Thursday, 8 February 2018

Resisting tithes

Tithes were traditional payments that entitled the Church to a tenth of people’s annual income. Usually the payments were made in kind in the form of crops, wool, milk and other produce, to represent a tenth of the yearly production. After the Reformation, much land passed from the Church to lay owners who inherited entitlement to receive tithes, along with the land. This payment was demanded whether or not the parishioner attended Church and they—and church rates--were a bone of contention across the country. In Scotland, a form of commutation of teinds applied from 1633 even though full reform was not carried out until the 1930s.[1] The main difference between tithes in England and teinds in Scotland was that tithes were calculated as a proportion—a tenth—of produce whereas teinds were calculated as a proportion of the rateable value of agricultural land set against the current price of produce. This made Scottish ministers more vulnerable to loss of income than the English clergy particularly after poor harvests. It also meant that tithes were far less contentious in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain and Ireland.[2] Though compulsory church rates were not abolished until 1868, legal judgements made it clear that they could only be collected where authorised by the churchwardens and a majority of the vestry. As Nonconformists were eligible to vote for both, in some towns such as Birmingham the rate lapsed.  This was preferable to Nonconformists than the scheme that the House of Commons seriously considered for repairing all parish churches from public funds.[3] The Tithe Commutation Act 1836 ended tithes in kind in England and Wales replacing them with money payments called tithe rentcharge based on the average prices of corn, oats and barley over the previous seven years. Tithes remained contentious issue in England and Wales for the remainder of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Legislation in 1925, 1936 and 1951 reduced payments but it was not until the Finance Act 1977 that tithes were finally abolished.[4]
Resistance to paying tithes was common in East Anglia, Sussex and Kent where there had been a long tradition of Nonconformity that in their geographical links to Lollardy pre-dated the Reformation. In Kent for instance, about 3,000 people met at Barham Downs in May 1834[5] to denounce the evils inflicted by tithes while the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1883 that support for tithe protestors was especially strong in the Weald.[6] Tithe disputes intensified in the inter-war years largely because of the major changes in land ownership after the Great War when tenant farmers bought farms, paying ‘over the odds’ and taking out large mortgages. Bailiffs who were sent to distrain farmers’ goods for non-payment of tithes or even to evict non-paying farmers were met with violent resistance and Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury was burned in effigy by a crowd in Ashford in 1935.[7] Feelings ran particularly high in Kent and Norfolk, where the novelist Doreen Wallace was a leading campaigner.[8] In some areas farmers were supported by local members of the British Union of Fascists but during the anti-tithe militancy in Suffolk in 1933, Blackshirts went down from London to join the disturbances.[9] There was also a legacy of tithe payment levels after 1918 that were pegged at what had become unrealistically high levels that was coupled to the centralised collection of tithe through offices at Westminster Abbey. This was exacerbated by agricultural depression of the late 1920s and into the 1930s when prices tumbled making tithe payments increasingly onerous. A national Tithe Payers’ Association was formed in the mid-1920s to campaign for the abolition of Tithe Rent Charge and there were at least six branches in Kent by the mid-1930s, at Ashford, Elham, Paddock Wood, Sandwich, Stansted and the Weald. Across communities there was a common hatred of what people saw as an out-dated system that mercilessly exploited rural communities.[10]
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ policy of seizing goods in lieu of tithe payments required them or their agents to turn the goods into cash, and initially the means used for the latter was to auction them off. Following several very public debacles at Ruckinge and Stelling Minnis in September 1931 where those sympathetic to those refusing to pay tithes put up ridiculously high bids and otherwise disrupted the auction process, the authorities turned to alternative methods--public tender using the services of possession men. Perhaps the best known incident in the ‘Kentish Tithe War’ was ‘the battle of the ducks’, their ‘liberation’ and return to their ‘rightful’ pond at Beechbrook Farm in Westwell.[11] The campaign began when between 70 and a 100 people, mostly young men and some with trucks met at the Half-Way House on the Dover Road. This was not far from Shepherdswell where the ducks had been taken on the orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to their farm called West Court Farm, run by their tenant. The ducks and other livestock had been seized because the farmer at Westwell, the Rev. Roderick Kedward, had refused as a matter of principle to pay the tithes demanded of him. Kedward (1881-1937) was a Methodist minister from a Westwell farming family, Ashford’s only ever Liberal MP from 1929 to 1931 and President of the National Tithe Payers' Association in 1932. The night-time raid in September 1934 was reported in the national press the following day making the Church authorities even more furious. They sent General Dealers their agents to retake the ducks and the other items that had not been collected during the first sequestration, and also persuaded the Police to provide a substantial guard at West Court Farm for the whole of the following week.
