Supporting the church through turnips, pigs and mortuaries

Cattle and furze on Morpeth Common.
Cattle and furze on Morpeth Common.

TITHES were a tax of one tenth of the annual produce of land or labour, for the support of the clergy and church.

The tithe book of an 18th Century Rector, the Rev Oliver Naylor, shows him levying tithe on hens, pigs, potatoes, turnips and other crops, but he got a modus (agreed sum) for hay, and another from ‘Ld. Carlisle for Stints and Butts.’ Some people have ‘poor’, or ‘has 5 children’, against their names, to show why the collector let them off.

Tithe was due only on things capable of natural increase, but other fees appear in the same book:

For Tythe of Hens & Pigs (exclusive of £1 1s for Collecting)

£05. 00. 00

For 15 Sheep & a Tup upon the Common

£03. 00. 00

For Easter Reckonings

£09. 02. 02

For Surplice Fees

£06. 18. 02

For Mortuaries

£02. 00. 00

For burying in the Chancel

£02. 00. 00

The Corporation improved the Common and in 1769 Mr Naylor demanded tithes on the crops: At the back is ‘An Account of the Tythe for the Corn as grown on the Common.’

1763. For 20 Acres of oats sold to Maxfield & Bilton

£6. 00. 00

1764. For 20 Acres of Oats sold to T. Wilson & Theo: Dunn

£03. 00. 00

1765. Ditto Faugh (fallow)

1766. For 20 Acres of Rye &. Barley sold to I. Thompson & G. Dunn £08. 00. 00

For 10 Acres of Potatoes

£02. 00. 00

1767 For 20 Acres of Hay £03. 00. 00

For 30 Acres of oats sold to Peter Aynsley & R. Wardle £06. 00. 00

1768 For 20 Acres of Hay

£03. 00. 00

The Rest of the Crop for this Year was let to the following Persons, &. for the following Summs

To Edward Gallon for £24. 0.0

To Peter Aynsley forr £33. 10. 0

To G. Milburn & T. Dunn for £22. 10. 0

To Johnson for £15. 5. 0

To Edward Lumsden for £29. 10. 0

Total £124.15. 0

He sued Theophilus Dunn and others who had bought the standing crops. In 1770 a common guild (meeting of all the free brothers) heard Counsel’s opinion that he had no claim to tithe on the corn. The Corporation bore the defendants’ costs, and won.

The next rector was Jeffrey Ekins, and after him his son, Frederick Ekins. In 1810, the latter took advice from Sir Thomas Plumer, the Solicitor General, at a cost of two guineas:

‘The Corporation of Morpeth is seised of a Tract of Land consisting of upwards of 400 Acres commonly called Morpeth Low Common.

Previous to the year 1762 several parts were nearly covered with Furze & Whins, but in that year the Bailiffs & Burgesses & Free Brothers of the Corporation came to a resolution to drain Manure & improve such parts as required and to lay the same down to Grafs after having been plowed and made fit to be sown with hay Seeds by a due and regular course of Husbandry for the purpose of increasing the value of the Pasturage, the said Low Common having been theretofore used as a Stinted Common or Pasture.

They went in this manner through the whole except a piece of Ground having been formerly plowed, the ridges appearing quite distinct and it was besides in a very fit state for Cattle. (There is no Doubt of the fact of its having grown Corn.)

In the year 1769 The Revd. Mr Naylor filed a Bill in the Court of Exchequer for the recovery of the Tithe ... to which Bill the said Defendants put in their Answer that many parts of the said Low Common were previous to the Improvement thereof barren waste Land and that the Corporation between the years 1762 and 1770 expended the Sum of £950~ and upwards and that all the Corn which grew upon the said Low Common during that time Sold only for £507~ This Cause coming on before the Barons of the Exchequer a Decree was given for the Defts. Mr. Naylor did not receive any Tithe whatever from the Low Common.

In the present year they have made two Inclosures upon it and Sown the same with Corn ~ One of these Inclosures went thro’ a course of Tillage some time about the year 1765 and the other is upon that part anciently plowed.

The Corporation refuse to pay Tithe of the other Inclosure of Seven Acres alledging as a reason the Statute of 2d & 3d of Edward 6th. to have it Seven years in Corn without paying Tithe and they also pretend to rely upon the Decree made in the beforementioned Cause Naylor agt. Bilton & others.

Mr. Ekins however contends that as the said Seven Acres of Land have been as far back as living Memory can go used as a Pasture and have this Year grow an excellent Crop of Oats from the Lea without any Manure He apprehends that he is now intitled to the Tithe … more especially as a part of the said Seven Acres of Land was some years ago used as a Loan or Milking place by which means the whole has received a considerable quantity of Manure and has thereby been greatly enriched.’

Mr Ekins says the Stewards sold the crop on the seven acres to Neving and Purdy, telling them that no tithe was due. The free brothers stint the rest of the common for milk cows, horses and for ‘Kyloes and other barren and unprofitable Cattle.’ He himself has three stints or 15 sheep on the Low Common.

Sir Thomas replied from Lincoln’s Inn: “I am of opinion that Mr. Ekins is entitled to the tithe of the Corn which grows upon the seven Acres of Land (and also) to the Tithe of Milk of Cows that are milked in his Parish, (and) to the Tithes of agistment (i.e. feeding of livestock) of all Horses not used in Husbandry & all other barren & unprofitable Cattle depastured upon the Common.”

In 1836 Morpeth Town Council came into being. After a law suit lasting four years, it gained possession of the now badly neglected Common, and set up a committee of management.

It reported in 1841: ‘The Sheep which for some years past the rector has most unwarrantably been permitted to depasture in lieu of agistment tithe, your committee would not permit to remain during the time when the grass was hained (i.e. animals kept off it); and as this tithe has been commuted for the annual sum of eight pounds, the sheep will not again be there either in summer or winter.’

Sources: The original documents are in the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn.