HC Deb 18 May 1835 vol 27 cc1161-72
Lord Stanley

rose to present a Petition, which he brought forward very unwillingly, as it contained very serious Charges against a Person high in rank in the Established Church of this country, and who, as he understood, was, and had been for a long time, suffering under pecuniary and family distress. At the same time he felt that the duty which he owed to his constituents, rendered it imperative on his part to submit to the House those complaints which they made, and, he thought, justly made, of the conduct of their pastor—conduct that furnished them with an instance of the necessity which existed for a real and substantial Reform of the Church, such as he trusted his Majesty's Ministers would effect. The gentleman to whom he alluded, was, he believed, one well known to the House, to which he had formerly officiated as chaplain, Dr. Webber, Prebendary of Westminster, Dean of Ripon, and Rector of Kirkham, in Lancashire, of whom the petitioners, the inhabitants of that palish, complained. When the House looked at the condition of the parish, it would be seen from the great extent of it, (and similar instances of parishes, he was sorry to say, frequently occurred in the North of England,) that it was certainly impossible for any one clergyman to discharge the spiritual duties connected with it, beneficially and with effect. The petitioners stated that, in addition to the town of Kirkham, there were 12,000 inhabitants distributed over an agricultural district, included in the parish eight miles in breadth, and two in length; that the parish, taken altogether, comprised an extent of 130 square miles; that it was divided into seventeen townships; that so long ago as 1650, an inquisition of the parish took place, and that the Commissioners reported that it was extremely desirable, considering the extent of the parish, that it should be divided into several smaller ones. It further appeared, from the statement of the petitioners, that of the seventeen townships into which the parish was divided, there was Church accommodation afforded by the parish Church, sufficient for the inhabitants of two townships; that five others had separate chapels of ease for their accommodation; that there was one chapel the gift of the vicar, and endowed by him; that the endowments of those separate chapels averaged 190l. per annum; and that there were eight townships in the parish without the means of religious instruction at all. In one instance—and could there be a stronger one?—the distance of the parishioners from the parish church was twelve miles, and there was no place of worship in the intervening extent. The great tithes of this parish were impropriate, and the property of Christchurch College, Oxford. It appeared from the statement of the petitioners, that in the year 1814, Dr. Webber was inducted into the parish, he receiving the small tithes of eight townships, while Christchurch received the great tithes of all, and the small tithes of nine townships. The small tithes appropriated to the rector, amounted, at the period of Dr. Webber's induction, to 250l. a-year; on that occasion there was an arrangement made with the parishioners, in consequence of which the rectorial small tithes were increased from 250l. to 1,000l. a-year. When that arrangement was made, Dr. Webber expressed himself, in letters which he had in his possession, deeply grateful for the liberality of his parishioners, and he volunteered a statement to his parishioners, to the effect that no alteration should be made during his incumbency in the amount of those tithes, and that nothing should induce him to become non-resident, or to absent himself from the discharge of his parochial duties. This was the consideration which he promised them in return for their liberality to him on that occasion. From 1814 to 1829, Dr. Webber resided amongst his parishioners; but in the latter year he was presented with a prebendal stall in Westminster. About the same period, unfortunately for his parishioners, he was inducted into the Deanery of Ripon, and from that time to the present, with the exception of one single occasion, he had never set foot in the parish, though, the petitioners observed, he had at the time the small tithes were raised, made residence one of the conditions under which he voluntarily placed himself. The petitioners did not object to the fair and equitable emoluments of their pastor, but they were anxious to see a larger amount of them appropriated to the providing sufficient religious instruction for the parishioners. In the present instance, it appeared that of the two curates employed by the rector, one was the master of the grammar school at Kirkham, one of the fundamental rules of which was, that the master of it should attend to no other business but that of the school. The appointment, moreover, was protested against by four of the visitors of the school. However, Dr. Webber, notwithstanding this protest, appointed this gentleman to the discharge of parochial duties, which the petitioners alleged, were inconsistent with the discharge of his duties at the school. The petitioners further complained, or rather they made an appeal to the liberality and justice of Christchurch College, with regard to the impropriate tithes of the parish. It appeared that many years ago those impropriate tithes were valued at 3,500l. a-year. Now, the petitioners conceived that Christchurch, looking at the enormous extent of this parish, and seeing that the rectorial tithes were not sufficient to provide adequately for the religious instruction of the parishioners, should, with a view to fulfil the