HC Deb 16 March 1818 vol 37 cc1116-31
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

having moved the order of the day for taking into consideration that part of the Lords Commissioners' speech, which related to the building of Churches,

Mr. Tierney

gave notice, that soon after the holydays he intended to move, that the sum granted by parliament for the erection of a monument to commemorate our victories by sea and land, be laid out in the erection of a parish church or churches.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the subject to which he was about to call the attention of the House was not connected with that alluded to by the. right hon. gentleman, in as much as an economical arrangement for the building and enlarging of churches throughout the kingdom, was very different from the erection of a monumental church upon a great scale of ornamental architecture. At the same time, he was far from being disinclined to coincide with the view of the right hon. gentleman on this subject; for he thought that if the right hon. gentleman would communicate with him on. the subject, it would be found that they did not disagree. His own opinion was that nothing could be more fit than that national monuments should be rendered applicable to purposes of general utility.

Mr. Tierney

expressed great satisfaction at what had fallen from the right hon gentleman. It was so much better that this view had been adopted in the quarter in which it could be most advantageously carried into execution, that he could not but congratulate the House upon it.

The House having resolved itself into the committee, and that part of the Speech of the Lords Commissioners, which relates to the want of accommodation for public worship, having been read by the Chairman, viz.

"The Prince Regent has commanded us to direct your particular attention to the deficiency, which has so long existed, in the number of places of public worship belonging to the established church, when compared with the increased and increasing population of the country. His Royal Highness most earnestly recommends this important subject to your early consideration; deeply impressed, as he has no doubt you are, with a just sense of the many blessings which this country, by the favour of Divine Providence, has enjoyed, and with the conviction that the religious and moral habits of the people are the most sure and firm foundation of national prosperity,"

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that he believed no communication from the throne had ever been expected with greater anxiety, or received with more satisfaction by the public, than that which the lords commissioners had made, by the command of the Prince Regent, at the opening of the present session. For more than a century, the want of accommodation for public worship had been felt by the members of the established church as a most serious evil; and an attempt had been made so long ago by parliament to remedy it, so far as respected the metropolis, and its immediate vicinity. This attempt, however, though attended with considerable expense, had been very imperfect in its execution, only eleven churches having been built, out of fifty which it was proposed to erect. Since that time no farther steps had been taken by public authority, though the evil had been perpetually increasing with the growing population of the country, which was now probably little less than double what it had been when the attempt, to which he had alluded, was made; and still more from its concentration in the metropolis, and the large commercial and manufacturing towns. Nothing, in fact, could * have justified so long a delay,—a delay which had continued till any effectual remedy began to be despaired of,—but the difficulties with which the state had had to struggle, and the expensive wars in which it had been involved. It should indeed be remembered that, even during the pressure of the severest and most arduous contest in which this country had ever been engaged, parliament had made liberal grants to promote the comforts of the clergy, and to confer on the public the benefit of a resident—a respectable—and a moderately endowed ministry. But these grants, however important in their object, could not supply the want of places of public worship, of which there existed so melancholy a deficiency.

