In some parishes it had become the practice by the early modern period for farmers to pay a fixed modus instead. After periods of inflation, tithe-owners frequently challenged the legality of such arrangements, either in diocesan courts (which tended to favour the tithe-owners) or in the equity courts of Chancery and Exchequer (which were expensive and dilatory). The ill-feeling created by the collection of tithes caused many owners to agree to a money payment. By the 1830s both the Whigs and Tories accepted the need for reform, and the Church of England, fearful of losing its established status, acquiesced in the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836.
Following the dissolution of ownership, the priory lands initially went through a turbulent period. In 1541 Henry VIII gave them to Edward Earl of Hertford. They were then confiscated by the Crown for a period and given to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Following this they were confiscated by Parliament, finally being recovered by St George’s Chapel.
At its closure the priory had a yearly value of £525 9s. 3½d. In general terms, income would have come from spiritual and temporal sources; the former from tithes and offerings, the latter from rents, farms, market fairs and mills. The system of tithes was certainly in operation for the priory from 1179, and may well have been used by the abbey beforehand. Following the dissolution the major portion of income – the great tithes – went to the new owners, patrons, or their lessees, whilst the small tithes went towards supporting the incumbent.
For Amesbury, the the 17th century, this meant that the great tithes belonging to the Rectory included one tenth of the corn, hay and wood produced on the following fields with estimated acreage:
Blackcross Field, 250 acres
South Mead Hill Field, 250 acres
Great Southam Field, 250 acres
Little Southam Field, 250 acres
Earles Field, 250 acres
West Ambrosbury Field, 400 acres
Countess Field, 250 acres
West Ambrosbury Common Mead, 4 acres
Hopeing Mead, 2 acres
Farneham Mead, 2 acres
Countess Mead, 20 acres
Nothames Mead, 2 acres
Wittenham Mead, 130 acres
Several small parcels of meadow and pasture lying within the parish of Amesbury, 100 acres.
The total monetary value of the great tithes on the above land: £351. The small or lesser tithes included milk, calves, fruit, gardens and eggs, and went to support the curate. However, by this time the tithes had been commuted into an annual monetary payment.
In earlier times neither chaplains, curates or vicars were well remunerated. At the Dissolution the chaplain’s annual stipend was £8. By 1660 this had risen to £40, and to £141 in 1830, an increase of £133 over 291 years – an annualised increase of 9s. 1d (about 45p) a year! From 1612 a house on the rectory estate was reserved for use by the curate, and from 1630 St George’s Chapel (the patrons) allowed him to take the oblations and some small tithes. These were later replaced by a ‘modus’ of 6d for each cow and each calf kept in the parish. Up to the 20th century the stipend had to be augmented or helped by grants.
From the mid-16th century Amesbury seems to have followed the general downward trend of parish churches. In 1553 no sermon was preached for a year; by the mid-17th century there was more preaching but poor attendance! When Thomas Holland Snr was curate, many parishioners were consistently absent from church. Holland was said to be a good scholar and a painful preacher. His son, also Thomas, seemed more interested in designing and patenting water-raising devices for use in agriculture and industry.
In 1783 there were two services every Sunday, and services on Christmas Day, Good Friday, and fast and thanksgiving days; Communion was celebrated three times a year, with about 25 communicants.
Things looked a bit better in the 19th century, with Fulwar William Fowle, Amesbury’s curate and then vicar from 1817 to 1876. He held services every Sunday, and on Census Sunday in 1851 had a congregation, excluding schoolchildren, of 194 in the morning and 323 in the afternoon.
Correspondence from Thomas Holland Jnr and from Fulwar Fowle to St George’s Chapel Windsor are consistent in their reports of how the rectory and church are in poor condition and how low their income is.
Tithes have existed since Biblical times, and became a legal obligation in England by the 8th century.
At the Reformation tithe-rights that belonged to monasteries were confiscated by the Crown and granted or sold to various lay owners. Gradually, resentment over the payment of tithes increased.
Originally, tithes were payable in kind: the rector or his appointee collected from each farm the tenth sheaf of corn, the tenth cow, sheep, or pig, the tenth pail of milk, etc. In most English parishes the precise customs to be followed in collecting tithes were set out in detail in glebe terriers.