HC Deb 05 April 1853 vol 125 cc620-5

said, he begged to move for leave to introduce a Bill for the future regulation, management, and permanent endowment of the College of Christ of Brecknock. The circumstances under which the Bill had been prepared might be very simply stated. By an Act passed in 1840, which gave effect to the recommendations contained in the fourth Report of the Ecclesiastical Commission, it was provided that the four deaneries of Wolverhampton, Middleham, Heytesbury, and Brecknock, together with the whole of the property belonging to the Collegiate Church of Brecknock, should devolve upon the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to be applied by them to the general purposes for which they were constituted. After the lapse of a few years—in 1845—the attention of the Commissioners was especially drawn to the property belonging to the Collegiate Church of Brecknock, as some of the property at that time came into their possession, and they immediately instituted inquiries into the nature of the property and the obligations which it involved, and those inquiries were prosecuted still further in consequence of the corporation of Brecknock calling their particular attention to the original constitution of the College in the 13th century, confirmed by a charter granted by Henry VIII., setting forth that the College should be established and maintained for the encouragement of letters and divinity, and for extending the benefits of education throughout that portion of the Principality of Wales. In order to give effect to these objects, it was proposed by some gentlemen interested in the matter, on behalf of the people of Brecknock, that an information should be filed in the Court of Chancery with the view of bringing to an issue the difficult question arising out of the antiquity of the grants, and the doubt which existed as to the precise purpose of the donors, and the extent of the property. On examining the question, however, it clearly appeared that to file an information in the Court of Chancery, where there were so many parties to the suit, would necessarily expend nearly, if not quite, the whole of the property which was then at issue—a course which was felt to be far from advisable. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners accordingly proposed to the different parties that they should compromise the matter by mutual consent, and that a Bill should be brought into Parliament to give effect to an arrangement by which the ecclesiastical part of the property should be devolved on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and a permanent endowment of a sufficient amount should be assigned to the College or school at Brecknock, calculated to fulfil, in every respect, the objects of the original charter. He was happy to say that that proposal had been agreed to; and that it was in conformity with that agreement that he now proposed to ask the leave of the House to introduce the Bill of which he had given notice. As the subject was one of considerable complication, he thought it better to defer any explanations of the details until the House had had an opportunity of seeing the Bill itself. It might perhaps be sufficient that he should state that it was proposed that a scheme should be framed for the government of the College, that it should be submitted to the Court of Chancery for its approbation, and that, if approved of by the Court, that that scheme should be made the basis of the constitution of the College, and of the rules and ordinances by which it should be governed. He was happy to think that when the leases which were now held should fall in, an amount of property would devolve upon the College which would make the establishment worthy of the monarch by whom it was originally founded, and conduce at once to the interest of the people and the advancement of letters and learning.


said, that before he could give his consent to the Bill, he should like to know where information could be obtained respecting the original intention of the donors with respect to the property. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) had stated that certain proceedings had taken place under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and that certain information had been obtained which had induced them to put themselves in communication with persons who were interested in the matter. Who were those persons? Were they the persons representing the public, or were they the clergy or landed proprietors? Before any further proceedings took place, the right hon. Gentleman, or some one else, should lay on the table of the House such documents as would enable them to judge how far the proposed distribution of the property was right and proper. He (Mr. Hume) was not one who was prepared to create any new ecclesiastical establishment, and the object of this Bill seemed to be to frame an ecclesiastical establishment. This might be in accordance with the will of the original donors, and, if so, it would be less objectionable; but, at all events, he should like to know how the fact of the case stood.


