Tithe and Glebe Terrier Accounts:
Parish Chest Records

Tithe accounts and glebe terrier documents from parish chest records can provide information on where your ancestors farmed and how much they were required to pay, in cash or in kind, as a form of 'tax'. The tarriff was used to support the local parish church and fund various common responsibilities, such as assisting the poor, maintaining roads, and so on.

The phrase “glebe terrier” is an Anglican and Roman Catholic term for the document describing the lands held by the Church in the parish, which the clergyman controlled. They were allocated to him as a means of supporting himself and of maintaining the church.

The glebe usually consisted of the church and the graveyard, the manse, and bits of land that the clergyman could rent out to villagers.

Plan of fictional medieval Manor,
showing strips of land allocated to the glebe.
Public Domain.
Plan of fictional medieval Manor, showing strips of land allocated to the glebe

In the days before enclosure, fields were divided up into various strips of land for people to farm. The glebe would be allocated various strips of land on different fields, as illustrated in the above drawing. The clergyman was free to farm these strips himself, or to lease them out to villagers.

The clergyman also would take a one-tenth portion of the proceeds of crops and livestock, or money in lieu, as a tariff. Each parish had a tithe account, which formed part of its parish chest records.

Anything that grew out of the land (i.e., crops such as grain, corn, wood and wheat); any livestock that would increase and was nourished by feeding on what grew from the land; animal produce, such as eggs, milk, and wool; and the proceeds of man's labour in the production of things from that land, such as lumber from a sawmill, was subject to this tax levy.

In parishes where there was a small amount of land allocated to the glebe, the vicar’s main source of income was from this one-tenth tax.

Tithe Accounts in England and Wales

The practice of collecting a tariff, and maintaining the associated accounts, had been established in England and Wales long before the Norman invasion in 1066 A.D.

The concept of payment in cash instead of payment “in kind” (meaning the actual fruit, vegetables, etc. grown) had gradually come in over the centuries in some parishes.

Tithe Barn built in 1400s to house tithes "in kind"
at the Abbey, Doulting, Somerset, England.
Martin Bodman via Wikimedia Commons
Abbey barn, Doulting

The practice of paying cash instead of giving of the actual harvest was formalized in the Commutation of Tithing Act 1836 in 1836 in England and Wales.

This Act required that a tithing map be made, listing all lands in a particular district, and who owned or occupied them. Areas that already were using a commutation system (i.e., accepting cash instead of payment in kind, such as the fruits of the harvest) were not mapped. The surveying work was completed between 1841 and 1851.

Three copies of the maps were made. One stayed in the parish church; one went to the archbishop of the diocese; and one went to the Tithing Commissioners.

The Commissioners’ copies eventually went to the Inland Revenue, and are now located at the National Archives at Kew. The parish church copies generally are at the county Record Office. For Wales, the copies from the diocese are in the National Library at Aberystwyth.

These maps are excellent resources for the genealogist, as they pinpoint who lived in what house, and what buildings and lands they owned, leased, and/or tilled, at the time the survey was done (i.e., between 1837 and 1851). A real boon to those researching small country villages, where often there were no numbers on the houses until the 1960s!

Tithing in Ireland

This form of tariff, and the associated record, was introduced into Ireland in the late 1100s. After the Reformation in the 1500s, a majority of the Irish population chose to remain Catholic, but the established Church of Ireland now was Anglican.

All of the population was required to pay this levy to support the Anglican church, regardless of their actual religious affiliation. This situation led to a great deal of unrest, and ultimately to the Tithe War from 1831 to 1836, during which Irish Catholics refused to pay the required assessments. The government responded by attempting to seize property, a measure which was met with resistance, and the loss of lives.

Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland,
site of an 1835 attempt by armed police to enforce a seizure order for non-payment of tithes worth 40 shillings. The end result was 17 villagers dead and 30 wounded.
Public domain
Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland

The Tithe Commutation Act 1836 reduced the levy and combined it with rental payments, effectively making landlords responsible for remitting the tariff. The system was abolished in 1869, when the Anglican Church ceased to be the Church of Ireland.

There are no tithe maps of Ireland, or of Scotland, as a system of payment in cash had long been in place in both countries at the time the Act was passed.

Go from "Glebe Terrier and Tithe Accounts: Parish Chest Records" to "Parish Chest Records - England, Ireland and Wales"

Go to "Poor Laws: Parish Chest Records

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