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The Agreement

Whilst the Tithe Commutation Act was compulsory and national [to England and Wales at least [ 1], every effort had been made by those drafting the legislation to ensure that the implementation of the act was voluntary and local, tailored to the customs of the parish, and agreed by the landowners and rector. It was quite reasonably assumed that a voluntary arrangement would be more readily accepted and most importantly, cheaper than any externally imposed award. Commentators on the act gave stern warnings about failure to reach a voluntary agreement and appealed to reason since, The policy of apportioning voluntarily will appear obviously to any body of landowners who will reflect on the power which they themselves surrender, and which they invest in the hands of the commissioners”.[2] If the land and tithe owners could not agree an assistant tithe commissioner would be allocated to the parish with the power of making a compulsory award –and that could be expensive!

To illustrate how the commutation of a parish proceeded I have concentrated on two parishes with which you will by now be familiar Child Okeford and Rampisham. Details of the other commutations with which Martin was involved are dealt with in a later section. I start with Child Okeford.

The first stage in any apportionment was to agree the value of the tithe to be commuted. The process was almost always initiated by the rector of the parish when he, or more usually his agent, called a meeting of the landowners. In the case of Child Okeford this was the Revd. Charles Edward North.

North came from a moderately famous family, his great, great grandfather had been attorney-general to James II, but his father, Fountain North, had an unhappy childhood and ran away to sea until his father died and he inherited the family estate. According to the ‘History of Parliament on Line’, Fountain “settled at Hastings and divided his time between there and Hampstead, Middlesex, where he built a house with a flat roof, bulwarks, and portholes, like a man of wars deck, on which he used to pace up and down, firing off cannon from it on all great occasions and birthdays.”

Born in 1789 Charles Edward shared both the same birth year and the same death year as John Martin. As Fountain’s youngest son, Charles Edward, as he was always referred to, followed the almost obligatory course open to such children- he entered the church. A wise move in most cases as it moved his upkeep from the family to the wider community. In 1803, after attending Trinity college Cambridge he was ordained and became a Deacon at Winchester cathedral. After a short spell as curate in South Mimms in 1810 in 1811 he became Rector on the Isle of Portland. How lucrative this was is not known but he held the post for 22 years.

Meanwhile in 1815 Fountain North bought the advowson [3] of the parish of Child Okeford. An advowson was another form of property for it allowed it’s owner, as patron of the parish, to present any suitably qualified clergyman to the diocesan bishop in order to become rector of a parish. The bishop made the actual appointment but unless there were exceptional grounds he had little choice but to accept the patron’s candidate.

This was a ‘nice little earner’, for although Fountain had to buy the advowson from it’s previous owner, once Charles Edward became rector of Child Okeford, he was in effect being supported at public expense, through the tithes, glebe land and all the other fees and charges he was able to claim from the parishioners. North was rector until his death in 1863, some forty eighty years, during which time conservatively he could have been paid some £16,300 in tithes a year – in modern terms about £725,000 over his career.

Charles Edward inherited some of his fathers personality as he was described [after his death] as “of very eccentric habits and of a highly nervous temperament”. For over twenty years he was a ‘pluralist’, being, simultaneously, the rector on the Isle of Portland as well as at Child Okeford. Pluralism came under attack in the 1830’s and he gave up Portland in 1833 but did not become much more active in Child Okeford, as when he died in 1863 it was noted that, “the ministerial duties of the parish” had “been ably and faithfully discharged during a period of 25 years by the Rev D. W Evans the curate”. North died a wealthy man, leaving an estate worth just under £60,000 [£3.5 m today]. Fountain’s investment certainly paid off handsomely and on his death the advowson, passed to his older son who sold it in 1866.

The accepted place to post notices was the door of the parish church, and it is rare for these to survive. Fortunately they were also required to advertise in the local newspapers. Septimus Smith, a prominent local solicitor in Blandford and North’s agent, placed an advert in the Dorset County Chronicle of 7th February 1838, calling a meeting for the 27th March 1838. Like so many meetings in Child Okeford it was held in the Baker Arm’s Inn.

The meeting would have laid the ground work for an agreement and we may imagine that Septimus Smith, on the one side and the landowners on the other, set to work to thrash out a deal. In theory the rent-charge was easy to calculate, as it was based on the average value of the actual tithe that the parishioners had paid in each of the seven years preceding Christmas 1835. If good records had been kept by all sides then we may assume that everything proceeded smoothly.

