HL Deb 03 April 1854 vol 132 cc309-20

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that he would call the attention of the House to the importance of the measure, and to the inconsistency of the relations at present existing in certain districts between the population and the church accommodation. The necessity for making additional provision for church accommodation commensurate with the wants of an increasing population was generally admitted; the question was, however, from what source such additional provision was to come? He would refer their Lordships to the statements made in the Report of the Commissioners for the Subdivision of Parishes as to the paucity of churches in the parishes of St. Giles'-in-the-Fields, Shore-ditch, Limehouse, West Hackney, St. Paul's Deptford, and other parishes containing large populations, and then ask their Lordships to contrast this want of church accommodation with the state of things in the City of London, where the churches were in excess, and in many of which the decline of baptisms and marriages denoted a disappearing population. With regard to populous parishes, their Lordships knew the enormous moral and social evils arising from the want of moral and religious training; and the spiritual wants of these places suggested that, side by side with so much population, there should be a suitable number of churches, and that Parliament should transfer the churches to the population, since they could not bring the population back to the churches. In some of the churches in the City of London divine service was sometimes celebrated in the presence of five or six persons; and how could either preacher or people feel any spiritual enthusiasm under such circumstances? It was positively injurious to the interests of religion to have a number of ill-served and unfrequented churches, with no population around them. The only objection that could be urged against dealing with churches and church-yards in the manner proposed by this Bill, was that arising, and not unnaturally, from the respect due to them as consecrated buildings and places. But he thought, that, when they came to consider the object for which these churches had been built, and the real interests of religion, he thought they would feel these to be minor considerations, which ought to be permitted to dictate their course, when great objects of a religious character were sought to be obtained. Parliament, even when no great public object was concerned, had dealt freely both with churches and burial-grounds. A new fire-insurance office, the Bank of England, a new dock, or a new street, furnished by turns proofs of the assertion, that when any secular object, great or small, was to be attained, Parliament had never hesitated, out of respect to consecrated buildings or the remains of mortality, to sacrifice them to such objects. He trusted, therefore, that their Lordships, having thus consented to sacrifice their feelings to considerations of minor moment, would not, when they were asked to carry out religious objects and to construct new churches in the midst of a population unprovided with them, and when districts in a frightful state of spiritual destitution were to be provided for, allow these feelings to deter them from giving their assent to this Bill. Their Lordships were probably not aware that there existed already large powers with respect to burial-grounds within the City of London; and that the Commissioners of Sewers were enabled by the existing law to make arrangements with respect to burial-grounds for any secular purposes. The provisions of the Bill were not confined to the City of London, although it would, of course, furnish the largest number of churches which would be pulled down and removed. In the cities of Norwich, Chester, and York, there were similar cases, where the population—just the same as they had done in London, though not to a similar extent—had deserted the churches, finding it more agreeable to quit the crowded habitations of the centre of those towns and to live in the suburbs; the effect being that the town churches were comparatively deserted, while the population of the suburban districts were very inadequately accommodated. The parties who would be entrusted with carrying out the necessary arrangements, in case this Bill should pass into a law, would be the bishop of the diocese, who would be bound in the first instance to give due notice of his intended proceedings, so that all parties interested might be fully aware of what it was proposed to do, and to certify the same to Her Majesty in Council; the Archbishop of the province, whose assent would have to be obtained; the Church Commissioners, whose sanction would also be necessary; the patron of the living, and the incumbent, so far as his own incumbency might be concerned. He thought that these provisions would be a security against anything being done rashly, or without having received full deliberation. It had been suggested that the Bill ought to state precisely what places were intended to be affected by its provisions. It would be obvious, however, that a good deal must be left to discretion; that they could not at any one moment come with sword in hand, or with axes and hammers, pulling down churches in one place, and re-erecting them in another; that it would be necessary in every case to consult the wishes of the patron, and to take into full consideration a variety of local circumstances and details; that, in point of fact, it would be necessary to make special arrangements which should be applicable to each case as it arose, and for which it was impossible to provide by any general Statute beforehand. The provision, however, which would make it necessary that the Bishop and Archbishop, as well as the Church Building Commissioners, the patron, and the incumbent, should be consulted, would, he repeated, be a sufficient guarantee against rash or inconsiderate proceedings. These were the main provisions of the Bill. There were some further clauses with respect to patronage—giving facilities for the disposal of patronage for the purpose of endowment—to which he would not at that moment refer, because he intended to propose that their Lordships should refer the Bill to a Committee upstairs, where all these matters of detail would be taken into full consideration. Taking the value of the sites at present occupied by the churches which would probably be removed by the operations of this Bill—without considering the value of the burial-grounds—at nearly half a million of money, he thought that the scheme was one which held out some prospect of meeting the great spiritual wants of the metropolis, and that, without some such scheme, there was no available resource by which those wants could be met effectually. The venerable Prelate who presided over the diocese of London might exert himself to raise large subscriptions, and in the course of ten or twelve years might succeed in building some fifty or sixty churches, most inadequately endowed, and with enormous populations surrounding them. But how could such a provision overtake the increasing wants of the vast population of this metropolis? The resources provided by this Bill were both natural and beneficial; and were their Lordships to sit with their hands before them while two and a half millions were left without proper spiritual provision, rather than avail themselves of so large and legitimate a source of income?

