The Tithe Commutation Act 1836

Tithe commutation was the process by which the payment in kind was substituted for a cash payment. The Tithe Commutation Act was designed to ensure that this was achieved quickly throughout the country.

Tithes were still payable in almost all Welsh parishes (and in a majority of English parishes too) in 1836. The early 18th century had been an age of much political, social and economic reform. There had been an increasing demand for the Commutation of Tithe (some reformers campaigned for the abolition of tithe) and in 1836 the government of the day successfully steered the Tithe Commutation Bill through Parliament. The Act received the Royal Assent on 13 August 1836.

The Process of Commutation

The 1836 Act set up the Tithe Commission headed by 3 Commissioners sitting in London:

  • William Balmire
  • Thomas Wentworth Buller
  • Rev. Richard Jones

William Balmire was the chairman. A Cumberland farmer, he had to resign as MP on his appointment to the Commission. The Rev. Richard Jones was the Archbishop of Canterbury's nomination.

Establishing tithe districts

The first tasks of the Commissioners were to find out where commutation had already taken place, and also to establish the boundaries of every unit in which tithes were paid separately. This unit was known as a tithe district to distinguish it from a parish or township. Enquiries were directed to every parish or township listed in the census returns. The results of these enquiries are found in the Tithe Files (Held in Class IR18 at The National Archives).

There are 1,132 Tithe Files for Wales and they include all districts in Wales, not only those places where tithe was still paid in 1836. Tithe districts are usually parishes, but a minority are townships, and some are chapelries, hamlets, or extra-parochial places, many of which enjoyed separate status solely for tithe commutation purposes.

Cases where no Apportionment was made

In Wales only 41 files do not have a corresponding tithe map. Of these, 5 refer to duplicate files under alternative names for the same district; 9 refer to districts already included in other tithe districts. 14 of the 41 files, therefore, do not refer to defined tithe districts.

Of the remaining 27 tithe districts for which no map was prepared we find that in Ifton (Monmouthshire) the tithe had been commuted in the enclosure of 1776. In another 11 districts all the tithe rent-charge was merged before apportionment and the remaining 15 relate to districts where no tithe was paid in 1836, and probably had always been free of tithe. Of these, 9 were very small extra-parochial districts and 6 were former monastic lands. Declarations of merger were prepared for these districts also to regularise the position.

The contents of these files have been described in detail in Kain (1986).

Apportionment

There were 2 distinct stages to the commutation process, first, the fixing of a global assessment for the tithe district and second, the apportioning of the tithe rent-charge on the individual properties.

The apportionment was recorded on a map and in a written schedule. These maps and schedules together constitute what is usually termed by historians ‘the parish tithe survey’. The essential purpose of a survey was to provide an accurate measurement of the acreage of each parcel of land, or tithe area, and record its observed state of cultivation.

The Tithe Act provided for the making of an original and 2 copies of every confirmed instrument of apportionment; all were sealed and signed by the Commissioners. The originals were retained in the custody of the Commissioners and are now in The National Archives. The set is complete.

The copies were deposited with:

  • The Diocesan Registrar: These copies were transferred to the Welsh Church Commission when the Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and in 1944 they were deposited at The National Library of Wales. The set is complete except for those border parishes that opted to join English dioceses at disestablishment. For these tithe districts photographic copies are held at the Library.
  • The incumbent and churchwardens of the parish: Some of these copies remain in the parish churches but many are now deposited in the local record offices. Most record offices also have photocopies of the maps and schedules for their district.

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