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St James Gazette. 5 January 1887
A LESSON FROM SILVERLEY.
THE announcement made a day or two ago, that the tithe-payers of Hatfield Broadoak, in Essex, are almost with one consent refusing to pay the tithes due to Trinity College, Cambridge, may serve to call attention to two points of interest. In the first place, the public scarcely realise, if they realise at all, the very serious position of the Masters and Fellows of many of the colleges in the old universities. Like other owners of land, they have suffered with the depression which has affected everything to do with agriculture. But there is this peculiar hardship in their position - that, side by side with falling rents and tithes withheld, the colleges are paying ever-increasing annual amounts to the university for the maintenance of teachers and the erection of new buildings. This year the colleges of Cambridge are to pay £10,414 19s. 6d. to the university; in a year or two the annual payment will rise to at least £15,000, then £20,000 and then £25,000.
The announcement of the lawless procedure of the Hatfeld Broadoak tithe-payers affords tithe payers an opportunity for a few words on a subject which seems to be a mystery to the general public - namely, the manner in which colleges and individuals have come to be tithe-owners. There is a vague impression that the reformation took away the tithes from the churches and put them into the hands of "the greedy courtiers of Henry VIII." The facts with regard to certain tithes connected with Hatfield Broadoak - not these Trinity College tithes - will serve to make the thing fairly plain. The circumstances of many cases are different from these; but in a very large number of cases the facts will apply, with the necessary changes of names.
The third Aubrey de Vere founded the Priory of Hatfield, in 1177. He made the Prior and Convent the patrons of the Rectory of Silverley, a manor which is assigned in Domesday to Albericus de Ver. In 1288, when the taxation of Pope Nicholas IV. took place, the "portion" of the Prior of Hatfield in the rectory was rated at 13s. 4d., and that of the rector at £6 13s. 4d. Robert, third Earl of Oxford, before his death in 1221, converted the priory from an alien dependency on the Abbey of St. Melanius; at Rennes, into an independent house of Black Monks of the Order of St. Benedict. The Hundred Rolls in 1279 state that the rectory was endowed with thirty acres of land. In 1321 the King gave licence to the priory to appropriate the church of Silverley to their own uses, the Statute of Mortmain notwithstanding (Pat. Rolls 14 Ed. II., 1.18). In 1325 a list of the property of the priory was made, which is still in existence; the church of Silverley was estimated as worth £22 a year to them, the difference between rating and actual value being considerable. In 1329 the Bishop of Norwich issued a deed of impropriation, which may he read in the Episcopal Register at Norwich. The Prior and Convent had represented that their possessions were so small as to make it impossible for them to meet the necessary and immutable charges on their income. The Bishop had made full inquiry, and found their statements true and their petition consonant to reason. He granted the fruits and outcome of the church of Silverley to be for ever possessed by the Prior and Convent. But there was the rector in possession, Geoffrey of Saint Edmunds, to be accounted with. Geoffrey was to pay to them, so long as he remained rector, a pension of 6d. annually. When he ceased to be rector, the Prior and Convent were to enter upon the rectory, to take all the fruits and outcome, and to dispose of the moneys as they would; saving the vicarage which the Bishop by the same deed established in the church, and saving, of course, all customary payments to the Bishops of Norwich at times of institution, and so on. The vicar was to receive as stipend a congruous portion, to be authorised from time to time by the Bishops of Norwich. Thus the Bishop allowed the income of the rectory to be appropriated by a priory in another county and another diocese, and he recognised the fact that something very considerably less than the full income was sufficient for the maintenance of the spiritual pastor. It was no wife-divorcing wife-murdering king who took the money away from the church of Silverley; it was the churchman who was at the head of the diocese 200 years before Henry VIII., and his reforms.
Now we come to the manner in which the priory spent the money. And here again we have light thrown upon the matter by the existence of the deed in which they registered their assignment of the newly acquired income. On the eve of the Annunciation, 1338, the Prior, John of Colchester, issued an ordinance. The monastery had from the first been poorly endowed, and of late it had been weighed down by heavy charges. It had been unable to provide clothing for the monks and things necessary for the proper performance of divine worship. The monks had been compelled to leave the monastery, and to disperse themselves among friends and acquaintance: at the same time burning with desire to return to their monastery, and there fulfil the proper observances of religion and the right worship of God and the blessed Virgin. The number of monks for the future shall be only fourteen. The church of Silverley, recently acquired by the monastery, shall be assigned for supplying clothing and other necessaries, and placed under the care of the chamberlain, who from the receipts shall pay annually 20s. to each monk for clothing, shoes, and other personal necessaries, such as are right and proper for all religious persons who are in priest's orders and profess silence. The residue of the rents is to be distributed as follows: - To the Prior, for his solace, 40d; to the Precentor, for charges on his office, 40d.; to the Almoner, for additional alms, 40d.; to the Steward, for wax, napkins, etc., 5s. ; to the Infirmarer, for the solace of sick monks, 6s. 8d. The vicarage-house is to be repaired; the profits of the garden are to be accounted for; on Bishop John de Hotham's anniversary thirty poor people are to have a white loaf and a flagon of ale; on Prior John's anniversary a quarter of wheat is to be made into bread for the poorest people.
