HL Deb 08 June 1846 vol 87 cc109-14

then rose to present the petition of which he had given notice from the churchwardens of the parish of Wokingham, Berks. It appeared from the statements of the petition that— The parish of Wokingham extends over about 8,500 acres, and contains a population of about 3,500 souls. The parish is a perpetual curacy, and is under the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean of Salisbury, who is rector as well as ordinary and impropriator of the tithes. The tithes have been leased for very many years by the Deans of Salisbury, on leases for lives, renewable on payment of a fine, at an annual rent of 26l. 13s. 4d. The last fine received was 2,200l.; and the present Dean of Salisbury appropriated 200l. of the amount for the benefit of the minister, by subscribing that sum to Queen Anne's Bounty, retaining 2,000l. for himself. The tithes have been commuted at 1,698l. 10s. 9d.; and there are are 30 acres of glebe, worth about 60l. a year. The Rev. Thomas Morres, the perpetual curate, receives a stipend of 150l. only (inclusive of all fees), 40l. only of which are paid out of the tithes. He, some few years since, appointed an assistant curate, at a salary of 80l., which left the perpetual curate only 70l. per annum for the cure of the parish. The perpetual curate, being unable, from the scantiness of his income, to continue to his assistant curate the payment of the salary of 80l. per annum, has lately been compelled to reduce the salary to 40l. per annum, upon condition that the assistant curate shall be relieved from all duty during the week, and his services should be required for the performance of Divine service on the Sunday only. There is no parsonage house or residence for the clergyman. Mr. Morres, the perpetual curate, has consequently been obliged to accept the appointment of master of Lucas's Hospital, an endowed almshouse, belonging to the Drapers' Company, situate within the parish. He resides there, and receives a stipend as master of 100l. per annum; and the rules of the hospital enjoin upon him 'the reading of Divine service in the chapel every day; preaching every Sunday and Christmas-day, and, in commemoration of the founder, every 15th of July; and administering the sacrament four times a year.' Consequently his duties as master of Lucas's Hospital materially interfere with his duties as the clergyman of the parish. The time of the assistant curate was almost exclusively devoted to the education of pupils; and, by reason of the reduction in his salary, he is now altogether relieved from the performance of any weekly duty. The parish, therefore, may be said to be without the entire services of any one clergyman. It was also stated in the petition, that in 1843 the church was found in an exceedingly bad state of repair, and a negotiation took place with the rector, the Dean of Salisbury, with reference to building the church, and repairing the chancel. A very painful controversy took place on this subject between the dean and the parishioners; but, as the dean had very lately resigned the deanery, he (Earl Grey) needed not to trouble their Lordships with any statement on that head. The result of a prolonged discussion was this—that the parishioners were advised that to repair instead of rebuilding the church would be a most improvident outlay of money; but, from the impossibility of coming to any satisfactory arrangement with the rector and his lessee of the tithes, they were compelled to expend between 700l. and 800l. on an inadequate repair of the church, although they were prepared to expend a much larger sum for rebuilding the church if the rector would have joined with them in rebuilding the chancel. Into the history of that controversy it would be quite unnecessary for him to go, as he had already mentioned that the Dean of Salisbury had very lately resigned the deanery; but that very circumstance made it important that the House, and he hoped other authorities, especially the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, should now take into consideration the state of this parish; for it appeared to him that there was great force in the concluding observations of the petitioners, wherein they attributed the necessity for that heavy outlay for their church—while admitting that there was some neglect on the part of the parish officers—to the want of proper and efficient visitations on the part of the Dean of Salisbury. The petitioners also maintained that it was a gross anomaly in the law that the office of rector and visitor or ordinary should be held by one and the same individual; because, as ordinary, the duty of enforcing the repair of the chancel was directly opposed to his interest as rector, which would abrogate and put an end to his office of ordinary altogether. The churchwardens suggested some improvement in the law in this respect, and further represented— That, although in the parish of Wokingham upwards of 1,700l. per annum are raised for the maintenance of the Established Church, nearly the whole of the revenues are diverted from the parish, and a population approaching 4,000 souls is left in a state of comparative spiritual destitution. There is no clergyman entirely devoted to the service of the parish, no parsonage house, and no means of obtaining anything like adequate pastoral superintendence; that one portion of the parish lies in a wild and remote district, and contains an increasing population, eomposed exclusively of labourers and broom-dashers, who subsist almost entirely by cutting heath on the commons, and converting it into brooms; and who, having for the most part no masters to control them, and no persons of a superior station dwelling among them, stand peculiarly in need of regular pastoral superintendence; and the want of it must be attended with the growth of irreligion, vice, and immorality, and must result in the most deplorable consequences, if some means be not speedily adopted to arrest and put an end to evils of so deplorable a character. The petitioners pray that the matters set forth in the petition may be taken into consideration, with a view of remedying the grievances of which they complain; and that some law may be passed for the enforcement of a better and more efficient system of ecclesiastical visitation, and for the fair and satisfactory adjustment of all questions arising between the rector and the ratepayers, touching the repair and upholding of the chancel and the fabric of the church. It appeared to him (Earl Grey) that the prayer of this petition was one to which by some means attention ought to be paid; and that the parish of Wokingham had the strongest ground of complaint. Was it fair or just, where the regular pastoral superintendence was so much required, and where so large a sum as 1,700l. a year was raised from tithe, that something quite inadequate should alone be set aside for the spiritual care of the parish? This must strike their Lordships as being entirely contrary to justice; and it appeared to him that the circumstance of the recent vacancy of the deanery afforded a proper opportunity of doing something in the way of relief for the parish. This case ought to attract the immediate attention more especially of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He was aware, that by the recent vacancy of the deanery, the small annual sum of 26l. 13s. 4d. became immediately disposable; and that during the lease of the lessee, who received a large income from tithe, there was no power of taking a larger sum for the spiritual wants of the parish. But it was by the negligence of the ecclesiastical authorities and of Parliament that that improvident bargain, made with the lessee of the tithe, had been allowed. It was the fault of Parliament, and it was the fault, too, of the authorities of the Church, who had not brought this subject earlier before Parliament, that the large funds granted in this parish in former ages for ecclesiastical purposes had not now for a considerable number of years been disposable for that object; and therefore the parishioners of Wokingham had an indisputable right to look to Parliament and to the Church authorities to take some immediate measures, with the view of meeting the wants and removing the grievances of which the petitioners complained. When the leases fell in, additional revenues would become available for supplying the spiritual wants of the parishioners; and he thought it would he just and proper, by some arrangement—either by Act of Parliament, or by such arrangements as the Ecclesiastical. Commissioners had power to adopt without a new law, to anticipate this reversionary interest, so as to afford some present assistance to the parish. He considered it the more important that this should be done, because, if matters were allowed to remain in their present state, the large revenue, when it became available, would be far less useful then than it would be at the present time. If the Established Church neglected its duty, a large portion of the population would either become altogether indifferent to religious services, or conform to some dissenting denomination; and under such circumstances the revenue would be much less serviceable than it might be if it were now applied by anticipation to the benefit of the parish. He did not think it would be proper at this time to enter into any discussion of the measures it might be advisable to adopt for the relief of the parish of Wokingham; for he would not at present commit himself to any particular views on that subject. He must say, however, it appeared to him that the parish was labouring under grievances which urgently called for the interposition of some competent authority for their removal; and he begged leave most strongly to recommend the petition to their Lordships' attention.