purpose for which those tithes had been granted, allow a portion of the great tithes received by it, for that object. It appeared that so long ago as the year 1650, the great tithes of this parish were let to a person, specified in the lease as a delinquent Papist—a person of the name of Clifton, of a most respectable family in Lancashire, whose descendants, curious enough, being all Catholics, continued to hold those tithes under lease from Christchurch College. The present lineal descendant of that gentleman, was High Sheriff of Lancashire, and had only lately become a Protestant. The petitioners complained that of these great tithes, amounting to 3,500l. a-year, the College of Christchurch, and their intermediate lessee, enjoyed all the benefits, while none of them went to the supporting of the parochial minister, or the endowment of the parish. The College of Christchurch must surely be anxious to see the objects for which those tithes were granted, fulfilled. The petitioners stated, that if Christchurch would adopt a different mode of leasing those tithes, for which he (Lord Stanley) understood that they had, on one occasion, received 10,000l. as a renewal fine for seven years—that if a different system were acted upon, adequate means would be supplied for the maintenance of clergymen for the discharge of the parochial duties, while a sum, as large as the present, would still go into the pockets of Christchurch. It appeared from the statement of the petitioners, that in the year 1832, Dr. Webber returned to the parish, but under circumstances not of a very conciliatory nature. He returned, notwithstanding the arrangement which he had made in 1814, feeling it his duty, and he (Lord Stanley) believed that he did feel it his duty to his successor to do so, to set aside those moduses, with which he had formerly expressed himself so thoroughly satisfied, and to raise those tithes, which had been already so greatly increased. The parishioners naturally resisted this attempt on his part. He then made a proposition to the effect, that he would abstain from all legal proceedings, provided the parishioners would defray all the expense which he had already incurred by those proceedings, that they would pay a certain sum for the improvement of the rectory-house, and that they would raise the tithes from 1,000l. to 1,600l. a-year. He added to them, that upon these terms Christchurch would be willing to enter into terms to divide the parish, but upon no other. The parishioners felt deeply aggrieved that Christchurch should thus be found to act contrary to the spirit that had dictated the original grant, and that it would not make an appropriation out of this 3,500l. of great tithes, so as to enable the parish to be divided, in conformity with the Report of the Commissioners in 1650. The petitioners prayed the interference of the House for two specific purposes; the first was—and he trusted that his Majesty's Ministers would, without loss of time, introduce a measure with that view—more especially where clergymen were adequately provided for—that residence should be strictly enforced. The next was (and he was afraid that practically this prayer of the petition would be more difficult to accede to,) that the Bishop of the diocese, or some other competent authority, should make it imperative on impropriate rectors and vicars to make endowments, in conformity with the 4th of William 4th, for chapels of ease in the parishes belonging to them, where they were necessary. There were certainly great difficulties about this matter, and he was, therefore, the more anxious that Christchurch should take up the case; and seeing his hon. Friend, the Representative for the University of Oxford, in his place, he wished to urge the request upon his hon. Friend—a request that to him seemed a very reasonable one, and for which he would quote to his hon. Friend an authority which he thought his hon. Friend would admit to be a valid one—it was the authority of the Protestant King, James 1st of England. The passage which he was about to quote, and which was extremely applicable to the present time, was to be found in a letter dated in 1603, addressed by James 1st to the University of Oxford. In that letter, James states, that knowing there was no greater obstruction to the furtherance of religion, than the want of competent livings for the support of learned men, it appeared to him that this evil could be remedied, by restoring the impropriate tithes to the purposes for which they were originally granted; that he had commenced with so applying the impropriate tithes that were in the King's hands, that he now applied to them in the first instance, as it was fitting, in such a good work, the Universities should be forward in setting such an example, and that he, therefore, recommended the Chancellor, and the heads of houses, and other discreet and learned men of their body, to assemble, and to appropriate a portion of the impropriate tithes belonging to the different Colleges, to the providing proper ministers in the parishes whence those tithes were derived, yet so as to leave those Colleges sufficient things necessary for their maintenance. He recommended this royal recommendation to the attention of the hon. Baronet opposite, and of the College of Christchurch in particular; and he earnestly hoped that, after the case he had stated, this matter would be taken up by the House, examined, and inquired into seriously and effectually, so as to reform those great abuses and evils that at present darkened the Church of England. He would not offer any further observations, but would beg leave to bring up the petition.