Tithe 1
In Wales there was often a deep-seated antipathy between largely English-speaking Anglican landlords and their Nonconformist Welsh-speaking tenants. A government report of 1844 observed that the existence of the Welsh language and a widespread ignorance of English were ‘felt in a practical shape in the obstacles which it presents to the efficient working of many laws and institutions’.[12] Welsh was linked to poverty and a general lack of prosperity: an ignorance of English stated another report of 1846, was ‘one of the great causes of the backward state of the Welsh part of the population’.[13] It was perceived as excluding its speakers from participation in that key element of British imperial identity, economic trade.[14] Nonconformity was mistrusted not only for its strong identification with Welsh culture and language, but also because of its democratic structure, its populist and community orientated appeal. It was considered potentially dangerous and politically destabilising to encourage ordinary working-class people to debate contentious theological issues or participate in the election of their ministers. The growing antagonism between the Established Church and Nonconformity soon developed into a political movement that was rural society’s contribution to Welsh radicalism. In 1836, the Church Rate Abolition Society was formed and branches established in Wales. Irish disestablishment was also a burning issue and the Anglican Y Gwyliedydd condemned this as a symptom of an alliance to destroy church and state.[15] The conflict between church and chapel generated an aggressive religious radicalism among some Nonconformists and in 1837, a Baptist periodical called on its readers in the following terms: ‘Christians! Use your vote as those in the service of God, not man’.[16] The accusation of atheism fired Nonconformists to a more determined effort to break the connection between church and state.
Constabular and lancers in Denbigh
Police and lancers in Denbighshire in 1888
Despite the introduction of cash payment instead of payment in kind after 1836, there was persistent unhappiness among Welsh farmers, most of whom were Nonconformists while the agricultural depression in the 1870s further aggravated tensions.[17] Many farmers refused to pay the tithe and during the 1880s enforced sales of possessions were made by the authorities in order to collect the taxes owed. This led to confrontation between farmers and the authorities across the country. There were disturbances in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and other rural areas. The people who suffered most from suspension of paying tithes were the clergy who relied on tithes for the bulk of their stipend. One clergyman who was supposed to received £200, actually got £8 in 1887. A Clergy Defence Association was established in Cardigan to protect their interests and took charge of the legal process of enforcing payment of tithes. When distraining goods for non-payment, collectors were faced with large crowds that jostled and verbally abused bailiffs and attempts to sell the distrained goods at auctions often saw crowd violence. ‘Tithe Horns’ were sounded to summon the scattered population to farms where sales were to be held.
Police in a ‘Tithe train’, Denbigh 1894
The confrontation was most pronounced in Denbighshire.[18] Denbigh was the headquarters of the Welsh National Land League--modelled on the Irish Land League—that lobbied against tithe payment. Denbighshire farmers were not necessarily any more resentful than those in the country but the presence of the League’s headquarters and the influence of Thomas Gee meant that tensions were particularly high in the area. Gee was the owner of the local Welsh-language newspaper Baner ac Amserau Cymru and was active in the anti-Tithe campaign. During the late 1880s many farmers took direct action refusing to pay tithes. This led to further enforced sales of land and property and violent protests took place in Llangwm in May 1887, Mochdre in June 1887[19] and Llanefydd in May 1888.  Following the incident at Llangwm, 31 protesters were sent to court and at Mochdre 84 people, including 35 police officers were injured. Dubbed the ‘Tithe Wars’, the protestors’ actions were praised by Gee’s newspaper as the campaign’s momentum reached its peak when troops were deployed to the Denbighshire area in May and June 1888 and August 1890 to control the discontent and protect the tithe collectors in carrying out their unpopular duties.[20]   The disturbances largely ended in 1891 when the Tithe Recovery Act transferred responsibility for the payment of the tithe from the tenant to the landlord. This made the payment of tithes easier to enforce and the unpopularity of the tithe-owners rapidly declined. Protests and violent action continued to the mid-1890s and surfaced again in 1913 but they lacked the intensity of those in the 1880s. The struggle brought Welsh issues to the forefront of the British political agenda especially its links to the campaign for the disestablishment of the Welsh Church. Individuals such as David Lloyd George and particularly T. E. Ellis seized the opportunity to strengthen the case for disestablishment that was eventually achieved in 1920 with the passing of the Welsh Church Act. As the Church in Wales became independent of the state, tithes were no longer available leaving the church it without a major source of income.

