lesson from 'The tithe wars'

james armstrong james36armstrong at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 10 16:23:07 GMT 2006

THE MODERN TITHE WARS 1918 - 1977 - a description
Tithe payers-  mostly farmers-  fiercely opposed tithes =  'taxes' on land .
Tithe owners , often minor clergy absentee lay landowners fiercely defended 
their 'property' in the taxes.

First the tithe-payer- farmers gained enduring, prominent and national 
publicity , together with involvement of  national figures in a land related 
issue. Lloyd George and Rab Butler and campaigning M.P.s  culminating in 
primary legislation.

Second , the opposition from tithe owners to abolition  i.e. unearned income 
receivers from land, was fierce, institutionalised and prolonged lasting 
from 1918 to 1977.

Third the campaign  was successful (if partial and at a cost)

Four. The method bringing about abolishion was a guaranteed issue of 
government stock   recompensing the tithe owners.  administered by a 
commission set up to value their tithes
And paid for  in this instance by the tithe payers (not the general 
The battle to end tithe rent charges on land  started in England  in 1918 
which  became national with the formation of the National Tithe-payers 
Association ( NTA ) in 1931 from fifty local  groups, and was fought up and 
down the country  by farmers against tithe owners.  It had aroused protest 
in Wales in 1887
so it took ninety years struggle to  resolve.

NFU and CTA , Agri Workers Union,(Central Landowners Association)  were 
involved.There was a Royal Commission set up in 1934 to enquire into tithe 
rent charge.  A former Liberal MP was the  champion of the tithe payers. The 
Rev  Roderick Kedward.
Tithes whose origins were 4,000 years old , until the time of Henry Vlll,  
were taxes on land used to enrich the Church - in England   and Wales, then 
privatised by the King and allocated to   church vicars or sold off to 
private individuals.  They were perceived as a tax on farming to pay for the 

Tithes were a £3million unearned private tax paid by  farmers    on the land 
  to private  tithe owners

In 1918  the boom in farming changed into a disastrous slump, wheat fetched 
only half its former price
Yet  the tithes which amounted sometimes to twelve shillings an acre 
annually ( 60p) remained payable.

The 1925 Tithe Act is relevant
The 1936 Tithe Act was the final piece of legislation  leading up to the 
abolition '60 years'  later .

Its intention was to invent a procedure to bring to an end the payment of 
tithes , by recompensing the tithe owners, by means of presenting to the 
tithe owners  negotiable  Government guaranteed stock to the value of £70 
million  and requiring the tithe payers to  have to find £160  million 
spread over 60 years. See   News Chronicle 6thMay 1936. Plan  was to  assess 
what church incumbents lost by the tithes ceasing and recompensing them  
with Government stock.

60 years is relevant. The Bill proposed 40 years and at an advanced stage 
the date for ending tithes was advanced by 20 years.
It transpired that the beneficiary of the tithes ,the archbishop of 
Canterbury , was given exclusive advanced notice of the proposals of the 
examining Commission and was able to change the Act to   prolong the tithes 
by a further 20 years to the advantage of the tithe owners.

Tithe payers considered the arrangements as ransom money  paid by them to 
tight an ancient wrong
And that unjust payment of tithe had been replaced by their unjust 
commitment  to redemption of the government stock.
The effects were equally dire- hardship, farm failure,  and  militant 
opposition   Some remission was won for poor tenant farmers where the tithe 
amounted to more than one third of the rent

There were many instances of  this liability carried by the land being  
unknown to the purchaser of the farm.
Goods were seized by bailiffs to a value much in excess of  tithes owed.
Furniture, lorries, tractors, ploughs  cattle sheep , chickens and pigs and 
land  were variously seized and  auctioned off.
The Oxbridge Colleges were the chief owners of lay tithes.(As to-day they 
still  major landowners)
King's College Cambridge distrained the goods of destitute farmers and 
carried them to others of their farms. Emmanuel College prosecuted a Norfolk 
farmer whose business had already lost £600, for arrears of £18 and 
overcoming  resistance took away corn much above that value.  New College 
Oxford endured much adverse publicity from the farmers of Saffron Walden 
('RAB' Butler took up the case of the farmers.)
Oxford and Cambridge Colleges held the bulk of the lay tithes,  Merton had 
come in for considerable adverse publicity
Over its fight over Elham Valley farms in Kent. Kings College employed an 
unscrupulous firm  'General Dealers' to seize goods  in Suffolk.
In 1934 Oswald Mosely and  the blackshirts used  farmers' disaffection to 
gain publicity by attending  and opposing distraint sales on the farms.
In 1887 the young Lloyd George led the  camapign of the tithe payers as a 
means of   self   publicity  .and addressed anti-tithe protesters  in Wales
In 1939 farmers  demonstrated in London under the banner     " Justice for 
the Land"
A tithe payers association NTA was formed in 1918 to oppose the auctions and 
campaign  for abolition
Abolition finally took place in 1977 as the tithe payers paid  to redeem the 
Government stock.

See The Tithe War   by Carol Twinch 2001

COMMENT-   The Enclosure of the  common right to self build houses.
The Tenant Farmers' Tithe Wars' of 1918- 1977  are a lesson to  campaigners  
wanting  to take land out of private ownership. Land redistribution   was 
not the direct issue  but the tax on land forced the exploitation of land 
ownership to the front of national debate in the twenties and thirties
I suggest the Housing crisis of low supply and out of reach prices offers 
the up to date variation of the same 'exploitation by land ownership' 
The enclosure of the common right to self- build houses  is  a more accurate 
definition of  'speculative built houses for open market sale'  built by 
corporations.  The self  build housing campaign is the anti enclosure 
campaign and the  anti tithe  war brought up to date.   All are battles and 
opportunities to bring publicity to the land war.
Self build was the overlooked sector in the ODPM Barker Report on Housing 
Self and community build  are the third and unregarded sector in house 
First is Social housing
Second is speculative corporate built housing
There are important macro-economic, ant-cyclical,  socially valuable   and 
anti-corporate reasons  to support a campaign to achieve government support 
for the  self build housing sector
The first step I suggest is to commission research into  the advantages of a 
  government backed priority for self build houses in the UK  and research 
its potential as a significant contribution to house supply at accessible 
prices.  Also a comparison between self build in UK and in  other EU 
countries,  and also the current contribution of self build  to  the  US 
housing  market.
Funding is currently being sought for such research  and the need for it  
brought to the attention of  housing policy formers.
One interpretation is that Excluding self build from government policy  is 
the eighteenth century Enclosure movement brought up to date with all its 
unnecessary hardships and the issue as before is land.
Excluding self build is Enclosing the  common right of home making, for the 
benefit of major land hoarders and the crime  is the illegal monopoly of 
building land by corporate house  builders.
Enclosures and  tithes are the  exploitation of  people through land 
ownership. Campaigning to promote self- build and free the land to do it,  
is a way  of bringing the land issue forward and ending the injustice.  J A

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