lesson from 'The tithe wars'
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
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
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
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
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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