In Ireland, Catholic peasants had to pay tithes to maintain the Anglican Church of Ireland and demands for their abolition was the most pressing Irish problem facing Whig governments in the 1830s.[21] The 22 Protestant bishops were paid £150,000 a year while the rest of the Established Church received £600,000 more, largely from Roman Catholics who were supporting their own church as well. Resistance to tithes was seen as a prelude to resistance on the payment of rent, a far greater threat to public order and institutional stability. Parliamentary investigations into the rampant abuses and severe structural problems of the Church of Ireland left it with few defenders, while the ranks of tithe opponents swelled with the addition of large farmers and graziers after legislation in 1823 extended tithes to their previously exempt grasslands.[22] The existing protest against tithes but this took on a more organised dimension after 1830 first in the southern provinces of Leinster and Munster spreading quickly to Connacht and Ulster.[23] Protest soon became violent and in 1832 there were 242 murders, 300 attempted murders and 560 cases of arson. Initially responsive to tithe owners’ demand for protection during tithe collection, Dublin Castle’s willingness to provide police escorts waned after the murder of 12 constables at Carrickshock in late 1831.[24] Tithes were of less concern to either smallholders or landless labourers than middling and large farmers. Tithe owners were instead encouraged to accept the money offered to them in 1832 and 1833 while more substantial legislation was under consideration. Unfortunately, parliamentary action was delayed for the next five years, leaving tithe owners free to continue collecting payments with its unchecked potential for violence, such as the murderous affray at Rathcormac in December 1834, when 12 men were killed.[25] The tithe war finally quieted down after the spring of 1835 when the new Whig government and especially Thomas Drummond, the Irish Under-Secretary refused to allow police escorts for tithe business. Tithe opponents resorted to holding meetings to petition Parliament to abolish tithes until the 1838 Tithe Rent Charge Act effectively ended hostilities by transferring responsibility of paying tithes from the Catholic peasantry to Protestant landlords.[26] With the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, tithes were abolished.

[1] Black, William G., What are Teinds? An Account of the History of Tithes in Scotland, (William Green & Sons), 1893, pp. 66-91.[2] ‘History and Settlement of Tithes in Scotland’, The Edinburgh Review, Vol. 75, (February 1823), pp. 1-26[3] Brent, Richard, ‘The Whigs and Protestant dissent in the decade of reform: the case of church rates, 1833-1841’, English Historical Review, Vol. 102, (1987), pp. 887-910.[4] Evans, E. J., The Contentious Tithe: The Tithe Problem and English Agriculture 1750-1830, (Routledge), 1976, pp. 163-168, considers developments after 1836.[5] ‘Meeting on Barham Downs’, Kentish Gazette, 20 May 1834, p. 3, an extensive report on the meeting.[6] ‘The Extraordinary Tithes’, Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 14 September 1883, p. 5. [7] ‘Sir W. Wayland and Tithes’, Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, 13 April 1935, p. 16.[8] For instance, ‘Intensive Campaign in Kent and Sussex’, Kent & Sussex Courier, 13 October 1933, p. 19. [9] ‘Fascists’ Retort’, Bury Free Post, 12 August 1933, p. 8, ‘Week-end Tithe Scenes’, Bury Free Post, 13 August 1933, p. 8. See also, Mitchell, Andre M., Facism in East Anglia: The British Union of Fascists in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, 1933-1940, D,Phil., Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1999.