The clauses contained in the TCA give the impression of a sequence of actions that had to be completed in order and in this sequence the appointment of a valuer, who was usually a land surveyor as well, does not occur until the landowners and the rector had come to terms and reached an agreement. In fact the terms of the act allowed the appointment of a valuer “before or after the confirmation of the agreement”. Although the valuer was paid for by the landowners he was required by law to be impartial and doubtless Septimus Smith, as the rectors agent ensured that he was. It would certainly have made sense to appoint the valuer early in the process, particularly if he had some previous connection with the parish. Some evidence for this comes from the following diary entry,

16th November 1838 Attending the Chelborough Tithe Meeting when I was appointed the apportioner and dined at Mr Crew Jennings

East Chelborough is not far from Evershot but even so it would have been a brave man who attended the meeting without a reasonable expectation that he had got the job – or that he had advised the landowners before the meeting was held. Moreover the agreement at Chelborough was confirmed on 9th February 1839, remarkably rapid progress, also unlikely to have been achieved without a considerable degree of work being done in advance of his appointment.

We can imagine then, that at the initial meeting the Rector produced his invoices, the landowners their receipts and if any discrepancy between the two was found an experienced valuer would help smooth things out. One particular area that was most contentious were what was known as moduses. These were ancient customary payments and were the commonest cause of litigation between the rector’s and landowners. They are discussed in greater detail in the section on the valuerA professional valuer was not obligatory, but the logistical difficulties in completing even the most basic tasks of commutation were considerable and would have been beyond the scope of most non professionals. Even undertaking what seems like a simple task – finding the areas of land that were titheable in the parish- must have posed considerable difficulties. Even in parishes where the apportionment was apparently a simple proposition, when there was only one landowner in the parish for example as at Wraxall, a small parish near Rampisham, it required two valuers to apportion the tithe.

In Child Okeford on the other hand, there were over forty land owners who may well not have known the exact acreage they held. In other parishes identifying the rector might be problematic and there would always be controversy over what were known as moduses . Somebody had to bring all this information together and it is unlikely the landowners would have been happy pass this job over to Septimus Smith, the Rector’s agent.

At Child Okeford the second meeting was called for October 3rd 1838 when, it would appear, that the two parties were almost ready to agree terms. The commutation process generated a large number of sundry documents which were gathered together in a tithe file [in reality a folder] created for each parish and held in the offices of the Tithe Commission in London. The contents of these files varies as they were ‘weeded out’ in a haphazard manner during the early 20th century; fortunately there is sufficient remaining in the Child Okeford file to give us a feel for the process.

What nobody wants to see – a weeded out stamp.

Curiously the tithe file for Child Okeford contains the diocesan copy [rather than the original] of the provisional agreement sent to the Registrar at Sarum [Salisbury]. This shows that the provisional agreement was finally made on the 29th October 1838. Charles Edward North was to receive a rent-charge of £250 with a further £20 for the glebe lands if not in his hands.[4]

The provisional agreement reached the Tithe Commission in London on 11th March 1839 and the text is the same as is used in the final agreement. The only difference being that the provisional agreement is signed by all of the landowners in the parish.

The opening page of the Child Okeford draft agreement sent to the Tithe Commission in London.  Photographed by the National Archives for the author on payment of a fee.

George Peach John Rossiter William Wiltshire Henry Ker Seymer
John Harvey Robert Holdway Laurence St Loe Thomas Tuffin
Susannah Newman Elizabeth Trenchard John Warren Charles E North
George Hatcher Elizabeth Kerly Ann Pain Edward Rossiter
Leah Holdway Mary Ann Lock William Melmoth George Pitt Lord Rivers
Thomas Monk The Mark of Ann Horlock Edward Rose William Ingram
George Monk William Baldwin John Baldwin J H Galpine
Mary Cox

The provisional agreement bears the copy signatures of the landowners. All but one of the signatories could write their names. The content of the agreement will be examined when we come to the Instrument of Apportionment.

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1 Tithes in Ireland were commuted in 1832.

2 Whalley G H The Tithe Act and the whole of the Tithe Amendment Acts London 1848.

3  The right to determine who the rector of the parish should be. As a form of property advowson’s could be bought and sold and were a good investment as the rector got the tithes, glebe land and all the other benefits of office.

4 During medieval times it was the custom of the lord of the manor to allot land, known as Glebe land , for the support of the clergy. The income [agricultural produce] was appropriated to the rector of the parish, usually a monastic institution. If the land was farmed directly by the clergy it was not subject to the tithe but if it was let to a tenant then tithe became due.