Tithes and West Down

Tithes and West Down

The system of tithes was introduced into England in the late 8th century and was the name given to the custom of taking one tenth of all agricultural produce of a parish, including grain, crops, newborn animals, honey, wool etc., to pay for the upkeep of the church and clergy. It was a system much used throughout Europe and the Middle East and is still in practice today, particularly with the Mormon Church whose members contribute 10% of their annual income.

From the outset practices began to differ; some parishes continued to pay their tithes in kind, some adopted the payment of a cash equivalent, and yet others rendered their tithes through a combination of both.

To standardise these payments, the Tithe Commutation Act was passed in 1836, ordering that all tithes were to be paid in money, not in kind.

The amount to be paid was based on the national seven-year average price of corn: local variations in prices were not taken into consideration. Three Commissioners were appointed to oversee the process of commutation, with their first task being to enquire into the extent and nature of tithes payment in every parish. Hopefully, an agreement was made between the landowners and the tithe-owners as to how much, and on what land, tithes were charged, but, failing such an agreement, the Commissioners were empowered to impose an Award on the parties. 

Tithing was to continue until the payments were abolished in 1936

 Tithe Maps

It was necessary to draw up accurate maps from which acreages could be calculated and payments deduced. Initially, it was envisaged that these maps would all be of the highest possible quality, but this proved to be too expensive – especially as the cost was borne by the landowners – and examples of lesser quality were accepted.

What astounds most people is the scale at which these maps were drawn. Over two-thirds of them were produced at the scale recommended by the Commissioners: 3 or 4 chains to the inch (one chain being 66 feet). Such a scale enables a lot of detail to be shown. They depict individual fields and plots of land, woodland, ponds, stream and rivers, roads, houses, cottages and farm buildings, each one numbered to correspond to the reference in the Apportionment.

The process of producing the maps and apportionments was carried out with great efficiency, being largely completed by 1851.

 Tithe Apportionments

A tithe apportionment or book of reference was produced to accompany each map. They begin with a pre-amble, which usually gives details of the terms of the agreement or award made for the location, which is followed by the apportionment itself. This is arranged in columns, reading from left to right:

name of the landowner(s)

name of the occupier(s)

number of the plot of land or building (corresponding to the number on the map)

name or description of the piece of land or building

state of cultivation, e.g. whether arable, meadow, plantation, furze, waste etc.

area given in acres, rods, and perches (40 perches = 1 rod, 4 rods = 1 acre)

amount of tithe rent-charge to be paid

At the end of the apportionment is a summary, giving total acreages of the premises of the different owners and occupiers.

 The Tithe Map and Lists of Apportionments for West Down Parish was produced in 1841 and you are able to view the original documents here (these are large files so please be patient whilst loading) :- 

Tithe Map: https://new.devon.gov.uk/historicenvironment/tithe-map/west-down/

They provide a fascinating insight into the Parish life at that time and it’s geography and particularly the old field names which have mostly been lost in today’s busy world.