HL Deb 04 July 1853 vol 128 cc1151-61

in moving that their Lordships go into Committee on this Bill, stated that it had two principal objects:—The first of these objects was to provide for the aggregation of small livings in populous towns and cities, with a view to make better provision for the population on the outskirts of these places. Their Lordships must be quite aware of the manner in which churches were crowded together in some of our ancient cities. In London, for instance, there was an immense accumulation of churches, forming, no doubt, a great external ornament to the City, but tending but little to the spiritual advantage of the inhabitants. Even at the time of the fire of London it was felt that the number of churches in the City of London far exceeded what was requisite for the wants of the population; and the first Act of Parliament which was passed for the rebuilding of the City provided that only thirty-nine churches should he rebuilt. Three years later the number was increased to fifty-one; but even then it was found convenient to supress forty-eight churches which had existed before the fire, and to combine their endowments, and the parishes to which they belonged, with those of other churches that were preserved. There was, however, still such an excess in the number of churches, that he might mention one case in which there were five churches in an area no larger than Grosvenor-square, and not containing an equal population to that of that square. There were similar cases scattered over-the City in every direction. In fact, the population of the City, and with it the necessity for these churches, was diminishing every year, and the houses were becoming mere shops and warehouses; nor was this all, for the population that still remained' resident in the City were more and more in the habit of leaving it on Saturday-evening for some more agreeable and healthy retreat, where the Sunday was passed. You might find many very noble churches where there were not above fifty or sixty persons constituting the congregation. Some churches admitted even literally addressing the congregation in the very terms of the Irish curate, who began the service with "Dearly beloved Roger!" This did not arise from any diminution of attachment to the Church, for the same thing was observable with respect to dissenting meeting houses, eight or ten of which had within the last few years been pulled down and abandoned. The same process, though not to the same extent, was going on in several other of our ancient cities. In old times, when those cities were enclosed within walls, the population resided in high houses, and in narrow streets, and were crowded together in a small space in the heart of the town; but this was so no longer, and the hearts of the cities were becoming places of business, while the population resided in the suburbs. The question was, whether the churches should be allowed to remain where they were, and to remain empty; or whether they should be made to follow the population? He thought the latter alternative should be adopted. For this purpose it was requisite that there should be some extension of the powers existing under the present Acts for the pulling down of churches and the union of benefices. The bishop of a diocese had at present the power, under certain circumstances, to pull down churches and to unite contiguous parishes; but the process by which this was to be done was encumbered with inconvenient formalities, and was restricted by the condition that the parishes should be contiguous. Now, it was often desirable to unite parishes which, though not contiguous, were yet within a very short distance of each other. It was not surprising that some persons shrunk from the idea of demolishing churches; but as the great object of the Church was to sub-serve the wants of the population, he thought that, keeping that object in view, it was desirable that the churches and the endowments should follow the population. Nor was it a new proposition to pull down churches. Churches without end had been pulled down for secular purposes—in order to the construction of a railway or a dock, for the widening of a street, or the improvement of the health of a town. Would they then shrink from doing so when the object in view was the supply of the spiritual wants of the population? The object, then, of the first eight clauses of the Bill was to facilitate the union of small city parishes, and the transfer of their endowments elsewhere. It would, he thought, he for the benefit of the Church that the churches should not remain, as at present, without congregations. For what must be the effect on the public mind of nonresident clergymen and empty churches, and, in consequence, specimens of every kind of scandal that was most injurious to the Church? The next object of the measure was to give additional facilities for the surrender of patronage. There were a great number of cases in which parties were quite willing to give up their patronage to benefices in order that the endowment of these might be improved, if the opportunity were offered to them. In the Report of the Commissioners it was stated that —"in a large number of cases of small livings however, we find the right of presentation vested in the Lord Chancellor. In these eases we conceive that, by a process which we will presently describe, the income of the benefice might be greatly improved, and the efficiency of the Church proportionately augmented. The Lord Chancellor at present administers the patronage of no less than 754 livings, having an annual value of 190,000l. He has likewise the alternate presentation of 23 benefices, of which the annual value is 7,877l., making a total of 777 benefices, with an aggregate annual value of nearly 200,000l. The income, however, of a great portion of these benefices is very small, too small to be desirable as preferment, and insufficient to secure the services of a resident pastor. We find, so far as it is in our power to ascertain, that there are six of less than 50l. annual value, 56 above 50l. but under 100l., 124 above 100l. but under 150l., and 144 above 150l. but under 200l., making a total of 330 insufficiently endowed. It is obvious that the advowsons of benefices of this description can have no value as patronage in the ordinary sense of the word. It is difficult to find persons willing to undertake the charge of cures which entail more than the responsibility, but yield less than the salary, of a curacy. Speaking generally, they are not and cannot be sufficiently served, and the spiritual interests of their population are almost necessarily neglected. We are of opinion that these evils might be greatly diminished, so far as the benefices in the gift of the Lord Chancellor are concerned, by offering the right of presentation to persons interested in the welfare of the population resident within these cures, on the condition that the whole purchase money, or so much of it as would suffice to raise the annual value of the benefice to 200l., should be applied to that purpose. This additional endowment would, of course, increase the value of the advowson, and the sum which would be given for it. The marked and growing interest felt by the wealthier classes in the spiritual as well as the temporal welfare of the people, would, we believe, under the circumstances and conditions we have described, induce many persons to give for the advowsons of these insufficiently endowed benefices a sum far exceeding their mere market value; and if the example so set were, as is not improbable, to be followed to the extent of selling the next presentation by public bodies and private patrons, a vast number of parishes now almost without religious instruction for want of an adequate endowment might be brought within the regular ministrations of the Church. The direct effect, however, of this proposal would he, to place nearly 330 cures of souls now in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, but which are almost useless for spiritual purposes from the insufficiency of their endowment, on a footing to secure to the people resident within their limits all the advantages to be derived from the ministrations of a resident pastor. The remaining benefices in the gift of the Lord Chancellor are 447 in number, and vary in value from 200l. to 1,207l. per annum. These two which he had mentioned were the principal objects which this Bill had in view, although there were other clauses dealing with matters if less importance—for instance, to enable ertain corporations to part with their patronage, not for their own advantage, but for that of the Church. He ought, perhaps, to apologise for meddling in this matter, as some, parties thought it indecent for a layman to interfere with the affairs of the Church; he believed, however, that their Lordships would not be of that opinion, and would not think that he had at all transgressed the line of his duty in proposing this Hill for their adoption.


