Ron Dale

Originally tithe was a tax which farmers and land-owners had to pay to the local church representing ten per cent of their profit from the land. This meant a tenth of the crops of grain, seed, wool, milk, eggs, wood from woodland, fish from streams and rivers, hay and honey and ten per cent of all young livestock bred on the farm. Each church had a tithe barn in which to store their donations. As can be imagined, this unfair tax was very unpopular with farmers and caused great resentment. Also it caused other problems. How could you give someone a tenth of a cow? The system soon developed gradually into payment in cash. The tithe barn for Stanstead Abbotts used to be in Marsh Lane, opposite the Old Vicarage in Roydon Road, but was long ago demolished. The tithe barn for St. Mary’s Church at St. Margarets is still standing, believed to be 18th century and now converted to private housing, next to the church and manor house in Hoddesdon Road.

     In St. Margarets Sir William Goldington created a college or chantry of a minister and four secular canons in 1315 because the income from tithes was insufficient for the incumbent to survive on; the manor, then known as Thele, being one of the smallest in the country. This was dissolved in 1431 due to the misappropriation of the income. The tiny manor of Hailey, for example, still has tracks from Haileybury College (now part of St. Margarets and lord of the manor) which, in spite of the A10 road system, all lead to Great Amwell  church as Hailey had no church of its own until the 15th century.  

     When land enclosure came into being from the 16th century, banishing the practice of common rights for all and putting most land in the hands of those with the means to buy the land and to enclose it, it also caused tithes to be all paid in cash instead of in kind.


The commutation of tithes began from 1836 in England and Wales. The Bill of 13 August, 1836 commuted payment of tithes to a fixed sum of money to be paid annually and only varied according to the price of corn. There would no longer be a need for tithe barns. Tithe maps were drawn up showing every house, field and wood in the parish with its owner and occupier named. The commutation was responsible for the tithe maps created around 1840, which are today a valuable source of research for local historians.  St. Mary’s church in St. Margarets had an income of £6 under the Rev. C. Pratt (in 1848) and the tithe was commuted to £81 3s. 8d. In Stanstead Abbotts at St. James the living was valued at £10 under the Rev. W. K. Thomas (in 1848) with the vicarial of £92. The tithes were commuted to £301. 10s.These annuities had to be paid to the State by all those who owned land.


In 1936 the government decided that it had ample funds in the Tithe Account and as the collection was proving burdensome, it set up a new charge called a redemption annuity for a fixed term of 60 years, when tithes would finally cease. A Commission was set up to collect these annuities until 1996, but in 1960 it was decided to transfer responsibility for this to the Board of Inland Revenue. However, instead of waiting until 1996 to terminate tithe annuities, the government finally cancelled these with a normal payment in 1976 and a double payment in 1977 under the 1977 Finance Act. Tithes were finally abolished to every farmer’s great relief.  

     The 1840 Tithe map for Stanstead Abbotts is a little difficult to follow and perseverance is necessary. It is available from HALS in Hertford on disk. Mine cost £35 in 2012. Each plot of land or house has a number and these numbers are listed separately on a different section of the disk. Here is shown whether the land is grass (meadow) or planted to barley or potatoes etc. The name of the land-owner is given, together with the name of the tenant. Also the acreage of each plot is given for purposes of working out the tithe amount due. On the Tithe map can be seen all the houses of the village, together with the occupant’s name. It is in fact a partial census of the village in 1840, a very valuable document, hence its price. It must be remembered by researchers, however, that copyright exists and it cannot be copied willy-nilly although the law allows individual mentions to be made.