Moved—That the Bill be read 2a.


said, although he could hardly expect to induce their Lordships to disagree to the second reading of this Bill, he should take the liberty of pointing out, before it was referred to a Select Committee, some of its provisions upon which the noble Earl had very slightly touched, but to which he thought it right that the attention of their Lordships should be specially directed. In the first place, he would ask them to look at the short title of the Bill. It was called "A Bill to amend the Church Building Acts;" but, in fact, there were only two very trifling clauses in which the Church Building Acts were either repealed or modified. The points, however, which he would wish to bring under their Lordships' notice were those which were not included in, nor indicated by this short title. The noble Earl had referred to the great powers which were conferred on the Commissioners of Sewers, and to the removal of St. Catherine's Church, in order to make way for the docks; but he would remind their Lordships of the fact that when, at a later period, the Bill was passed for disposing of the Pavilion at Brighton, a clause was introduced providing that the chapel belonging to the Pavilion, being a consecrated building, should be disposed of in such a manner as the bishop of the diocese might approve. The result of that provision was, that the fabric of the chapel was transferred to a site elsewhere, which was given by a benevolent lady. Perhaps he might be asked what had become of the site; but the fact was that in that instance the site was not consecrated—the site was exempted from the consecration, which was confined to the fabric itself. But how did this Bill proceed? It gave a roving and unlimited power to pull down churches and unite benefices in all cities and market-towns. He scarcely knew what could be included in this term, "market-town," for it was not a description which was definite, like that of a town having a municipal corporation—so that there was really no knowing to what extent this Bill might be applied. The noble Earl had objected that it would be difficult to put into a schedule the names of all the churches to be affected by this Bill; but he did not see why they might not, in this instance, follow the course which was invariably adopted in the case of Inclosure Bills and Health-of-Towns Bills, and introduce into the measure, at all events, the names of the places intended to be affected by it, so that the parties whose interests were proposed to be interfered with might, at all events, have notice of the fact. Why might they not as easily enumerate the towns intended to be brought within the operation of this Bill, as specify in an In-closure Bill the names of the lands intended to be inclosed? The fact was that except the City of London, there was scarcely any town to which this Bill could be applied. There were certainly not more than three or four places to which it could possibly be applied, without, in all probability, giving rise to great abuse. But, looking at the measure under any aspect, some of its provisions were contrary to the spirit of recent legislation with respect to the union of benefices. In former days there was a power of union which was swept away by the late Archbishop in his first Plurality Bill (1 and 2 Vict. c. 106). By that Bill the union of benefices was restricted to cases where the aggregate income did not exceed 500l. per annum, or the aggregate population 1,500. In the last Plurality Bill, introduced two years ago, the most rev. Prelate opposite, while he permitted the limits of value to be relaxed, resisted any relaxation of the limit of population. He considered that that was a just limitation; 1,500 persons being about the number to which one clergyman could properly attend. In the present Bill, however, there was no such limit with respect to population; and in the published scheme for the destruction of these churches in London, upon which this Bill was founded, he found that in several instances a population of upwards of 3,000 had been put down as to be placed under the superintendence of a single clergyman. That would be more than one clergyman would be able to attend to, and more than the church of the united benefices would in most cases be able to accommodate. When they took from a parish its church, he thought that they were bound, at all events, to see that the inhabitants had another church to which they could go, and that they had in that other church not only an area large enough for their accommodation, but a sufficient number of free sittings, available for their use. But yet the Bill contained no provision for giving to the parishioners of a church that had been pulled down a right to seats in the remaining church of an united benefice. The attention of its promoters had been wholly directed to its destructive clauses. What was the state of the City churches? Why, in several instances, their interiors were occupied by masses of large pews, of which people who did not attend kept the keys; and it was one cause of those small congregations which were put forward as the ground of this Bill, that the free sittings were so bad and so few in number. The noble Earl had mentioned several of the City parishes in which the baptisms and marriages had diminished; but in answer to this he would mention the fact that, in the aggregate, the population of the City at the last census was only 1,000 smaller