He believed that in support of a fact so generally known, he might rest on the ground of public notoriety. He should, however, for the sake of a clear illustration of the subject, take the liberty of referring to the accounts laid upon the table of the House by command of the Prince Regent. It would appear from those returns that the proportion between the number of parishes, and that of their inhabitants, varied extremely in the different dioceses of the kingdom. The parliamentary account, No. 1, which comprises only those parishes which contains at least 2,000 persons, and in which the places of worship are insufficient to accommodate one half of the inhabitants would show, that in the diocese of London there were eighty parishes of that description, containing 930,337 souls, and giving an average of 11,629 to a parish;—in that of Winchester the average was 8789;—in that of Chester 8,195;—while in that of Oxford it was no more than 2,422: so that the proportionate population of parishes in the diocese of London to those of the diocese of Oxford, was, as more than four to one. From the account he had extracted a list of twenty-seven parishes, in which the deficiency was most enormous—the excess of the inhabitants beyond the means of accommodation in the churches excoeds 20,000 in each. Of these sixteen, were in, or about London, and eleven in great provincial towns. In three of them, the excess in each was above 50,000 souls:—in four more, from 40,000 to 50,000;—in eight from 30,000 to 40,000; and in the remaining twelve, from 20,000 to 30,000. In Liverpool out out of 94,376 inhabitants, 21,000 only could be accommodated in the churches, leaving a deficiency of 73,376;—in Man- Chester, of 79,459, only 10,950, leaving 68,509; and in Marylebone of 75,624, no more than 8,700, leaving 66,924 without the means of accommodation. It thus appeared that in three parishes only there were near 210,000 inhabitants who could not obtain access to their churches. It was not indeed, in his opinion, necessary that the church should be sufficiently large absolutely to contain the whole of the inhabitants of a parish at the same time; a large deduction must always be made for infants, and for those, who, from age, from infirmity or sickness, or from necessary domestic avocations, were unable to attend. Allowing for these circumstances, and considering the opportunities which the different services performed in the same day might give to different classes of the population, he should conceive that a parish might be considered as not inadequately supplied if the church could contain one-third of the inhabitants at the same time; and it would be obviously desirable to provide in the bill for the performance of three services on every Sunday, and the more important festivals, in the new churches, in order to derive the greatest accommodation to the public, at the most moderate expense. If this were not the case, the deficiency in the larger parishes would appear so enormous, and the expense of providing any adequate remedy so immense, that he could hardly have the courage to propose to parliament to undertake so hopeless a task. In this respect some objection might be made to the statements of the very useful publications of Mr. Yates, from which he had derived much valuable information, and which he could recommend to every gentleman who might wish to turn his attention to this part of the subject. By comparing the capacity of our churches with the total amount of the population, and placing the actual deficiency upon such a comparison, in the strongest light, Mr. Yates undoubtedly would lead to a desponding view of the subject; but his work contains accurate abstracts of the returns to the privy council which have since been laid before parliament; and other valuable documents, besides his own striking and useful observations.

From the returns on the table it appears that the deficiency was greatest in the district of London, lying in the dioceses of London and Winchester; and in those of Chester and York: and he (the chancellor of the exchequer) would state the absolute deficiency in each, compared with the whole population, but subject to the observations he had just made. The population of London and its vicinity was 1,129,451; of whom the churches and episcopal chapels can only contain 151,536, leaving an excess of 977,915. This statement, however, excludes the City of London, in which there was a superfluity of churches, considerably exceeding what the inhabitants required. This not only arose from a diminished population, occasioned by the great proportion of space now occupied in the City of London by warehouses and workshops, but was also the case in all the other most ancient cities in the kingdom. In Norwich, Lincoln, and the other cities which existed under the Roman empire, the parishes are small and the churches very numerous, and originally of small dimensions, as appears from the few original structures which are still remaining: but in those towns which have been built or greatly enlarged in later times, and especially since the reformation, the case is very different. In the dioceses of York and Chester, the disproportion of population to the capacity of the churches, was little less than in the district of the metropolis. In the diocese of York there were ninety-six churches, which afford room for 139,163 inhabitants—the whole population amounted to 720,091, so that there was a deficiency of accommodation for 580,928. In that of Chester, there were one hundred and sixty-seven parishes, the churches in which would contain 228,696; but the actual population was no less than 1,286,702, leaving a deficiency of 1,040,006. The deficiency was therefore most striking in London and Chester, but it was very great in some other dioceses. In that of Winchester (part of which was comprised in the London district) there were thirty-seven parishes, of which the churches could receive 59,503; the population was 325,209, leaving a deficiency of 265,706; more than four-fifths of the whole number were therefore unable to find accommodation. In cases such as these, the impossibility in which the far greater part of the inhabitants were placed of attending divine service even once a day, was however by no means the only evil. There were many other most important functions of his sacred office, which it was impossible for any clergyman, however zealous and laborious, adequately to discharge towards a population of 40,000 or 50,000 souls, or even a much smaller number. He might instance (as Mr. Yates has most forcibly done) the sacrament of the lord's supper, and the rights of baptism, burial, and marriage. How was it possible for those ordinances to be celebrated in the solemn and impressive manner which their serious and important nature required, in the crowd and hurry unavoidably attending their perpetual and almost ceaseless repetition in such a crowded population? How even could due care be taken to avoid mistakes, and to guard against frauds and impositions affecting the most important civil rights of individuals. He might indeed almost say, that the reformation for which he pleaded, was not less important to the security of property and of the civil order of society, than to the higher considerations of religion and morality. To illustrate this part of his argument, he would take the liberty of reading one or two short extracts from the valuable work to which he had before referred.