The Petition from the landowners and other parishioners of Kirkham, was read. On the Question "that it do lie on the Table"—

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that even if his noble Friend had not appealed to him so directly, sitting there as he did, the Representative for the University which was so much interested in the subject of this petition, the House would expect him to say something on the subject. His noble Friend had stated the amount of tithes re- ceived from this parish, but he begged leave to say, that the amount of tithes in a given parish, or their reasonableness, or whether the parishioners paid more than they ought for the spiritual benefit they received, or whether the vicar should receive 1,000l. a-year, or Christchurch, Oxford, 3,500l. a-year, was not the Question before the House; the Question was, whether, as the law was at present, the parties entitled to those tithes called for, or received, a single shilling more than they had a right to. Some might say, that 1,000l. a-year was too much for a vicar, and others might think that 3,500l. a-year was too much to be raised as tithes, and granted to a college, but that was not the question now before the House. He would repeat that the Question simply and solely was—did those parties demand or receive more tithes than they were strictly entitled to? His noble Friend had said that it was only reasonable to request the college of Christchurch to make over those tithes, or a portion of them, to the purposes for which they were originally destined. Now, he (Sir R. Inglis) was perfectly willing to rest the case of the vicarage of Kirkham on those grounds only, provided that his noble Friend on his part would engage to endeavour to make the property of every other proprietor of Church property convertible to the same purposes. He did not see the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department in his place. He hardly knew, indeed, whether at present that noble Lord would find any place to return him to Parliament. If, however, that noble Lord was in his place, and if his noble Friend, the member for North Lancashire, should make a motion to the following effect, he was sure his noble Friend would find a ready seconder for such a motion in the noble Lord of the Secretary for the Home Department—namely, that all who held church property under grants of Henry 8th were bound to provide the spiritual benefit of the parishes from for which such property was derived. He was extremely sorry that on the present occasion the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, was not in his place. At the fitting time he should be ready to meet that noble Lord on this Question. The question in the present instance was not whether the amount paid was too much or too little, but whether the Petitioners were made to pay more than they were legally bound to pay. With regard to what had been said by his noble Friend as to the compact entered into by the rector of Kirkham, with his parishioners, he apprehended that the character of that agreement was this,—that if they, the parishioners of Kirkham, should give him, the vicar, 1,000l. a-year to be paid without litigation, he promised on his part for himself not to ask for an increase of it. Now that condition had not been bonâ fide adhered to by the parishioners of Kirkham, and he believed that the vicar had been obliged to issue summonses, in many instances to enforce the payment of his tithes. His noble Friend had stated the difficulty of providing spiritual instruction in this parish, owing to its great extent. He felt that difficulty as much as his noble Friend. He was as desirous as his noble Friend that there should be a resident minister in every parish in the kingdom, but this he would say, that increasing as the population of England was, it was not more pressed for spiritual than it was for material subsistence. He would venture to say that there was no parish in the north of England that, in proportion to the amount of its population, was better supplied with spiritual instruction than the parish of Kirkham. The population a-mounted to 11,000; there were three churches, four chapels of ease, and the actual vicar had fitted up one at his own expense in another township for public worship. It had been stated by his noble Friend that the actual vicar was a nonresident, and the petition stated that he was non-resident without cure of souls. Now, in point of fact, from the time that he had become Dean of Ripon he had duty to perform in the church of Ripon, which was the parish church of the town. He had, in fact, to discharge the duty of rector of Ripon. Dr. Webber discharged at present all the duties of a parish minister in Ripon. It could not be said, therefore, that he was non-resident in the strict sense of the word, for he had the cure of souls. The Petition went on to allege as a grievance that the curate had been appointed master of the Kirkham school. [Lord Stanley: No, but that the master of Kirkham school had been appointed curate of the parish.] He apprehended that the curate never heard that this had been considered a grievance until he read the complaint in this petition. The noble Lord said that four visitors of the school had protested against this appointment. He believed that the election of visitors to this school was made annually, and that if the visitors should in one instance disapprove of the appointment, other visitors might have approved of it. In point of fact, so far from the master of the school being separated by law or custom from the church of Kirkham, there was actually a decree of the Court of Chancery