thought that there were some parts of this Bill which would on consideration bear a less favourable construction than that which the noble Earl bad placed upon them. Under its provisions it would he competent for an Archbishop or a Bishop of a diocese to unite parish A to parish B; and then, if the united parishes had an unnecessarily large income, to transfer the surplus to parish C. But the Bill did not stop here, for, in the next place, in order to create the surplus, it gave the Bishop power to order church B to be pulled down. Thus it proposed to promote church extension by pulling down churches; to provide for the cure of souls by giving two parishes to one minister; and, instead of diminishing pluralities, to enable one person to hold two livings. The noble Earl had referred to cases of parishes in which the population was very small; but these were extreme cases, and the Bill was not limited to them, as by it the union of parishes was in future to take place without any of those restrictions on the score of population which the present law imposed. The smallness of the population might be a very good reason for diminishing the endowment, but not for taking away the church and the minister from the parish. It was possible that a change might take place, as, for instance, by the erection of gigantic lodging houses; and that the population might once more return to the heart of the city where they had to work; and in that case an originally largely endowed benefice would be in a worse position than one poorly endowed, since it would have been despoiled simply for the benefit of another parish. He did not think it was at all objectionable that there should be a number of small parishes in a diocese like that of London—to which the Bill almost entirely applied—to which clergymen worn out by a life of active duty might retire for repose in their old age, and still do good service to the Church. The sixth clause enabled the bishop of the diocese to order any church included in such a union of parishes to be pulled down, and its site, and the building materials of which it was composed, to be conveyed to the Commissioners for the building of new churches, to be by them sold. Now, he could not help referring to the painful feelings which must be excited by the sale of churches, particularly amongst the friends and relatives of deceased persons who were interred in their graveyards. What, too, could be more unseemly than that the materials of which fine old churches had been composed, should be sold by public auction, when they might be bought by some speculator, perchance for the erection of a beer shop or a gin palace upon the very site now consecrated. It was said that churches were pulled down for other purposes; but in general when they were destroyed to make room for a railway, or other public work, there was a provision for their re-erection in some other quarter oftentimes much more convenient for the parishioners. Besides, in each case, such destruction was agreed to in view of a particular public benefit, which was a very different thing from authorising a general measure of that kind. Moreover, in these instances the civil power overruled and coerced the Church; it might be a neces- sity, and agreed to under pressure; but he had yet to learn that it was a work of piety, a work such as the chief ministers of the Church should themselves set forward and promote. If the right rev. Prelates dealt with consecrated ground and fabrics in this secular and commercial spirit, the precedent so set would be carried further than they might like. With respect to the other objects sought by this Bill, he thought there would be no objection, in the case of parishes with large incomes and small populations, to applying a portion of their funds in aid of less wealthy districts, because then they would not destroy existing churches or parishes; whilst power would be reserved to the Archbishop of altering the arrangement, should the circumstances of the parish change.