In the first Mr. Yates gives an account of the performance of a Sunday's duty for a friend:

"I attended at the church at nine o'clock, on account of expected marriages, the service was once performed; then the full morning service, the rector preaching the sermon; after the departure of the congregation, the service for churching of women twice performed; afternoon, full service, prayers, and sermon; after which seventeen children baptised: then seven funerals performed, the burial service read over five times, concluding between seven and eight o'clock in the evening; the whole of which, except the morning sermon, I performed as the duty of the curate; and this was understood to be no more than the average Sunday employment.

The second instance is still more Striking:

"There are, upon an average, from forty to fifty christenings every Sunday afternoon, besides christenings on the week days; and on some of the great festivals, as Christmas day, Easter day, and Whitsunday, there are generally from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and forty.

"On the first day of the present year, I myself christened ninety-three children. On the 6th of February of the present year, there were twenty-nine couples married. Throughout the whole of the present year, the banns of marriage published every Sunday morning for the first, second, and third time of asking, have seldom been less than one hundred and twenty in number, on one occasion they were one hundred and fifty-six."

Such instances would give the committee an idea of the extent of the evil as it now existed, and he should proceed to state as shortly as was consistent with any clear view of the subject, the outline of the remedial measure which he had it in contemplation to submit to parliament.

He intended to propose a grant, to the extent of one million sterling, to be raised by an issue of exchequer bills, and applied as occasion might require, under the direction of commissioners, appointed by the Crown in a manner analogous to the operations of the parliamentary commission, established last year, to give encouragement to public works. He thought this plan preferable to an annual grant, because the commissioners would have a better guide in framing the regulations under which they would afford assistance; and the different districts requiring it, would be better able to judge of the propriety of making applications when the total extent of parliamentary aid was known, than if it had been left to annual grants of uncertain amount, and indefinite continuance. The distribution of this grant would require, at least, four or five years; and the sums raised in each might either, if parliament should so think fit, be made good in the succeeding years respectively, or in one total sum, at the close of the period when the whole should have been issued.

The measure proposed, was (except in respect of the mode of raising the money), similar to that in which a business of the same nature had been conducted in the reign of queen Anne, and of which an account would be found in the valuable work to which he had already so often alluded.

At that time, thirty-one commissioners were appointed by the Crown, on whom the whole of the general direction devolved. A tax was imposed on certain articles imported into the port of London, for the purpose of enabling them to carry into execution the building of a certain number of additional churches in the metropolis, and the sums raised were placed at the disposal of the commissioners, who were thus enabled to erect eleven churches out of the number intended.

The commission appointed in that instance, was instituted for local purposes; but that now proposed was intended to have a much wider sphere of operation. It was to take a general view of the wants of the whole kingdom, and in granting aid, would be regulated by a' combined view of the extent and the population of the different parishes, the want of accommodation in the existing churches, and the ability of the district to bear the burthen requisite for supplying the deficiency. The public bounty ought only to be given in aid of a fair exertion on the part of the district: where the commissioners were convinced of the inability of the district to complete the undertaking of itself, they would interfere, but rather with a view to assist, than to support the whole charge. He had already observed, that, in many parishes, not only the population was too numerous, but the extent too great for the pastoral care of one incumbent. It was, on both these accounts, thought desirable, that in such cases a power should be given to the king in council, with the consent of the patron, to divide the parish with respect to all ecclesiastical Tights, as well as spiritual duties, but without interfering with the management of the poor, or other arrangements of a civil nature. The consent of the patron must be obtained, because it was highly important, that in a great public improvement, there should be the least possible interference with private rights. In case, however, the consent of the patron could not be obtained, or if the commissioners should think the arrangement preferable, as in some cases they might do, it was proposed, that a power should be given to the king in council, to separate a district from a parish for spiritual purposes only; without affecting the ecclesiastical endowments, cither of the present, or any future incumbent. It was, indeed, to be considered as a leading principle, founded in the strictest justice, that the existing incumbent should, in every case, be indemnified from the effects of any change: but, in the case in question, it is intended, that every future incumbent of the mother church snail preserve the tithes and endowments of his benefice entire, although the spiritual functions of a division (which, for the sake of distinction, may be called a district parish) may have been separated from it.