under which he was compelled to preach at least once a-month in that church. That decree bore date 1763. That was not only so, but the report of the charity commissioners, who had investigated all the affairs of this school, stated, that the curate did so perform the duty. He thought he had now liberated the curate from the effect of this charge, and that it might also be said he had liberated the vicar from the charge of having appointed an improper person to the care of this parish. His noble Friend would see the duty of the curate specified in the very terms he had mentioned in the 11th report of the charity commissioners. His noble Friend had said that the vicar never came to the parish from 1829 till 1832, and that he came then under peculiar circumstances not tending to his credit. The fact was, that Lord Tenderden's bill came into operation that year, and the vicar came to Kirkham, not with a view to his own benefit and advantage, but, as he distinctly and emphatically stated, for the benefit of his successor, and to prevent the rights of that successor from being compromised by any agreement as to moduses which the vicar might have made with the parishioners. Unless the house was prepared to adopt the doctrine that the right of property was to be compromised and sacrificed because a party had spiritual duties to perform, but that the right of property was to be maintained where there were no spiritual duties to discharge at all—unless, he said, the house was prepared to go that length, neither his noble Friend nor the House could blame the vicar of Kirkham for protecting the rights of his successor. He understood from a letter which he had in his hand, and which he had received from the curate of Kirkham, that he had never heard of this complaint of his being also the master of the school until he had seen it stated in this petition. With respect to the conduct of the vicar, tins gentleman stated in his letter what the vicar had done towards providing adequate means for spiritual instruction for the people of Kirkham, and that he had done it at his own expense. He would repeat that this was not the case of a vicar deserting his duty without taking cure of souls elsewhere. Neither was it the case of a vicar neglecting the spiritual instruction of his flock, for the vicar of Kirkham had provided two curates for the parish, besides other curates for the four chapelries; and lastly, it was not the case of a man who had sought emolument for himself, though in law he had a right to it, but the case of a man who, seeing the rights of his successor placed in jeopardy, stepped forward to protect and preserve them. On a former occasion, when Lord Tenterden's act was under discussion in that House, the then and present Attorney-General congratulated him on having found a zealous and powerful advocate for the Church in the person of the hon. and learned member for Southwark. With regard to that hon. and Learned member, he really believed that he was as Friendly to the Church as the hon. and Learned Attorney-General, and therefore he did not slight his aid on that or any similar occasion. He hoped to have it now, when the right of property in the Church was so violently attacked: when the rights of property were attacked, as they were at present in the case of the Church, should that attack prove successful, the rights of private property would be next invaded. His noble Friend, the member for North Lancashire, would allow him to say, that he was the last person in that House whom he would accuse of being willing to sacrifice the rights of the Church. His noble Friend and he had differed, two years ago, in respect to a proposition regarding the Irish Church; but his noble Friend had since made a stand upon the subject, and he was sure that upon principle his noble Friend would always defend the united Church of the two countries. His noble Friend would, however, excuse him for saying that when he brought forward a petition of this kind he should have guarded himself more than he did on this occasion in his statements. The question, he repeated, here was not whether 1,000l. a-year was too much to pay the vicar, or 3,500l. a-year too much to pay Christchurch College? The question was, had they a right to it? He could not help thinking, that whenever they should come to take the question of the plus or minus of Church property into their hands, the security for all property would be endangered. The vicar of Kirkham neither neglected his duties nor was he avaricious in the amount of tithes that he sought. He was willing to repeat the statement he had made in the outset, that if all the holders of Church property in the empire were bound by one and the same rule, the University of Oxford, which had a direct and visible interest in the maintenance of the Church of England, would be ready to act upon the new rule which his noble Friend would apply to the Church-property in the possession of Christchurch College. But his noble Friend was wrong in supposing that the rule he stated was a new one. One college in Oxford that held 2,000l. a-year impropriate tithes had surrendered the leases so as to increase the value of the livings in the various parishes from 5,000l., which they were in the aggregate, to 8,000l. per annum. He was aware that legal difficulties might operate in other cases, but he stated this fact to show that the principle advocated by his noble Friend had already been adopted and recognized in Oxford. The University of Oxford, therefore, had not to learn that lesson even from his noble Friend whose able stand in behalf of the Church the College could never cease to respect.