than it had been in 1801. So much for that great diminution of population which was another of the grounds of this Bill. In point of fact, the resident population of the City, instead of decreasing, had increased 4,000 within the last ten years. But it was not only in the case of contiguous parishes that these unions were to take place; parishes might be united which were within half a mile of each other; so that persons might actually be obliged to cross two parishes in order to reach the churches that might be assigned to them. Now, when they were giving a general power, which was not to be restricted to a particular place, or even to a particular diocese, they ought not to stretch that power to its utmost possible width so that not a single benefice might escape. How the measure would operate he could not state; but the results of these unions in Ireland had not been such as ought to encourage any extension of the system; for the first condition of improvement in the Irish Church had been the separation of many of the parishes that had been united. He thought that the Legislature should not leave so much to the will of am individual prelate, or to the whim and fashion of the day. Unions might be as much in fashion at one moment as the condemnation of them at another. He believed there were other causes of the small congregations in some of the City churches besides the diminution of the population. The Report of the London City Mission, which was written in a very temperate tone, and not at all in a spirit of hostility to the Church, indicated some of those causes in the number of non-resident clergymen. The clergy, in many instances, lived at so great a distance from their benefices that the people were not able to obtain the assistance of a clergyman when such assistance was required; in some districts a visitor was never seen, and many people who had lived in larger parishes at some former period expressed surprise that the population should be so much more neglected in the smaller than in the larger parishes. In one ward it was stated that there was no other religious education than that given through the instrumentality of the City Mission, and in another it was remarked that, small as the ward was, the poor were never visited by the parish minister, and many were without Bibles. The universal testimony of the people residing in small parishes was that they were seldom, if ever visited, and one person stated most emphatically his conviction, that they were neglected to a much greater extent in the city than in the parish of Lambeth, where he had resided previously, and the writer stated as the result of his inquiries, that there was no part of the metropolis in which the people were less visited by their ministers than in these small City parishes. These were some of the causes why so much foundation had been laid for this Bill by the smallness of the congregations. He now came to the churchyards. He would pass by the question of pulling down consecrated fabrics, because that was a question which this Bill had already ignored. And he would ask to what would these places be reduced in case this measure should pass? They would either be got possession of and occupied by other religiouscommunities—perhaps by the Church of Rome—or, in order to prevent that, and to ensure their being applied to secular, and not to religious purposes, they would have to resort to the not very creditable alternative of subdividing them into eligible building lots. Why might they not follow the example already set them in the City, by enclosing the graveyards, and allowing them to remain as open spaces, in which the population might walk or sit without disturbing the soil beneath, or being exposed to the dangers of the crowded streets? Because the object of the Bill was to realise every farthing that could be made, and because its whole machinery had been so contrived as to make the area of its operation as wide as possible, and to remove every limit, whether of value, population, or contiguity that might possibly obstruct its operation. He should not oppose the second reading, but he wished to call their Lordships' attention to the fact that the Bill was contrary to precedent; that it gave no security whatever that the population committed to the charge of a single clergyman should not be too large; and that it gave no security that the remains of the dead should have so much as mouldered away before the speculative builder came to let out the burial ground for building sites. He trusted that, if their Lordships gave the Bill a second reading, some modification would be made in it by the Select Committee. It was of such a nature that, if it were to pass at all it ought to be limited to those towns—but which were very few—where its operations would be beneficial; and he would ask their Lordships to couple with it a portion of another Bill presented by a right rev. Prelate for legalising pew-rents in churches. Having stated to their Lordships certain objections which had occurred to him, in order that their Lordships might not deem the Bill to be of so good and so innocent a character as was indicated by the noble Earl on the cross-benches, he would merely intimate that it was not his intention to oppose the second reading of it; but he warned their Lordships that, perhaps, they would eventually find that the path they were now to enter upon, would not prove tutum iter et patens, converso in pretium Deo.