One or other of the arrangements, he had described, might be applied to those parishes, which, either from their extent or population, or both, it might be thought inexpedient to leave under the care of a single minister. There was, however, another class of parishes, some of them of considerable population, in which the pastoral duties might be thought to be most satisfactorily discharged by a superintending minister, with proper assistants, and with the addition of the requisite proportion of places of worship. In cases such as these, the commissioners might direct the building of parochial chapels', to be served by curates nominated by the incumbent, but so far locally attached to the chapels, in which they were to officiate, as not to be removable from them, even to a different district within the parish, without the consent of the bishop. Thus, each chapel would become a sort of minor benefice within a larger one, subject to the general directions of the incumbent of the parish at large, while that connexion and acquaintance would be kept up between the officiating minister and his congregation, which is so instrumental in giving full effect to parochial instruction.

The modes, therefore, by which the commissioners would effect the purposes of the act, were threefold:—

First, by the complete ecclesiastical division of parishes; secondly, by the district division of parishes, not affecting the endowments of the present benefice; and thirdly, by the building of parochial chapels. In one or other of these modes he hoped the requisite relief would gradually be obtained: but it would be obvious to any one who examined the returns on the table, that the greatest exertion of parochial funds and of private liberality, co-operating with the munificence of parliament, would be necessary to attain the object. He bad already referred to the case of twenty-seven parishes, in each of which the excess of the population, above the accommodation of the churches, was above 20,000 souls. It might be estimated, that in these parishes alone, one hundred and fourteen additional churches, of dimensions sufficient to contain nearly 2,000 persons each, would be required to afford such moderate accommodation as to allow one-third of the inhabitants to attend divine worship at the same time. Looking to these and the other cases which appeared in the parliamentary returns, he apprehended that the commissioners would not be able to afford assistance to parishes containing less than 10,000 souls;—not that they would be precluded by any law or regulation from doing so; but that he feared such might be the effect of the insufficiency of their grant, large as it might appear at first sight. It was true, that in these estimates he had made no allowance for those members of the community who did not belong to the established church;—for, without meaning the least disparagement to the dissenters, or the slightest infringement of the liberty of conscience they so happily enjoyed, he thought that the church, which existed for the benefit of all, and derived support from all, was bound to afford accommodation for all: and he believed that a very large proportion of those who did not now attend the worship of the established church, had not voluntarily forsaken the church; but that the church, from an unfortunate train of circumstances, which could not be too soon remedied, had shut her doors upon them. To give to all such an opportunity of returning, must be the most anxious wish of every true friend of the church; and it was with great pleasure that he turned the attention of the committee to the assistance which might be derived in the furtherance of this great object, from the operations of a most excellent society lately formed, and which already comprised a large proportion of whatever was most respectable and dignified in church and state. In cases in which parishes, requiring assistance, might not come within the rules established by the commissioners, in enabling other parishes to bring themselves within the scope of these regulations, this society would lend its beneficial aid.

It would naturally be asked, from what fund the ministers, serving these new churches and chapels, were to derive their support? For this purpose, and also to assist in the repairs of the buildings, it was proposed that a moderate rent should be required from those persons who had the accommodation; and it was sufficiently proved by the example of the proprietary chapels in various parts of the kingdom, and especially in London, that from this source a very considerable income might be derived. It was, however, by no means intended that the parliamentary churches should be allotted principally with a view to the profit of pew rents; but that, on the contrary, a large proportion of the space in each of them should be reserved as free seals, for the accommodation of the poorer inhabitants.

