Tithing 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. In
the collection of tithes began in the 9th century, and was to continue until the
payments were abolished in 1936. 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
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.
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.
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
At the end of the apportionment is a summary, giving total acreages of the
premises of the different owners and occupiers.
Usage of the
Tithe Maps and Apportionments
Apart from parish registers, tithe maps and apportionments are often the most
heavily used class of documents in any Record Office. Their appeal is that they
give detailed information of local topography, and land usage, as well as
field-names and the names of the owners and occupiers of properties. With the
maps, their greatest asset - the amount of detail shown - leads to their
greatest drawback, as they are extremely large and not easy to handle. The
apportionments are also often quite bulky and cumbersome to use.
The maps and apportionments for Devon, numbering some 469 in total, are mainly
of the ecclesiastical parishes, but include a few other miscellaneous districts
or tithings (for a complete list CLICK HERE). Most date from the 1840s, and they
cover 97.4% of the total area of the county. However, coverage does not exist
for the urban parishes of
, nor for Kingsbridge, Dartmouth St Saviours, East Stonehouse in
, the town of
etc - therefore, many highly-populated areas are not included.
Tithe Apportionment Project
Using the tithe documents for one
parish is relatively simple, but if information about more than one parish is
needed, each apportionment and map has to be ordered separately. If a searcher
wishes to find out the extent of an individual or family's ownership or
occupation of land within the county, the only way is to look at each individual
apportionment. To rectify some of these difficulties the Friends of Devon’s
Archives embarked in 1998 on a project to make the information from the county’s
tithe apportionments more accessible. It was decided to abstract the names of
owners, lessees and occupiers, along with the names of the holdings and their
acreages, and to create a database of this information.
NOTE – the parishes of Boyton and Maker (Cornwall), and Chardstock, Hawkchurch and
Thorncombe (Dorset) have been included in this project.
The data can be accessed in two different ways, either by searching on a
parish to obtain a complete listing of the parish or searching on a name to
obtain all occurrences of that name. Full
details of these searches can be seen here –
The production of this database will enable searchers to look at information
culled from all the apportionments. In how many parishes did the Fortescue
family hold land? How many farms over 50 acres were there in Axminster? What
property did Alexander Maunder occupy? All of these questions are answerable by
consulting the databse, instead of having to search all the apportionments. One
further advantage could be that, in many cases, it may not be necessary to look
at the original documents at all; this would mean less work for the Record
Office staff and would result in less wear-and-tear on the items.
The main limitation with this database is that it does not contain field names
or numbers and, except for named holdings whose location is known, the searcher
will have to resort to the original Tithe Apportionment and map to obtain a
geographical location of property. To transcribe the field names would be far
too large a task and the end-product would be unmanageable and an index of these
names would not be advantageous except for highly-detailed research. One
peculiarity that arose during transcription is the lack of names for holdings in
several parishes – indeed some parishes had no named holdings at all. It was
decided to name these as unnamed land
where there was no habitation listed, unnamed cottage etc or unnamed house etc
if a building was mentioned along with the land, and
unnamed cottage or
unnamed house if no land was included.
Friends of Devon’s Archives are most grateful to the staff of the Devon Record
Office, the North Devon Record Office, the
and West Devon Record Office, and the Dorset Record Office for their
co-operation, help, advice and patience during this project. Thanks must also be
given to the many transcribers who helped produce the database, but we are
especially indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Summerell, John Trott and Judith Farmer, who
tirelessly contributed more than 95% of the parishes. All of the transcripts
were entered into the database by Pete Best, to whom the greatest thanks are
due, Pete has also designed and produced the Tithe Web Pages. He
performed much of the work while at sea with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, so this
project has travelled the world from the Arctic Circle to the Falkland Islands,
from the Caribbean to the Persian Gulf.
It has felt an aftershock of the Turkish Earthquake of 1999 and seen the distant
flash of Cruise Missiles being fired in 2003.
How many Indexes can say that?