes where an agreement could not be reached, and consisted of hearing evidence from both parties and deciding upon the sum to be paid in lieu of tithes, i.e. making an award. Later he might also have to hear appeals against awards, or against the apportionment of rent-charge amongst the landowners” .
The man who came to Child Okeford was not an assistant tithe commissioner but a local agent, George Bolls, from the neighbouring parish of Fontmell Magna. Bolls was an experienced agent, he was himself a land surveyor from the neighbouring village of Fontmell Magna and took part in three hundred and twenty seven commutations. One hundred and sixteen of these were in Dorset with the rest in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. He certainly got around a bit! A local agent “did not require the skill in arbitration which was essential for an assistant commissioner. He did, however, need to be fairly familiar with local tithing customs of the parishes he visited and understand their influence on agricultural practice. He had also to be able to assess the quality and value of land, sometimes several thousand acres of it, in the course of a few hours’ visit. The tithe commissioners, recognizing the importance of local knowledge, chose as local agents men with this type of expertise.” Bolls was an experienced agent, he was himself a land surveyor from the neighbouring village of Fontmell Magna and took part in three hundred and twenty seven commutations. One hundred and sixteen of these were in Dorset with the rest in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. He certainly got around a bit! A local agent “did not require the skill in arbitration which was essential for an assistant commissioner. He did, however, need to be fairly familiar with local tithing customs of the parishes he visited and understand their influence on agricultural practice. He had also to be able to assess the quality and value of land, sometimes several thousand acres of it, in the course of a few hours’ visit. The tithe commissioners, recognizing the importance of local knowledge, chose as local agents men with this type of expertise.”
Letter from George Bolls to the Tithe Commission dated April 1839. Photographed by National Archives for a fee paid by author.
The local agent attending a parish had two tasks. The first was to report on the fairness of the agreement and the second was to review the state of agriculture in the parish. The report on the agreement was undertaken promptly as the letter to the Tithe Commission shows -original formatting removed.
|To the Tithe Commissioners for England and Wales, County of Dorset
Parish of Child Okeford April 26 1839
I have the honour to report to you the result of my inquiries in the above parish which I visited the 25th Inst,
Due notice was given of the meeting signed by the Rectors Agent and affixed on the Church Door The notice was published in the Dorset County Chronicle of the 20th and 27th of September 1838 The meeting was holden within the parish a Chairman duly elected and the adjournments regularly made
The proportion of Interest in the titheable Lands which was represented at the meeting when the agreement was made amounted to £2626 19d 10d
The quantity of interest possessed by Landowners who have not signed the agreement amounted to £766.6s.8d
The Interest in the Tithes was represented by the Rectors Agent
There is a Map of the parish and the quantities of Land Stated in the agreement correct
The Annual value of the Glebe Land about one hundred and forty pounds
No objection has been made
The Rev Charles Edward North the present Rector is the Patron
Mr Martin is appointed the Valuer
Average produce Wheat 25 Bushels Barley 30 Bushels and Clover Hay 20cwt per Acre
Rent-charge agreed upon £250 0s 0d
Average Composition on the seven years previous to Christmas 1835 £250 0s 0d
The tithe-owner paid the Rates
Taking into consideration the value of the modus on Cows to the Landowners of which there are about 230 kept The Rent-charge agreed upon I think is fair and will amount to 5/-s in the pound on the arable and 1s/6d on the Meadow and Pasture Lands The parties are satisfied and I am of opinion the agreement for the Commutation of Tithes for this parish ought to be confirmed
I am Gentleman
Your Obedient servant George Bolls
In undertaking his second task Bolls was not the most informative of the agents. Although he completed 2/3rds of Dorset’s reports he is not very forthcoming about any local agricultural practices. He was not alone. Altogether there were two hundred and eighty three tithe districts  in Dorset and the agents in the other parishes were not much better with the result that “In combination these factors mean that the body of Dorset tithe files is flawed as a source of reconstructing agriculture and farming practices. The entire returns for Dorset…are amongst the fewest for a county of this size”.
The survey of the parishes was an integral part of the commutation process although given its very general and cursory nature it is difficult to see what purpose it actually served or indeed why it was needed in the first place.
