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Archaeologia Cantiana -  Vol. 89  1974  page 101
The Tithe Commutation Surveys in Kent  By Roger J.P. Kain, B.A., Ph.D.

ON the 13th August, 1836, Lord John Russell’s tithe commutation bill received the royal assent. It was a complex piece of legislation which had been given a stormy passage through Parliament. Opposition came from many quarters, and the act itself was very much a compromise. But, after generations of dispute, a just settlement of the tithe question was in sight.’ Kent, in particular, had a long history of tithe disputes. Ernie identified Kent as one of a number of counties where tithe was still commonly collected in kind at the end of the eighteenth century.2  Also, the valuable produce of hop-gardens was subject to high, or extraordinary, rates of tithe payment. Some farmers felt overburdened by extraordinary charges and petitioned Parliament for a reduction.3  Discontented farmers could also seek redress by litigation or they might be called to give evidence about tithes before Select Committees.4  Illiterate and impoverished farm labourers also protested about tithes; encouraged in many cases by their tithe-paying employers, they set to and assaulted local parsons. Farmers tried to offset the higher wages demanded by labourers by winning a reduction of tithe payments. So, at Goudhurst, for example, tithe-payers urged their labourers to, ‘stop the  tithes!’ Only then would they consider an increase in wages.5  Hobsbawm and Rudé list some ten attacks on parsons in Kent during the swing riots of 1830-1.6

   A tithe ‘system’ as such did not exist in early nineteenth-century Kent. Tithing practices had become so complicated, so encumbered by local varieties of exemptions, prescriptions, extraordinary charges and moduses that one of John Boys’ correspondents was driven to write, ‘what is meant by a fair commutation for tithes I know not. An equivalent,

   1 For a discussion of the tithe question in England see: E. J. Evans, A History of the Tithe System in England, 1690—1850 with special reference to Staffordshire, unpublished University of Warwick Ph.D. thesis, 1970; Hugh C. Prince and Roger J. P. Kain, The Tithe Surveys, Newton Abbott, forthcoming.
   Lord Ernie, English Farming Past and Present, London, 1961 edition, appendix 5.
   The Hawkhurst tithe file (P.R.O.I.R. 18/ 3635) preserves a typical example of one of these petitions together with an account of the way it originated.
   The majority of complaints about tithe given in evidence before the Select Committee on the state of agriculture in 1833 came from Kent. See P.P.s(H.C.), V (1833).
   5   M. Dutt, The Agricultural Labourers’ Revolt of 1830 in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, unpublished University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1966, 167.
   E. J. Hobsbawm and U. Rude, Captain Swing, London, 1969, appendix III.

Page 101 

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