The Marquess of Normanby
said, he had a petition to present which he was desirous to bring before their Lordships while some of the right rev. Prelates remained, as it was connected with the question of the present spiritual destitution of a parish which was not far from London. The circumstances of the case had already been mentioned in the public prints. The petition was from the churchwardens of Wokingham, a parish in Berkshire. The petitioners called the attention of the House to the necessity of some remedy being devised to meet the circumstances of their case. He (Lord Normanby) thought he could put their Lordships in possession of the facts of the case in a few words, and in a smaller compass than if he were to read the petition at length. This parish of Wokingham was the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean of Salisbury. It was a parish, he understood, of upwards of 4,000 inhabitants, and contained upwards of 8,000 acres. The Dean of Salisbury was rector, patron, and also ordinary. The tithes were commuted for 1,698l. a year; they had been leased for many years on leases for lives, renewable by fines. The fine received by the Dean of Salisbury the last time there was a vacancy in the lives, was 2,200l. The annual rent of the tithes was 26l. 13s. 4d. Of the 2,200l. the Dean had appropriated 200l. for the benefit of the minister, by subscribing that sum to Queen Anne's bounty. What the parishioners complained of was, that from the circumstances of the rector and ordinary being the same individual, there had been 588 no efficient visitation for some time. The petitioners went on to state, that in 1843, their attention was called by the rural Dean to the circumstance that the church was in want of repairs. They accordingly consulted a very eminent architect, Mr. Cotterell, and afterwards Mr. Good, the Surveyor to the Church Commissioners, who confirmed the report of the architect that the church was in a very dilapidated state. Mr. Jacob, the lessee, was then asked what he would do with respect to the repairs of the chancel. He said, he believed, it would be found that the chancel was not in so dilapidated a condition as had been represented. However, Mr. Jacob at length agreed to the terms proposed by the petitioners, on behalf of the vestry; but soon afterwards they received a communication from him to the effect that he did not believe that the chancel was in the same state of dilapidation as the rest of the church; and he warned them to touch it at their peril in making the repairs of the rest of the church. This led to much correspondence, with which he (Lord Normanby) would not trouble their Lordships; he would only say that he did not think that the parties had adopted that tone in their correspondence which was altogether suitable; and he thought that the latter gentleman did not recollect that those persons who moved in this matter were persons not having a personal interest in the affair, but desiring to do that for the parish which it was their duty to do. After this correspondence had been brought to a close, the churchwardens determined to summon another vestry meeting; but before doing so, they took the opinion of a learned civilian, Dr. Addams. The noble Lord then said, that Dr. Addams had been obliged to acknowledge that he could not suggest any legal remedy. The petitioners went on to state, that they actually had certificates of the state of the chancel from tradesmen who had been employed to make trifling repairs a few years ago—that if the adjoining part of the church was touched the chancel would fall. Dr. Addams also said, he thought that if the parish assented to a rate for the repair of the chancel, the churchwardens would be justified in laying a rate for that purpose; and he concluded by expressing his sincere regret that jealousies and animosities in any quarter should have prevented the proper repairs from being performed. Perhaps, the opinion of the learned civilian went rather out of the strict bounds of a legal opinion; but, after 589 all the facts of the case had been laid before him, that was the conclusion to which he had come, and the opinion was deserving of credit accordingly. Subsequently the Dean of Salisbury had corresponded with the lessee, Mr. Jacob; but the whole thing stopped short by the lessee absolutely refusing to do anything more than what would keep the chancel in its present state. With respect to the correspondence of the churchwardens with the Dean of Salisbury, they had used a word with respect to the Dean of Salisbury which, in his opinion, had better have been omitted, when they said that "the Dean's continued distrust that the chancel was out of repair was disingenuous." On the other hand, there were passages in a letter from the Dean of Salisbury which appeared in the public prints some days ago, that he (Lord Normanby) very much regretted should have been used. The passage stood thus:—But in writing to the Dean to inform him of these facts, they asserted that the chancel was in as dilapidated a state as the body of the church. This, his lessee denied; and, though the churchwardens have repeated the assertion in their petition, I have to state that Mr. Money, an eminent surveyor of Donington, near Newbury, having carefully examined the chancel, reports that it is substantially in repair, and that an outlay of about 40l. would render it perfectly so.Now, very few persons reading that statement could have failed to come to the conclusion that the petitioners had made such assertions without having the means of proving them. But those means they had in their hands, and that proof they had sent to the Dean of Salisbury, and he was consequently aware of it. The petition prayed for an alteration of the law in two respects. First, it prayed that the ordinary and the rector should not be the same person; and, secondly, it prayed that the visitation should be actual and personal. That certainly appeared to him to be a very anomalous state of things which prevented these parties from carrying out their intention of repairing the church, because the same party stood in the position of being the ordinary, the patron, and the rector.
§ Petition read and ordered to lie on the Table.