Next, we have the last lease of the parsonage of Silverley granted before the Reformation. On the 26th of October, 1521, "Dome John Asshely, Pryor of the Monasterye of oure blessed Lady of Hatfeld brodeoke, and the Convent of the same place, dimise to John Smyth, of Syluerlye, in the Countie of Cantybregge, yoman," all the parsonage, with houses, lands, tythes, etc.,"unto thende and terme of oon and twentie yeres." Smyth was to pay each year £10 13s. 4d., being £6 13s. 4d to the Vyker, and £4 to the Prior and Convent; the Convent to repair the house, "excepte thecchyng and dobyng."
On the 10th of July, 1539, Sir Giles Alington produced this lease before Sir Richard Riche, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, declared that he had the whole interest in the remaining term of the lease, surrendered it, and had it cancelled.
On the 24th of February, 1543, Sir John Williams and one Anthony Stringer, gentleman, pay to the treasurer of the Court of Augmentations £5,112 1s. 3d. In consideration of this payment the King grants to Sir John Williams, and to Sir Edward North, treasurer of the Court of Augmentations (this explains "one Anthony Stringer, gentleman"), among other properties, the parsonage of Silverley, of the clear annual value of £4 and not more ; and they are to pay to the vicar of Silverley, as a pension proceeding from the rectory of the church, £6 13s. 4d.
Two more documents and the history is complete. In the Bodleian Library there is among the Tanner MSS. "a particular of the manors of Ashley, Silverley, and Canones," with the following description of the Church property whose history we have traced: - Item there is within this lordship a parsonage called Silverley, which hath a tithe of 1,037 acres, which, at 18d. the aker, cometh to lxxvii l xvi s. vi d. Item there is to the same parsonage one tithe barne and 51 acres of glebe land, which, at 5s. the A., cometh to xii I. xv s. Item ther is in woods and closes not letten 19 A., which at 5s. the A. cometh to iiii l. xv s. This gives a total of £95 6s. 6d. when land was at five shillings the acre. The land was let a few years ago at 30s., and the value of that portion of the Church property of Silverley which is in the hands of a lay owner may be taken as three times as great as the value of the vicarage.
Lastly, there was a pension of £6 13s. 4d. to be paid always out of this alienated property to the vicar. This was 10 marcs, or 20 nobles. Let us see how it fared. In 1627 the earliest extant terrier of Ashley-cum-Silverley was drawn. The first signature stands thus: - “Jo Norridge, clark, rector of Asheley. I doe further testefie there is a pension due from the Lord North of twenty nobles to be payed yearly unto [the vicar] of Silverley, which he detaneth and will not pay."
Thus the original Church property of Silverley, consisting of tithes and lands, was first of all mulcted, 700 years ago, for an alien priory, to the extent of 10 marcs a year out of 26. Then the remaining 16 marcs were attacked in two ways 550 years ago. The amount to be received by the parish priest was reduced from 16 marcs rating value to 10 marcs; and this 10 marcs was to be paid as an annual sum, however much the property might increase in value; the ownership of the tithes and lands having passed out of the parish priest into the Prior and Convent. It was reserved for post-Reformation times to take the final step of repudiating payment of this pittance of £6 13s. 4d. out of a clear £95 6s. 6d. a year, representing a considerable income, even at present rates. The vicar had a stroke of luck this century when the village was enclosed: 83 A. 0 R. 14 P, being allotted to him.
This is an example of the manner in which tithes have got into lay hands. When the Reformation swept away the religious houses, what was to be done with the tithes and Church lands of the various parishes which the Bishops had allowed to be diverted from their proper purposes? There were no monks to be clothed at 20s. a year; no priors to be solaced. It is all very well for us to wish now that the funds could have been restored to the parishes. There was nothing at that time to show that they were wanted for the Church purposes of the parishes, and the Bishops had in the most practical manner allowed that they were not. In many cases they went to colleges, to be used in education - one of their original objects. Sometimes they went to schools, for a like good purpose, as in the case of Shrewsbury. Some went, in one form or another, to bodies who were supposed to spend them on the sick and the poor - another of their original objects. Others, forming the vast majority, went as we have seen the Silverley tithes and lands go.