Introduction: Research Areas

Charities and Church Property

Eighteenth century bishops were invariably concerned with the existence and management of parochial charities. In 1744 Clagett posed a series of questions regarding alms-houses, hospitals and charitable endowments. He asked whether lands or tenements had been left for the repair of the church or other pious uses, who was responsible for overseeing such benefactions, and whether there were any abuses in the management of them. In 1779 the formula had changed slightly, so that the questions about alms houses, hospitals and charitable endowments were contained under the same heading as that concerning schools and the enquiry about benefactions for pious uses was posed separately. In their concern for these matters the bishops regarded parochial charity in much the same way as church property, and sought to preserve it from misapplication and poor management.133 The questions concerning charitable relief are closely connected to those about education, and the detail provided by the clergy is equally variable. Whilst much of the information is accessible in greater detail elsewhere, some comments can be made on the usefulness of the visitation replies to questions about parochial charities.134

The overlapping of so many different lines of investigation in the questions concerned with parochial charity make the information difficult to subject to systematic analysis. Moreover, the quality of the information provided was dependent upon how well-informed the incumbent was, and how well any charities were managed. In 1744 the Rector of Peter Tavy was John Gilbert, Bishop of Llandaff. His curate strove diligently to respond to the enquiries, but still found his knowledge wanting. Thus he reported that there was a house 'call'd the Church house' applied to the use of the poor, 'when or by whom founded I know not'. In a separate charity a gentlewoman of Launceston had recently bequeathed £5 a year to five poor widows of the parish, the trustees of which were Mrs Pengelly of Portridge and the vicar of Milton Abbott. The clergy also relied upon their parishioners to furnish them with appropriate information. William Mervin of Atherington recalled how upon his institution to the rectory he was informed of £100 'in a Chest which Stood in ye Church'. On calling together the parish officers to bear witness, the money could not be found. In 1779 Samuel Hart of Crediton was in the dark over the management of lands in the parish left for parish charities since, 'they are under the direction of presbyterians'. The interest of a further benefaction of £1000 was to be given to 'poor widows & poor fatherless children' of the parish, but this had not yet been received.

The returns for Ottery St Mary highlight some of the problems inherent in ensuring that parochial charities were adequately managed and applied. In 1744 Richard Holme reported that 'we have lands given by Henry Beaumont Esqr & others to the value of £213 [per] Annum for the use of the Poor'. These were under the direction of feoffees consisting of 12 principal inhabitants of the parish. However, in 1744 these were reduced to four 'one of whom absconds & the other 3 are of one Family'. According to the will of the donors the accounts of the charities were to be made up at an annual parish meeting, although this had not taken place since Michaelmas 1740 and the charity was now in 'very precarious Hands'. His successor in 1779 was resigned to the fact that he was powerless to intervene in the administration of the lands, simply stating,

There have been many Lands left; and, as I suppose, they are applied duly. But I am not concerned in the Trust; and the Trustees hold themselves not accountable to others but themselves.
Nonetheless, the management of parochial charities was not always so haphazard and many clergy reported that any bequests were being duly applied. These ranged considerably in value from the substantial sums bequeathed for the relief of the poor in Ottery and Crediton to more modest amounts. The only benefaction known to John Hayter of Chagford in 1779 was of £1 7s worth of bread given annually to the poor on Good Friday. The bequest of money for the distribution of bread among the poor was common in the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, although other commodities are also mentioned occasionally.135 In 1779 the minister of Harberton stated that of the £15 a year in the hands of feoffees, £3 10s was given away in cloth and £12 in bread and 'four Bushels of wheat'. In addition to the annual distribution of sixteen 6d loaves per year in Clyst St George, the 1744 return for the parish cite 10 shillings left to the minister for a sermon to be preached on the first Sunday in May and 'six hats to labourers every two years'.

In enquiring about the existence and administration of parochial charities, eighteenth century Bishops were not only interested in the care of the poor. Clagett's queries asked after lands left for the repair of the church or 'other pious Use'. This concern for the preservation of the religious fabric of the parish was further expressed in the revised questionnaire, which added the questions, 'Is your Church and Chancel in good Repair, and your Church-yard well kept? And have you all Things decent for divine Service?' Bishop Ross' queries also asked whether there was a terrier of the glebe lands, and if not directed for one to be made and delivered at the visitation. Taken together with the questions about charitable bequests, these enquiries reflect a keen interest in the maintenance of church property and the fabric of the church itself. The information provided in the visitation replies can be supplemented from other sources. For example, in response to the 1744 enquiry about lands or tenements for the repair of the church, the vicar of Blackawton, Philip Neyle, stated that 'There are four or five Cottages, which are Church-Lands'. A glebe terrier dating from the following year refers to 'six small Cottages belonging to the Church'. The terrier also notes the annual sum of £10 a year given to the vicar by Mr. William Wotton of Exeter (deceased), an amount not recorded in the visitation return.136 In 1779 Charles Lock of North Bovey reported that he had no terrier of the glebe lands, but would have one drawn up and delivered in at the visitation, which he duly did.137

Continue to next section|Return to previous

  1. Ward, Parson and Parish in Eighteenth-Century Hampshire, xxviii. [back]
  2. For more detailed returns see Devon volumes of Reports of the Commissioners Appointed in Pursuance of Acts of Parliament to inquire concerning Charities and Education of the Poor in England and Wales (1815-1839); The Report of the Commissioners Concerning Charities; containing that part which relates to the County of Devon (4 vols, Exeter, 1830). [back]
  3. Warne, Church and Society, 149. [back]
  4. DHC, Diocesan records, glebe terriers, 41, Blackawton, 1745. [back]
  5. DHC, Diocesan records, glebe terriers, 45, North Bovey, 1779. [back]