With respect to another part of the subject, on which the committee would certainly expect some explanation,—he meant the patronage of the intended churches,—he should next state what was intended. The same principle of respect to private rights, which guided the other parts of the arrangement, would be applied to this. Whether, therefore, a parish should be divided wholly or partially, according to the arrangements he had before explained; the presentation of the new parish, or of the district church, would be vested in the patron of the original church. In the case of parochial chapels, the appointment would rest (as it now does by law) in the incumbent of the parish, who is spiritually answerable for the conduct of the whole. He believed that this arrangement would leave the general proportions of ecclesiastical patronage very much as they now exist. For instance, of the twenty-seven parishes already alluded to, he believed the patronage of four was in the Crown; of two, in the archbishop of Canterbury; of three, in the bishop of London; of one, in the archdeacon of London; of six, in colleges; of two, in chapters or lay corporations; in one, the incumbent was elected by parishioners; and the remaining eight belonged to private patrons. These twenty-seven parishes would, therefore, afford a tolerably fair specimen of every species of parochial patronage.

He desired just to touch upon a subject, distinct indeed from the present, but naturally suggested by it,—he meant the situation of the church of Scotland. It might be observed, that this church was also a part of our national ecclesiastical establishment, that it equally stood in need of assistance, and was equally entitled to parliamentary support, and ought to be included in the same measure of relief He admitted that the church of Scotland had, in proportion to its wants, equal claims to national support; and he believed parliament would feel equal readiness to come to its assistance-: but the forms of church government in Scotland were so different from those of England, that to attempt to embody in the same act of parliament, the provisions applicable to each, could only lead to embarrassment and confusion. The case of Scotland had not, however, been over looked by the government, and he hoped shortly to bring before the House a pro-position upon this subject.

He concluded by observing, that he considered the question he was about to propose, as one on which no party feelings could arise, but which must be interesting to every friend of virtue and religion. It was a pleasing circumstance, and honourable to the character of the House, that such cases should arise in which they could all unite their efforts for a common object. He remembered an occasion (not, indeed, in the House, but at one of those meetings for a religious purpose, which so honourably characterize and distinguish the present age), in which he sat with his noble friend (lord Castlereagh) between two gentlemen, whom the House has since lost, of the most opposite political sentiments, but both of them eminently zealous in exertions of beneficence,—the late Mr. Rose and the late Mr. Whitbread. They had all addressed the assembly in succession, in a manner undoubtedly tinged with the peculiar character and sentiments of each individual, but in which no feeling of former differences could be discerned, nor any view but that of most effectually supporting the general object of the meeting. Such, he trusted, would be the feeling of the House upon the present occasion; and that whatever shades of opinion might appear, when the details of the measure came to be discussed, only one sentiment would prevail with respect to its principle; and that all would cordially unite in giving the national church that assistance which was necessary to enable it to provide effectually for the instruction and edification of the people.—The right hon. gentleman then moved, "That his Majesty be enabled to direct exchequer bills, to an amount not exceeding one million, to be issued to commissioners, to be by them advanced, under certain regulations and restrictions, towards Building, and promoting the Building, of additional Churches and Chapels in England."

Captain Waldegrave

approved of the general tendency of the resolution. He wished to take that opportunity of remarking, that the monuments in St. Paul's church seemed to be very much neglected. They were, he believed, seldom or never cleaned. Many were then completely covered with dust. He wished that some small fund might be established to prevent this inconvenience in future, and to pay persons who might keep those monuments of public gratitude in proper order.

General Thornton

said, the proposed measure had his full approbation. He thought it would be productive of the greatest advantages. He wished that in' place of any other monument, a church might be erected in memory of the victory at Waterloo.