said, that the parish of Wokingham, as had been stated by the noble Earl, was a peculiar under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Dean of Salisbury, and exempted from the jurisdiction of his right rev. Friend the Bishop of Oxford. He (the Bishop of Salisbury) wished to thank the noble Earl (Earl Grey) for the courtesy with which he had twice deferred the presentation of this petition, on account of circumstances he had stated to the noble Earl, and which that noble Earl considered justified its postponement. He was also anxious to express his sense of the fairness and consideration of the noble Earl in abstaining from introducing a discussion upon the very lengthened correspondence in his (Earl Grey's) possession. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl that it was difficult to find a case of greater hardship and grievance than that of the parishioners of Wokenham; for large sums originally designed for the spiritual improvement of the parish were devoted to a purpose which, though good in itself, was not that for which they were bestowed. He must say that he did not think the noble Earl had at all overstated the grievance; but he wished the noble Lord had pointed out any immediate remedy for it. What was the grievance complained of? It was the widely-extended grievance of the diversion of tithes from the purpose to which they were originally appropriated—the relief of the spiritual wants of the country. But, however great might be the grievance under which the parishioners of Wokingham laboured, they were less unhappily circumstanced than the parishioners of some other places; for under the late Act of 3rd and 4th Victoria, c. 113, s. 49, it was provided that the tithes should, on the next vacancy in the deanery, come into the possession of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A vacancy in the deanery having now occurred, these tithes and estates, subject however to the existing lease, were vested in those Commissioners. But another grievance complained of was, that the tithes being thus appropriated away by the system of leases, were removed from the control of the possessor of the dignity of prebend, or whatever it might be. Now, to this evil a remedy would be applied, so soon as it could take effect, by the rest of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners expressing their determination not to renew leases on lives. On the expiration of the existing leases, therefore, this tithe property would come into the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who would apply the funds for the spiritual advantage of the parish of Wokingham. By the 67th Section of the Act to which he had referred, the Commissioners were under special obligation fully to consider the wants and circumstances of that parish; for under that section, so soon as the Commissioners had any funds in their hands arising from the ecclesiastical property in the parish of Wokingham, they were bound—before making any other application of them—to pay due regard to the circumstances of that parish. Desirous as he (the Bishop of Salisbury) was to see a remedy applied to this great evil, he did not think that, under existing circumstances, the Commissioners could do more than apply to the spiritual care of the parish the reserved rent of 26l., which till the expiration of the present leases was all the property at their disposal. Upon one point referred to by the noble Earl, namely, the subject of ecclesiastical visitation, it would not be becoming in him to enter; but be must say that he considered the peculiar ecclesiastical jurisdictions a great evil and anomaly. These "peculiars" were established under the Papal system, from a desire to limit the power of the diocesan episcopates; and the subject was one to which the attention of the Commissioners had been directed; but, though they had presented a report, the proposal of a complete remedial measure had been delayed from year to year. The Act 3rd and 4th Victoria, however, gave the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a power, though not a complete one, to abolish peculiars; and the Commissioners had lately proposed to Her Majesty a scheme for the abolition of all peculiars in the diocese of Oxford. When that scheme had received the sanction of the Council, Wokingham would cease to be a peculiar jurisdiction, but would be placed under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Oxford. The noble Earl opposite had avoided entering into a series of minor facts mixed up with this question; and he (the Bishop of Salisbury) had confined his remarks simply to matters of a public nature. He fully concurred with the noble Earl that it was most advisable some remedy should be devised for the grievances to which he had directed the attention of their Lordships.

Petition read, and ordered to be laid on the Table.

House adjourned.