The report prepared by George Bolls on the state of agriculture in the parish of Child Okeford. Photographed by National Archives for a fee paid by author.
|How many Acres of Arable Land [ploughed in the present or last season] are there?||114|
|What is the course of Crops?||Three fields|
|What is the nature of the Soil?||Chalk|
|What is the Sub-soil?||Do|
|What description of Timber grown in the Hedge-rows or otherwise?||Oak and Elm|
|What is the fair average rentable Value per acre of the Arable Land||25/- [shillings]|
|What is the number of Acres of Pasture including seeds?||1039|
|What is the nature of the soil?||Sand|
|What is the nature of the sub-soil?||Gravel|
|What description of Timber?||Elm|
|What is the number of acres of Common Down||402|
|Stock Number of Cows?
|230 Modus of 4d each and 3d each Heifer
|What is the fair average rentable value of the pasture?||45/-|
|Ditto of the Common Down?||5/-|
|Average Composition on the seven years previous to Christmas 1835||£250 0s 0d|
At the end of the report Bolls are two sets of figures that I have laid out in tabular form.
|One-fifth of the arable at||25/s||Per acre||43||0||0|
|One -eighth of the Pasture at||45/s||Per acre||276||3||9|
|One- eighth of the Down at||5/s||Per acre||12||11||3|
|One -tenth of the Common||20/s||Per acre||2||2||2|
|Total Rent-charge, exclusive of Glebe||250||0||0|
|Difference||Not half the value of the modus.||84||17||0|
It is not clear what this first set of figures actually means but the second set [below] shows how the rent-charge was to be divided amongst the different qualities of land.
In his report to the commission Bolls ends with a set of data that has tabulated below and is titled, “Remarks, stating the peculiar circumstances of the Parish, which may affect the value of the tithe.”
|Acres||At shillings||£ s d||£ s d|
|982||Meadow & Pasture||45/-||2209.10.0||At 1/8||184.2.6|
|21||Coppice||20/-||21. 0. 0||1/10||2.2.0|
In the spirit of the act the landowner had great freedom of action “They may select what valuers they please, and what number of valuers; they may give those valuers specific instructions, or leave them to apportion by their own discretion, guided only by the general words of the act. They may, by means of those specific instructions, apportion the rent-charge, field by field, or on their gross estates; or partly field by field, and partly on estates; or, with the assent of the tithe owners, they may charge it on certain portions of their estates, leaving the other portions tithe free…. Amidst all this liberty, there is only one restraint: they must take care to be impartial—to oppress no one of the minority; and every individual of the minority has always an appeal to the commissioners.”
In the table we see how the landowners wanted to apportion the rent-charge according to the differing land types. The £20 rent-charge due on the glebe land is not included in this calculation as it applied to the whole of the glebe regardless of its state of cultivation.
The bulk of the apportionment was to fall on the meadow and pasture land which, was the most valuable land in the parish to hold. The first line is slightly odd as the ‘At’ column should be at ¼ rather than 5/, but otherwise the figures listed in the report are in reasonably close accord with the amounts allocated in the final apportionment. For Down land the final apportionment for the 400 acres was £5.12s 0d for the Coppice £2 3s 9d and the arable £54 19s 7d. The Meadow and pasture have not been checked. The agreement was confirmed on the 4th May 1839.
Next A Valuer calls
Previous The Agreement
1 Assistant Commissioners and Local Agents: Their Role in Tithe Commutation, 1836-1854 By H M E HOLT British Agricultural History Review vol 32 1984.
2 Based on the fact that as he is not listed as an ATC he must have been a local agent.
3 Assistant Commissioners and Local Agents: Their Role in Tithe Commutation, 1836-1854 By H M E HOLT British Agricultural History Review vol 32 1984.
4 Assistant Commissioners and Local Agents: ibid
5 A tithe district was not quite the same as a parish. Some places were ‘extra-parochial’ i.e. they did not belong to a parish. In some parishes the tithe was paid to different rectors and so on. For our purposes unless otherwise stated we will call a parish and a tithe district the same.
6 Kain et al “An Atlas and Index of the Tithe Files of mid-nineteenth century England and Wales”