[10] Twinch, Carol, Tithe War, 1918-1939: The Countryside in Revolt, (Media Associates), 2001), Griffiths, Clare, Labour and the Countryside: The Politics of Rural Britain 1918-1939, (Oxford University Press), 2007, provides context.[11] ‘Sixty Ducks Seized’, Kent & Sussex Courier, 7 September 1934, p. 2, ‘Excitement in East Kent Tithe War, Dover Express, 7 September 1934, p. 8.[12] Roberts, Gwyneth Tyson, The Language of the Blue Books: The Perfect Instrument of Empire, (University of Wales Press), 1998, p. 20.[13] Jones, Ieuan Gwynedd, Mid-Victorian Wales: The Observers and the Observed, (University of Wales Press), 1992, p. 123. [14] Jenkins, Geraint H., Language and Community in the Nineteenth Century, (University opf Wales Press), 1998, and Jenkins, Geraint H., Welsh Language and its Social Domains: A Social History of the Welsh Language, (University of Wales Press), 2000.[15] Y Gwyliedydd, 1836, pp. 172, 267.[16] Greal y Bedyddwyr, 1837, p. 225.[17] Thomas, Revd D., The Anti-Tithe Movement in Wales, (Llanelli), 1891, pp. 4-5, attached great importance to the depression in farming as a cause of the anti-tithe demonstrations.[18] Davies, Russell, Secret Sins. Sin, Violence & Society in Carmarthenshire 1870-1920, (University of Wales Press), 1996, pp. 135-139, Jones, Tim, Rioting in North East Wales 1536-1918, (Bridge Books), 1997, pp. 56-74, Edwards, E. R., The Tithe Wars in North-East Wales, (Coelion Publications), 1989, Dunbabin, J. P. D., Rural Discontent in Nineteenth Century Britain, (Faber), 1974, pp. 211-231, 282-296. .[19] ‘The Tithe Riots in Wales’, The Spectator, 4 June 1887, pp. 7-8.[20] ‘The Anti-Tithe Agitation in Wales’, The Spectator, 4 January 1890, pp. 26-27, review of work by R. E. Prothero published in London the previous year.[21] O’Donoghue, Patrick, ‘Causes of the Opposition to Tithes, 1830-38’, Studia Hibernica, Vol. 5, (1965), pp. 7-28.[22] See, for instance, Select Committee concerning Tithes in Ireland, First and Second Report, 1831.[23] For the tithe war from a local perspective, see O’Hanrahan, M., ‘The Tithe War in County Kilkenny 1830-1834’, in Nolan, William, and Whelan, Kevin, (eds.), Kilkenny: History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County, (Geography Publications), 1990, pp. 481-505, Higgins, N., Tipperary’s tithe war 1830-1838 : parish accounts of resistance against a church tax, (St. Helena Press), 2002, and Tierney, Mark, ‘The Tithe War in Munroe, 1831-8’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 103, (1965), pp. 209-221.[24] Owens, G., ‘The Carrickshock Incident, 1831: Social Memory and an Irish cause célèbre’, Cultural and Social History, Vol. 1, (1), (2004), pp. 36-64.[25] Garner, Edward, Massacre at Rathcormac, (Eigse Books), 1984. See also, McMahon, R., ‘‘A violent society’? Homicide rates in Ireland, 1831-1850’, Irish Economic and Social History, Vol. 36, (1), (2009), pp. 1-20, places the violence in Irish society before 1837 in a European context. [26] In 1832, the Tithe Arrears Act allocated £600,000 to the relief of tithe owners and empowered the government to collect arrears for 1831. The Tithe Composition Act also in 1832 converted the tithe into a money payment and made landlords responsible for payment. Tithe bills introduced in 1834, 1835 and 1836 foundered on the question of appropriation.[27] See Article III of the Articles Declaratory contained in the Schedule to the Church of Scotland Act 1921.[28] Dominguez, Juan Pablo, ‘Religious toleration in the Age of Enlightenment’, History of European Ideas, Vol. 43 (4), (2017), pp. 273-287, Henriques, Ursula, Religious Toleration in England, 1787-1833, (Routledge), 1961, pp. 18-53.[29] Salbstein, M. C. N., The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain, (Associated University Presses), 1982, pp. 17-55.