said, that it scarcely fell to the lot of humanity to be able to suggest a measure which should consist solely of unmixed good, and he did not support this Bill as such a measure, nor was he insensible to the objections which the noble Earl, with so much feeling, had pointed out. In reference, however, to the observation he had made upon the title of the Bill, he must observe that the "short title" was not expected fully to disclose the objects of the measure; but this measure was, in point of fact, entitled "An Act to amend the Church Building Acts, and the Law respecting the Union of Benefices in Cities and Market-towns, for the purpose of building and endowing new Churches in Places where required, in Lieu of Churches in other Places not required, and to facilitate the transfer of Church Patronage." The object aimed at by the Bill was, therefore, very fully stated. That object was simple—to allow certain authorities, with certain safeguards, and subject to certain conditions, to take down churches where they were not wanted, and to build them where they were wanted; and he did not think that that was a principle to which their Lordships would object, however the mode of carrying it into effect might be open to discussion. Repeating his admission that the measure might not be altogether free from some mixture of evil, he did not think that it involved so great an amount of evil as should induce them to reject the very large amount of good which it was undoubtedly calculated to effect. With respect to the question of spiritual destitution, it appeared from the last census that there were within this metropolis no fewer than 640,000 souls for whom no provision whatever was made for enabling them to attend public worship, either in the church or in connection with any dissenting communion. This surely was sufficient to shock the feelings of every Christian, and to induce them not lightly to reject a measure which was calculated to mitigate in ever so slight a degree so great an evil. When the noble Earl spoke of the population of the City having increased, he spoke of the parishes without as well as of those within the walls. Now, some of those parishes without the walls had very large populations, and probably some of the churches taken from the parishes within the walls would be transferred to those without. The promoters of the Bill did not seek to provide further accommodation for the wealthier classes of the City of London. The people for whom they sought to provide were the labouring classes generally, who worked during the week in the warehouses and counting-houses of the great city merchants, and went out on Sundays to Whitechapel and Bethnal-green, and to the large and densely-populated suburban parishes. He regretted that some cause of complaint existed with regard to the non-residence of a portion of the clergy of London, but the evil, which was in a great measure attributable to the want of parsonage-houses, was nevertheless diminishing. He did not mean to say that pastoral visitation was in all cases carried to the extent that he could desire; but he believed that if the writer of the article in the City Mission Magazine, from which the noble Earl had quoted, had investigated the matter more closely, he would have found that the clergy were faithfully and zealously doing their duty to a much greater extent than he had admitted. Although years ago the poor of the City of London had been much neglected, he knew from his own experience and personal observation that the case was very different now; and although, perhaps, the whole of the clergy did not perform their duty in the zealous and efficient manner in which he desired to see it perforated, yet there were many against whom there was not the slightest ground of complaint. The noble Earl opposite had referred to the pews in many of the churches being locked, and thus rendered useless. He (the Bishop of London) had himself carried on a persevering war against pews, and the noble Earl would not find a more zealous coadjutor in doing away with the system of pews, and affording the poor free ingress into the churches throughout the country. The noble Earl had referred to a Bill which he (the Bishop of London) had introduced; and it was stated that its object was to legalise pew-rents. His measure, in point of fact, did no more than this. There were certain churches built a century and a half ago, in which, from the time of their erection, pew-rents had been illegally levied. These rents had been received and administered by the churchwardens and vestry, and in cases that he knew of, where the rental was 1,200l. a year, a very small proportion only went to the clergyman. The object of this Bill was to legalise pew-rents in these particular churches; but to take them from the uncontrolled disposal of the churchwardens and the vestry, and to enable the Church Building Commissioners, with the consent of the Bishop, to appropriate them towards the maintenance of the minister, the maintenance and repair of the fabric, and the expenses of Divine service. It had been his good fortune to add about eighty churches to the churches of the metropolis, by the liberal contributions of private individuals; but the accommodation was still lamentably insufficient; and if they could obtain half a million of money in this way, to supply the more destitute parts of the metropolis with churches, he did not think any Christian could lay his hand upon his heart and say it was an unholy thing to do so. He should object to the railing in the present burial-grounds in London as places of exercise or recreation, as it was in the least degree likely that they could ever be used for that purpose; and, inasmuch as hardly a month passed without his receiving applications from friends of deceased persons to sanction the removal of bodies from one graveyard to another, or to some cemetery, there seemed to be nothing really objectionable in the principle of removing them. As to the pamphlet which had been quoted by the noble Earl, and in which the writer spoke of sweeping away thirty churches, he (the Bishop of London) did not bind himself to the number of churches that would be dealt with under this Bill; but this he would say, that, whatever the number, every individual case would be most carefully considered, and the parish authorities previously consulted. There was nothing like a sweeping removal of churches contemplated by the Bill; and he trusted, looking to the fact that two or three hundred more churches were required to meet the enormous increase of population in the metropolis, their Lordships would not suffer any inferior considerations to interfere with the great Christian duty of doing everything in their power to Christianise, to evangelise, and to humanise, our neglected fellow-countrymen.


said, he apprehended few persons would object in the abstract to the pulling down of a church where it was not wanted, in order to erect one in another place where it was wanted. The question for the Select Committee would be as to the mode in which this principle should be carried out. Would power be given by the Bill to any body of men to decide what churches should be pulled down? Would it not be better to insert in the Bill itself the names of the churches—which, if they could be ascertained after the Bill passed, might as well be ascertained before—and thus those who were interested would, in each case, have the opportunity of being heard, and the satisfaction of knowing that the case was decided upon by the highest authority. Such a proviso, he believed, would be most acceptable to the public, and tend to allay the apprehensions which now might exist, and the objections which might be entertained to the measure. This, however, with other points, would be best considered in the Committee.

On Question, resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.