The Kingswinford Tithe Agreement

The 1840 Fowler Map

In Kingswinford Manor and Parish (KMAP) I have written extensively about the two Fowler Maps of 1822 and 1840 – two large scale maps of the parish that were produced for the landowners  by W. Fowler and Co. and which, together with their Books of Reference that give names of owners and occupiers, give a detailed picture of the life of the parish at that time. When the Staffordshire Tithe Maps were published on line by Staffordshire Fast Track, and described in outline in another blog post, it came as a considerable surprise to me to find that the Kingswinford Tithe Map was actually a version of the 1840 Fowler map, with some added information on tithe rental values and ownership. In this post, I will belatedly (and to my shame as I should have known about this much earlier) consider this new material in the light of the discussion in KMAP, to see what new insights it brings.

Tithes before 1840

The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 replaced the old tithe system in which a tenth of the produce of the land was given to the church either in kind, or through a cash allocation, with a rental system where a tithe rental charge was allocated for each portion of land. In preparation for the Act, in 1832 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners wrote to the incumbent of every parish in the country asking for details of their income from tithes and other sources. The returns for Kingswinford parish are shown in table 1.

Table 1 Church income 1832

The chapel of St Michael at Brierley Hill had been opened in the 1760s and was staffed by a Perpetual Curate. The new parish church was Holy Trinity at Wordsley, which was built in 1831, when the old parish church of St Mary in Kingswinford village was felt to be too small for the growing population, and was also suffering damage to its fabric due to mining subsidence. The Rector was based at the former whilst the latter was staffed by a Perpetual Curate. It can be seen that the income has three components – tithes and easter offerings, rental from Glebe land (land set aside for the use of the clergy) and other sources. The Perpetual Curates relied on the latter, with the tithe and glebe income going to the Rector. The overall figure for the Rector of £1130 would have made the parish one of the most lucrative in the county (see E Evans 1970, “A History of the tithe system in England 1690-1859 with special reference to Staffordshire”, PhD thesis, Warwick University), and was much sought after by clergy in the eighteenth and nineteenth who often did not take up residence and left all their duties to paid curates, but took most of the income for themselves.

Before the passing of the Act, the collection of tithes would have been an arduous affair, and would usually have been carried out by a paid tithe collector, who would travel around the parish at harvest time to take their due from the landowner, and would also assess and collect a tenth of the other produce of the land – in terms of cattle, sheep, wool etc.. In Kingswinford there were more than a hundred tithe payers, and over two thousand distinct plots of land and tithe collection was obviously a complex affair. In addition, there were a range of extra customary dues that had to be collected, known as moduses. For example, for Kingswinford parish these included a modus of two pence / per acre on all meadow and pasture land; one penny and a halfpenny for a cow and a calf; one penny for a garden; and four pence for a colt. Not all land was treated in the same way – for example the lands enclosed by the Ashwood Hey Enclosure in 1776 were only liable for the tithes of “wool and lamb”. When the difficulties of collecting all that was due are considered, it can be seen that the move to a tithe rental was a major simplification and seems to have been broadly welcomed in the parish.

The Rector and landowners of the parish were keen to move to a new system, and soon after the Act became law they moved quickly to reach a voluntary agreement on tithe rental by June 1838. In many other parishes in the county and elsewhere agreement on tithe rentals could not be reached voluntarily and tithe commissioners imposed a valuation. The results of the agreement are contained within the Tithe Allocation agreement and the associated map. 

The Tithe Allocation agreement

The total area of the parish of Kingswinford was 7319 acres. Of this, 6032 acres (82.5%) was allocated a tithe rental.  The only recipient of tithe rentals was the Rector of the parish, George Saxby Penfold, which was one reason why reaching agreement was straightforward. The total rental allocation was £813. Of those lands that were assessed for no payment, 174 acres was Glebe (i.e. allocated to the Rector, who was not expected to pay the tithe rental to himself, and usually rented to others for farming) and 178 acres was the Corbyn’s Hall estate which was tithe free (see below). The rest of the untithed land was composed of many very small plots of land which presumably had their allocation rolled into nearby tithed land, so as to simplify the allocation and collection procedure. (Note that these figures are taken from summing those that have been transcribed from the Fowler Reference and the Tithe Agreement, and do not quite match the equivalent figures in the tithe agreement, due to  differences in the allocation of plots to different categories. The differences are however small and of no real consequence.)

The fact that Corbyn’s Hall was specified as tithe free is of interest. It is not clear why this is the case but was presumably the result of how the estate was originally established. In KMAP I speculated that the Corbyn’s Hall, Tiled House and Bromley Hall estates were originally one land unit. The fact that the latter two were allocated tithe rentals in the normal way suggests that this might not have been the case. At the time of the tithe allocation map, the extent of the Corbyn’s Hall estate was very similar to that shown on a  1703 map of the estate shown in outline in figure 1 below (again from KMAP), and included the region around Corbyn’s Hall and Shut End, some land in the Tansey green region and a block of land around Standhills.

Figure 1 1703 map of Corbyn’s Hall estate

The way in which tithe rentals were allocated to individual portions of land is not wholly clear from the tithe agreement. The land in the parish seems to have been allocated to a small number of land use categories – arable, meadow and pasture; woodland; and a further miscellaneous category combining mines, road and houses etc. The calculation given in the tithe agreement gives 3486 acres of arable land; 1532 acres of meadow or pasture; 154 acres of woodland; and 1655 acres in the miscellaneous category. A rental / charge per acre was applied to each category other than the miscellaneous for which no charge was allocated. For the arable land this was based on a weighted average of the cost of wheat, barley and oats over the previous few years.  

If the tithe rentals for plots of land greater than one acre in size are plotted against the allocated rental (figure 2) it is clear that there were two basic rental allocations – one at around 5s per acre (the green line) and one at around 1s per acre (the red line). In general arable land and high status houses and ground cluster around the green line, and pasture and woodland around the red line. There is considerable scatter about these lines however, which no doubt reflects the specific circumstances of each plot of land and lengthy debates between the landowner and the Rector.  In the area that was enclosed by the Ashwood Hay act, the arable land is also clustered around the lower red line, no doubt reflecting the lower tithes that were prescribed by the act (see above). Most of the land in the miscellaneous category was not allocated a tithe rental.

Figure 2 Tithe Allocation

Table 2. Tithe payers and landowners

In total there were one hundred and twenty six tithe payers, although this involved some duplication due to some individuals being involved in partnerships that were assessed for tithes. Of these one hundred payed less than £5 and sixty six payed less than £1. The fourteen who payed more than £10 are shown in table 2. The cumulative tithe column in the table shows that three quarters of the tithe rental was paid by just thirteen individuals or organisations. The percentage of the tithe that each payed is also given, as is the percentage of the land that they owned (from KMAP, chapter 4). As is to be expected, the figures in these columns correlate quite well, with the percentage of tithe rental being in general greater than the percentage of land, due to the significant proportion of untithed land.

The other major landowners given in KMAP are the Glebe lands, the lands of John and Benjamin Gibbons,, and the Stourbridge Canal Company.  As noted above, the Glebe lands were tithe free and provided the Rector with an income as they were rented out for farming. The Gibbons main holdings were on the tithe-free Corbyn’s Hall estate. It would also seem that when the Stourbridge Canal Company was formed it purchased land without the tithe obligations, and the land it gained in the Fens area from the enclosure of Pensnett Chase was also tithe free.

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