A series of five terriers dating between July 1770 and 1825 for the Parish of Woodkirk in West Ardsley provided a fascinating peek into the the the fees charged for various parish services. Terriers were a form of inventory drawn up for Bishop’s visitations. They provide detail about the funding of the benefice ranging from church-owned lands, fabric and furnishings (in Woodkirk’s case invariably described as handsome) to tithes, fees and customary payments. I was particularly interested in the latter two as I wanted to know what my Woodkirk parish ancestors paid to get married, baptised and buried.
Surplice fees payable to the incumbent for various services and ceremonies performed were as follows:
- A Marriage by Publication: Two shillings;
- A Marriage by Licence: Ten shillings;
- A Certificate of Publication of Banns: Six pence if the man lives in the Parish, but if the woman lives in the Parish two shillings and six pence;
- A Churching: Eight pence;
- A Funeral: Eight pence;
- A Certificate from the Register: One shilling; and
- A Mortuary: Ten shillings when a person is worth 40 pounds, when a person is worth 30 pounds six shillings and Eight pence, when a person dies worth 10 pounds three shillings and four pence
These fees were constant throughout. The only change was an increase from six pence to one shilling in the 22 June 1825 terrier for certificate of publication of banns if the man lived in the parish.
Fees payable to the Parish Clerk were:
- Easter: Each house two pence, each plough four pence;
- A Marriage by Publication: one shilling;
- A Marriage by Licence: Five shillings;
- A Churching: Four pence;
- A Publication by Banns: One shilling;
- A Funeral: Eight pence;
- Searching the Register: Four pence; and
- The Churchwardens for the time being annually pay one pound to the Parish Clerk.
Mortuaries were a hang-over from feudal times. The Lord of the Manor had the right to chose the best beast of a deceased tenant. This payment was known as a heriot. The vicar was able to choose the second best beast (or comparable possession) to compensate for any personal tithes the deceased failed to pay when alive. This payment was called a mortuary. Payment of mortuaries were very unpopular and in 1529 a Statute restricted their use with the value fixed, based on the wealth of the deceased, as set out in the Woodkirk terriers. Parishes which did not have this custom could not introduce the fee. It all had the effect of reducing opposition to them because the poor were exempt and, with the passage of time, the set value of them meant their real terms worth declined.
No fee for baptism is mentioned in the Woodkirk terrier. However other parishes did seem to have them. But such fees were a controversial issue. Although slightly later than the Woodkirk terrier, an 1841 extract from The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Religious and Ecclesiastical Information Vol 19 discussing baptisms in London illustrates the concerns:
…..Of it’s illegality there can be no doubt. No fee, it is well understood, is payable for the administration of a sacrament, and the flimsy pretext that it is due for registering the baptism, is at once destroyed by the words of an act of parliament, which do not leave the clergyman who administers the sacrament of baptism an option in the matter, as he is bound to register the names of all whom he baptises.
I would therefore most respectfully call the attention of the incumbents of London parishes, and of those in the immediate neighbourhood, to the fact they are, by demanding a fee for baptism, guilty of an illegal act, and an act highly injurious to the spiritual welfare of their parishioners…….
Your correspondent, “A Curate,” states the fee to be 1s. 6d. In many city parishes it is 2s. 6d., and I have even heard, still more.
And it is clear the controversial charges applied beyond London. As the Leeds Times of 5 October 1844 reported:
THE BAPTISMAL FEE – The Bishop of Ripon, in his charge to the clergy of his dioceses a few days since, declared that demanding of a fee on baptism was illegal. His lordship added, “The practice, perhaps, originated in the performance of the office for Churching of the woman at the period of the admission of the child into the Church of Christ; and the fee lawfully due for the former. And at first clearly miscalled the baptismal fee, has afterwards been demanded where the parent did not present herself to return thanks for her safe delivery.”
Ripon Diocese, formed in 1836, from Yorkshire part of Archdeaconry of Richmond (formerly Diocese of Chester) and part of Diocese of York, covered Woodkirk. Churching, which did appear in the earlier Woodkirk terriers, was a purification ritual for a women after childbirth, giving thanks for her recovery, cleansing her from the stain of childbirth and marking her re-entry to the church. Although a distinct ceremony it is easy to see how it could be conflated with a baptism fee.
Baptisms did at one point incur a state charge though, and the period covered by the Woodkirk terriers coincided with it. This was the highly unpopular Stamp Duty Act of 1783 which remained in force until 1794. Paupers were exempt, but for all others a duty of 3d was levied on each baptism, marriage and burial recorded in the parish register. I have not undertaken a comparative check on the Woodkirk register, but countrywide the number of pauper entries in registers increased and, in the case of baptisms, some parents waited until the tax ended before having children baptised. There was also an earlier Marriage Duty Act of 1695, repealed in 1706, which similarly imposed a sliding scale tax on on births (using parish register baptisms as a proxy), marriages and burials.
But as for church imposed fees, the controversy of baptisms continued to rumble in the 19th century until the Baptismal Fees Abolition Act of 1872. This Act made it unlawful to demand any
Fee or Reward for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, or the Registry thereof.
That from and after the passing of this Act, it shall not be lawful for the minister, clerk in orders, parish clerk, vestry clerk, warden, or any other person to demand any fee or reward for the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, or for the registry thereof: Provided always, that this Act shall not apply to the present holder of any office who may at the present time be entitled by any Act of Parliament to demand such fees.