Types of Tithe

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We have seen how a basically simple arrangement of farm produce being payable to a parson became rather more complicated as time progressed. The same was true of the tithes themselves. the payment of tithe was a cause of endless dispute between the tithe owners and the tithe payers. Tithes were classified according to their origin. Predial tithes came from the produce of the land (e.g. Corn or hay), mixed tithes came from the stock on the land (e.g. wool or hides), and personal tithes came from the industry of the occupants (an ambiguous and often controversial description e.g. fishing or milling). Most historians accept a simpler distinction between great and small tithes. Great tithes being corn, hay ,and wood, and all other tithes being generally known as small. The accepted custom was that the rector took the great tithes and the vicar the small tithes. The difference in value between great and small tithes meant that vicars frequently lived in some poverty and were often looked down upon by the farmers of the country districts.

Disputes over the nature of tithable produce were frequent from medieval times. In 1595, a vicar attempted to make turkeys and tame partridges tithable. However, partridges were considered as living in a wild state (ferae naturae) and not tithable. Another vicar secured a tenth share of acorns as they were renewable yearly; wild cherries and fallen apples were similarly treated. In another case wild ducks were declared exempt but the eggs laid by tame ducks, which were used to decoy them, were tithable. In 1800 the Rector of Elmsett in Suffolk proved he was due tithe on wood converted into charcoal. Tithes on livestock led to confusing situations. In one parish the vicar was entitled to cows milk every tenth day, but should it be delivered to him or must he collect it ? It was decided that the milk should be delivered - but only as far as the church porch and not to the vicarage.

Market gardening also caused problems; the tithes being awarded to the rector if the land was worked with a plough, but due to the vicar if a spade was used. In short, almost every agricultural process and product attracted controversy over its tithe value. By the eighteenth century the complex legislation surrounding the tithe began to have a detrimental effect on the increasing numbers of farmers working for agricultural improvement. Tithing was seen as increasingly irrelevant to the needs of the community and the developing agricultural industry. By the 1770s widespread demands to abolish the outmoded custom reached their greatest intensity. The closing years of the eighteenth century saw tithes in many parishes commuted into cash payments; subject to a review after a fixed term. Such commutations were usually authorised by private or local Acts of Parliament. In the years up to 1835, over two thousand Acts of Parliament included arrangements for tithes to be commuted into annual cash payments or by awarding allotments of land to the tithe owner and extinguishing the tithe completely. However, such Acts were purely local in their effect and it was widely acknowledged that a nation-wide solution to the problem was needed.



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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