said, this Bill was the result of a Commission appointed to inquire into the best means of subdividing large parishes, and making more effectual provision for the spiritual wants of poor districts, and the provisions embodied in it were the mode chosen to effect the object in the districts where the anomalies complained of existed. The noble Earl had brought forward the measure not on his own responsibility, but as representing the Commission to which he alluded, of which both himself (the Bishop of London) and the Archbishop of York were members. It was not to be supposed that the persons of whom that Commission was composed, would allow any measure to be brought forward that would bring discredit on the Church; and the need of some such Bill as was now proposed, had for some time been generally recognised. The condition of the City of London as respected population and church accommodation was well known to their Lordships; the disproportion was very great at the period when the Ecclesiastical Commission was instituted, and bad even increased since that time, and no one could traverse the City without seeing church towers in vastly greater abundance than the number of inhabitants required. What it was now proposed to do was, to take the churches down where they were not wanted, and erect them in localities where they were imperatively required. The principle of the Bill was far from being new; there were many instances in which churches had been pulled down where they interfered with public convenience. Many of our streets never could have been widened, and many of our most useful public buildings could not have been erected, if that religious feeling which was amiably cherished on behalf of the maintenance of our ancient structures, had been permitted to interfere with the public requirements. One of the most objectionable features of such alterations was, that which concerned the desecration of the burial grounds, and the removal of the bodies. On this head he would only say that every care had been taken to avoid any violation of public feeling, or offence to public decency. He had never received a remonstrance from any person in reference to the removal of the remains of any individual deceased; and provision was made for their removal, in all cases where it was practicable, under the superintendence and control of the relatives themselves. It was a case of frequent occurrence that persons who had had their relations buried in one churchyard, after a lapse of some years, translated their remains to another. The sale of their chapels and burial grounds was a common occurrence in the case of dissenting communities. The truth was, that cases arose in which our feelings for the dead must give way to the requirements and interests of the living; and he did not hesitate to avow his conviction that the remains of former generations must not interfere with the temporal or spiritual welfare of the present. For himself, he would not object to the removal of the sacred relics of his dearest friend, if he were satisfied that such objection would interfere to prevent provision being made for the spiritual instruction of those who were now destitute. Be it observed that it was not proposed to give any power of demolishing a church, unless where means were provided for the erection of another. He recollected a case in which he had consented to the demolition of a church in the City of London, provided the corporation placed in the hands of the parties a sum of money which would enable them to erect a church in another destitute district. The bargain was made, the church was pulled down, and another church was erected where it was greatly needed. During twenty-six years, in which he had been intimately concerned with such measures as the present, he had never heard objections brought against pulling clown existing churches which had become useless or dilapidated, when provision was made for the remedy, by this means, of urgent spiritual destitution. At present he anxiously wished to secure sites for two new churches in the district of Copenhagen-fields, near the new cattle market, where they were much wanted, and he had made a proposal to the City authorities, that if they would furnish him with the sites, he would con-sent to their pulling down two churches in the City. The noble Earl said, why not take the surplus of existing benefices, and transfer it to the incumbents of new churches? On this point he could say that the only two valuable livings which had fallen into his gift since he become bishop, he had cut down, transferring a large portion of their endowments to new districts. He hoped their Lordships would pass the Bill; he did not mean to say it was perfect, but it would certainly facilitate objects which he had much at heart, and enable them to make a considerable progress towards securing those objects. He felt thoroughly convinced that the inhabitants of any district in which he was called upon to consecrate a new church would feel thankful to him for having overcome any material prejudices that might stand in the way of those objects, and would be of opinion that feelings, pious and commendable in themselves, ought not to be allowed to act as obstacles to our duties towards the living.


doubted whether the difficulties in the way of the measure would be so easily surmounted as the right rev. Prelate supposed; and he questioned whether the people would so easily acquiesce in the desecration of burial grounds and the removal of remains. He knew that in one or two instances in which this had been attempted, it had caused great commotion. He objected especially to the disposal of the sites for secular purposes.


said, he relied on the proceeds of the sale of the sites very greatly for the raising of funds requisite to erect the new churches.


expressed some doubt as to the operation of the Bill.