Mr. Harvey

said, that the subject was indeed a most important one, and he was very glad it had come before the House from such a quarter; had it proceeded from the humble individual addressing them, there would have been an instant cry of spoliation, robbery, and utter destruction. He had on a former occasion ventured to broach the subject in a speculative way, not for want of practical illustrations, however, but because if he had brought ever so many proofs to bear on the point, he should have been met with the same kind of vituperation as a wisher for the spoliation and destruction of the interests of the country, &c. and be reproached with taking invidious means for accomplishing his ends, without daring to grapple with the great principle. If the House had not adjourned over the day on which his Motion on the subject of Queen Anne's bounty was to have come on, he should have shown, beyond a cavil, that the present was not, as pro- bably the noble Lord and many others in the House thought, by any means a solitary instance of clerical rapacity; but that, on the contrary, something of the sort might be found in almost every parish throughout the country; and that, moreover, there were a great many more cases than one in which even lay impropriators, not content with their enormous receipts from the tithes, had dipped their hands pretty deeply into Queen Anne's Bounty, and the million of money which, in the course of the last twenty years, had been given by the State in aid of small livings. The impropriators of Kirkwall, as likely as not, would be found among the number. King James's Letter would do for a great many lay impropriators, as well as for the colleges. He did not mean to say that the tenure of individual lay impropriators was the same with that on which the colleges enjoyed impropriate tithes. In the latter case the property had been transferred to the colleges, at the time of the Reformation, simply in trust for the Church, and they held it on that simple tenure. In the former case not only was the annual grant in many cases of quite a different character, but the property, although in some instances perpetuated in the same families, had in numerous cases changed hands from one to another, in regular course of purchase and sale; and here, of course, would be found a great difficulty, though not, looking to the omnipotence of Parliament, an insuperable one. He had been just described by the hon. Baronet—he supposed in all good faith—as a friend to the Church; he could assure the hon. Baronet that he was such, and therefore most anxious to remove from it its manifold abuses. For this reason he trusted that the noble Lord would not content himself with laying the petition on the Table, but that he would bring it forward in a more substantial manner; if not, he at least, should have an opportunity of laying the whole matter before the House at some time during the Session, by means of his Motion respecting Queen Anne's Bounty, in introducing which he should show that not a few of the largest impropriators of tithes—many of them to the extent of 1,000l. a-year,had had the gross meanness to claim and receive sums of money out of the sums voted by Parliament for increasing small stipends.

An Honourable Member

said, he would not have said a word upon the subject, but that the parish in question adjoined the one in which his own property was situated, and that he was one of the visitors to the school of which the curate alluded to was master. He would only say, that when the tithes were so much as 25s. an acre for potatoes, they could not be raised much more; and the visitors of the school were now debating whether they should not stop the money for the mastership, until the duties of the office were better performed, they not having it in their power actually to remove the individual holding it. The statements contained in the petition were to his own knowledge perfectly correct, and he trusted that such grievances would without delay be put an end to.

Mr. Cobbett

said, he knew a parish in Hampshire which brought not less than 750l. per annum into the pocket of its lay impropriator, Lord Guildford, while the poor parson had but a miserable 15l. a year out of it, increased out of Queen Anne's Bounty and other taxes to about 70l. The Church abounded with such abuses, and they were its friends who brought them to light. It was by letting it alone that it would fall. If it was overturned it would be overturned by itself; it would be its dignitaries who kicked it down. Many of the archdeacons and deans had the sole appropriation of tithes, and of twenty things else out of parishes; the Archdeacon of Surrey had the tithes of five parishes all nearly joining each other, while the parsons of them had only a miserable pittance. An application was made to Parliament to tax the people to enable these parsons to live—he hoped the noble Lord who talked of reformation on this subject would come forward with a real reformation, something tangible. With such a reformation the Church might be saved; without it the Church would fall, and that right speedily.

Petition to be laid on the Table.

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