Sir Charles Monck

thought it most desirable and expedient that the large part of our population, now unprovided for, should obtain accommodation. But he thought the good effect of this would, in a great degree, be defeated, unless the manner of performing the service in our established churches underwent considerable modification. Nothing was more likely to reclaim the Dissenters—he did not speak this in an invidious sense—to the established church, than an alteration in the manner of performing service. Without some modification, he was afraid little moral and religious improvement could be expected from additional churches. When he considered the state of things in those parts of the country where there was a want of accommodation, and adverted to the state of morals and religion in those parts of the country which were most splendidly endowed, he was led to entertain considerable doubts as to the benefit which would be derived from new churches, without some farther change. In those parts of the country in which the population had increased most of late years, churches were scarce; but there were many parts of the country where the population was very large in old times, greater indeed than it was now. In Norwich, for instance, there were 39 parishes, while, by the last returns, the population was only 38,000. Was Norwich, with this ample provision of churches, a comparatively moral and religious town? He recollected that Durham had also many churches, yet the population was only from eight to 10,000; whereas Newcastle, a very large town, had not above four or five churches. But he had never heard that Durham was more remarkable for morals than Newcastle. In travelling over England, he believed it would be found, that where there were most churches, the people were far from being the most exemplary in their morals. The churches were formerly open at all times, as they were now in foreign countries, and the people were always going to them. There ought to be some modification in the manner of performing the worship—it ought to be more frequently performed in a day. He thought, also, they ought to take into consideration the present endowments of the church, and see whether there was not a large proportion of them employed in a manner not at all calculated to promote the interests of religion,—whether the revenues of prebendaries, &c. might not be applied to the purpose for which money was now asked from the nation at large? Nothing ought to be taken from the nation till an investigation into these things showed the necessity of the measure. He was unable to see why they should at once take one million, and no more. When they entered on this business, they ought to make up their minds to bear whatever was requisite. What was the reason of the proceeding of the right hon. gentleman he knew not, and he wished to learn why they were to decide at once that one million was to be the sum? Why so much as one million, or why no more? Some consideration as to the exact sum, he thought, should take place. He must also say a word as to where the money was to come from. He did not exactly know what there might be to spare in the church establishment; but he did not like to see the whole sum taken from the nation at large. He would much rather have had the right hon. gentleman come down to the House with a proposition for providing, in each county, some board of commissioners, or some tribunal that might have made a proper representation to parliament, and have stated that the population were too numerous for their churches, and they were willing to provide some portion of the expense of erecting others. He would rather have had the money raised in such a manner, titan from the whole nation, when it would of necessity be applied only to a particular part. The main application of the money would be to the metropolis, when the whole nation were required to contribute to its payment. He wished to know whether there would be a pew-rent in these new churches? At present that system excluded great numbers of the poor. He approved, however, of the object of the measure generally, and of many of the provisions which it was proposed to introduce into the bill.

Mr. Gipps

wished to know, whether it was the intention not to extend the bill to any parish in which the population was less than ten thousand.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the present calculations induced a supposition, which made it very improbable that parishes of a less population would require any portion of the grant. He had omitted two points: first, as to a provision for the new clergymen; that would probably, in a great degree, be supplied by the produce of pews: secondly, as to the more frequent performance of divine service. In all the churched to be built under this act, it was to be provided, that divine service should be performed three times a day; and it might probably be deemed expedient to extend the like prevision to churches already built.

Mr. Warre

wished to know, whether the plan in contemplation would increase the number of incumbents?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the increased number of parishes and churches would of course increase the number of incumbents.

Mr. N. Calvert

said, he did not approve of that division of the parts of our church service the right hon. gentleman had seemed to describe.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was not intended to divide the church service, but to have the whole service oftener performed.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that in some of the northern parts of the country the parishes were so extensive, that the people were prevented from attending at their parish churches. There were some parishes in Scotland not less than forty miles long. He knew one in which the church was thirty miles distant from some of the inhabitants. As to the moral returns alluded to by the hon. baronet, they could not be easily procured. With respect to Norwich, if such a return was brought forward, he had no doubt but it would be honourable to the inhabitants. There were in that city 36 churches, besides a number of large chapels belonging to various sects of dissenters. He wished to know whether it was intended to extend the operation of this measure to Scotland.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the hon. gentleman would immediately perceive, that the principles upon which the church of Scotland was conducted, differed so much from those which regulated the established church, that the same provisions could not be applied to both. At the same time, his majesty's ministers had not overlooked the situation of the church of Scotland, and felt no disposition to object to a separate proposition for that part of the united kingdom.

Dr. Phillimore

perfectly agreed with the right hon. gentleman as to the great importance of the subject. The plan of dividing parishes was most material; it would give the inhabitants of those places a better opportunity of attending divine worship, and it would afford them the advantage of the more immediate pastoral care of the several incumbents. With regard to patronage, the right hon. gentleman had pointed out the only proper mode of its being regulated, and he most completely agreed with him.

The resolution was then agreed to.