said, the object of the Bill, as he understood it, was to make useful that which had hitherto been useless, and to apply funds which ought long since to have been applied to the education of the people. As an inhabitant of that part of the country, and knowing something of the circumstances, he was very much obliged to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for having turned their attention at last to this establishment, and he hoped ample time before the second reading would be given to enable the residents in the Principality to master the contents of the measure. The property belonging to this establishment was of enormous extent. He believed the property was worth nearly 8,000l. a year, and the House would hear with some surprise, that although this 8,000 a year had been enjoyed by somebody, not by the laity, a short time ago there was hardly a boy in the school, and from 1839 down to a very recent period, not a single prayer had been offered up in that place of worship. The building had been used by those who had charge of it for most improper purposes, and during fairs horses had been taken in to stand, and a charge made for the accommodation. If the funds had been properly applied, there might not have been that ignorance in that part of the Principality, which some persons alleged did exist, as those funds were amply sufficient for the educational as well as the ecclesiastical purposes for which they were formerly granted. A short time since there was hardly a pane of glass in the building, the water was running through the roof, and sheep were in the prebendal stalls and at the altar. It was altogether in a most disgraceful state, and Sir Thomas Phillips, a gentleman who had taken great interest in the matter, had published a book, in which he said— The college of Brecon combined almost every abuse which existed in the appropriation and management of ecclesiastical property. The church was not kept in repair. No lectures or sermons were delivered, and no services were performed. The college church, a handsome building, was so dilapidated that the roof would have fallen in, had not a layman who received his education at the college made the necessary repairs, and public worship had not been performed in it since 1839. The property, as he had said, was worth 7,500l. or 8,000l. a year. The laity had not enjoyed it. Somebody must have enjoyed it. By the Act of 1836, all the bishops were to have certain fixed incomes, and the Bishop of St. David's was to have 4,500 a year. His predecessor sent in an account of the income of the see, by which it was proved to be 1,600l. less than 4,500l. a year, and therefore 1,600 a year was paid by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to the Bishop of St. David's, to make up the supposed deficiency. That deficiency did not exist, and the Bishop received a much larger annual income than that which was assigned to the see. The reason he had alluded to this was, that the Bishop of St. David's happened to be Dean and Treasurer of this collegiate church, and the property of this collegiate establishment formed a portion of his income to the extent of 300l. or 400l. a year, for which he performed no duty whatever. He wished the right hon. Gentleman would tell them whether there had been any communication with the Bishop of St. David's as to giving up the money he received over and above the income assigned to the see, and particularly that portion which he received as Dean and Treasurer of the Collegiate Church, and for which he did nothing whatever.


said he agreed with the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) in thinking that before the second reading of the Bill the House should be put in possession of such documents as would tend to throw light upon the nature of the transaction, including any correspondence that had taken place between the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Bishop of the diocese.


said, in reply to the question of the hon. Member (Sir B. Hall), that it was found to be so difficult to arrive at the true construction of the charter, it was considered the better course to come to an agreement with all parties interested. He considered the best course for hon. Gentlemen to take was to read the preamble of the Bill, in which was stated the general facts. If the preamble was acceded to, there would be no difficulty in the matter, and then he should be in a position to afford explanation as to the plan of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone, in stating that the property was worth between 7,000l. or 8,000l. a year, had seemed to represent to the House that it yielded that sum at present; but the fact was that this, like all other ecclesiastical property, had been originally granted on leases for lives, and all, therefore, which was at present received from the property was the rents, which amounted only to some 348l., and of this only 144l. had as yet come into the hands of the Commissioners. As the leases fell in, there would be a much larger sum available for the purposes of education, but at present the sum was very limited. The hon. Gentleman had that night repeated what lie had said before as to the mode in which the incomes of the bishops were regulated. He had said that they had been so regulated as to give them a fixed annual sum. Now, the arrangement provided by law was to assign a certain sum as the income of each bishop, and to make an addition to, or a deduction from, his previous average income, according as it had been below or above the sum assigned to him—so as to bring it as near as possible to that sum. The result had been, that in some cases the bishops had ultimately received a larger amount than was originally intended, and in others less. He begged to say also that the Bishops of St. David's had been deans and treasurers of the Collegiate Church at Brecknock from a very early period; and that a special Act of Parliament, passed in the reign of Queen Anne, gave the bishop another prebend in addition to his deanery and treasurership. These preferments would ultimately fall into the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and would form part of the property which would come under the operation of this Bill.

Leave given.

Bill to provide for the future regulation and management, and the permanent endowment of "the College of Christ of Brecknock," founded by King Henry the Eighth, with permissive powers to unite the same with Saint David's College, Lampeter, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Goulburn, Viscount Palmerston, and Mr. Fitzroy.