House in Committee.


repeated his objections to it, and pressed particularly for some limit in point of time.


reminded the noble Earl that already, by a recent Sewers Act, he, as bishop, possessed powers similar to those with which this measure would invest him, only to a larger extent; for under that Act the Commissioners, with the assent of the bishop, could pull down any church, or remove any burial ground.

On Clause 6 (Giving power to sell and dispose of the edifices and sites of old churches),


moved the rejection of the clause. He urged that when the Bill was passing through their Lordships' House for pulling down and disposing of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, a clause was inserted to prevent the demolition and disposition of the chapel unless with the consent of the bishop of the diocese; and accordingly the Bishop of Chichester refused his consent until it had been provided that the chapel should he re-erected somewhere else, which was done.


stated, that it had been quite a common practice, from the period of the great fire downwards, to pull down churches in the City, and replace them with secular edifices. He referred to an old book, from which it appeared that at the fire the consecrated sites of many churches were disposed of for the purpose of erecting banking houses or warehouses. A church had been pulled down to improve the approaches to London Bridge, and the Bank now occupied the whole site of an ancient parish, including that of the church belonging to it. Surely the noble Earl could not scruple more to pulldown churches for spiritual purposes than for secular?


entirely-agreed with the motives which had induced the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Powis) to move the Amendment; but if it were pressed to a division, he would feel compelled to vote against it. If it were found expedient to remove a church and to close a burial ground, was it possible that in the heart of a crowded city like this, the church could be allowed to remain a permanent ruin, and that the site of the burial ground could continue unoccupied? If the noble Earl could suggest any amendment, with the view of providing that, in the event of a burial ground being removed, the fullest respect should be paid to the feelings of even the poorest of Her Majesty's subjects, he would give such amendment his cordial support; but as he had felt assured that the authorities who were charged with the duty of carrying out this measure, would act with the greatest consideration for the feelings of all concerned, he hoped the noble Earl would not press the Amendment to a division.


apprehended that, under the present law, in the case of its becoming necessary to remove a church or burial ground for purposes of public im- provements, the bishop was enabled to act not on his own sole authority, hut to consent to an object which was thought desirable by a public body. He entirely sympathised with the views expressed by his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Powis) as to the general feeling of the public with regard to the sites of churches and burial grounds; but he confessed that after the case presented by his noble Friend (the Earl of Harrowby) and the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London), and more especially within the ancient limits of the City of London, he thought such considerations ought altogether to give way; for it was impossible to withhold assent to a measure which, although it might he attended with a minor evil, would still effect, in the only mode that was possible, a great and important object for the spiritual benefit of the inhabitants of the City of London itself. But, perhaps, the right rev. Prelate would consider whether it would seriously interfere with the operations of his measure, and whether it might not obviate objections to it if, in provincial towns having municipal corporations, the consent of the municipal body, as representing the feelings of the inhabitants generally, were made necessary before a church was pulled down, or a burial ground disposed of? To a certain extent such a provision might impose a useful additional check; and he was sure that the right rev. Prelate would himself desire that every check; not inconsistent with the principle of the Bill should he established, so that the bishop might not he placed in the position of having to exercise his own undivided and individual authority.


thought that there might be no objection to some such limitation as that of requiring the consent of the municipal authorities with regard to the disposal of burial grounds; but with respect to the pulling down of churches, he thought it would be much safer that the bishop should be the originator of such a measure, and should act under the control of the Church Building Commissioners, and under the final supervision of the Secretary of State.


reiterated certain of his objections to the clause, and thought that if it were agreed to, the words of the consecration service, which professed to set apart grounds for ever for sacred purposes, ought to be altered.


could not consent to sacrifice the substantial objects of the Bill in deference to what he regarded as a mistaken feeling.

On Question, Clause agreed to.

Amendments made; the Report thereof to be received on Thursday next.