How to look for records of... Tithes

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide explains what types of records were created as part of the Tithe Survey and how to search for them. It also refers to other records related to tithes.

This guide may be useful if you:

  • are interested in an ancestor who once lived in a given parish
  • wish to find out more about a particular property
  • are researching local history
  • require a large-scale map of an area in the mid-19th century

The records of the Tithe Survey may show where people were living and who their neighbours were in early Victorian times.  You may also find information on crop acreages, field names, house occupancy, rights of way and parish boundaries.

For information on the use of tithe records in chancel repairs research please see our research guide on Chancel repair liabilities in England and Wales.

You may be able to locate records of the Tithe Survey in other archives. See section Records held in other archives.

2. What was the Tithe Survey?

Tithes were originally a tax which required one tenth of all agricultural produce to be paid annually to support the local church and clergy. After the Reformation much land passed from the Church to lay owners who inherited entitlement to receive tithes, along with the land.

By the early 19th century tithe payment in kind seemed a very out-of-date practice, while payment of tithes per se became unpopular, against a background of industrialisation, religious dissent and agricultural depression. The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required tithes in kind to be converted to more convenient monetary payments called tithe rentcharge. The Tithe Survey was established to find out which areas were subject to tithes, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom.

For more information on the background of the tithe survey, see Maps for Family and Local History by G Beech and R Mitchell and Tithe Surveys by JP Kain and H Prince.

2.1 How was the Tithe Survey carried out?

The first task of the Tithe Commissioners appointed to oversee the administration of the Act was to discover to what extent commutation had already taken place.

Enquiries were directed to every parish or township listed in the census returns. The results of these enquiries are in the tithe files, which cover the whole of England and Wales, and not only those places where tithes remained uncommuted by 1836. For parishes where tithes were still being paid in kind, the land had to be surveyed and valued, to arrive at total parish rentcharge figures, and to calculate each individual landowner’s liability to pay tithe. Assistant tithe commissioners travelled to these parishes to hold meetings with parishioners about valuations, and to settle the terms of the commutation of their tithes.

These terms were formalized in a document called a tithe agreement, if all parties concurred, or a tithe award, if the assistant commissioner had to arbitrate in a dispute. The agreement or award formed the basis of the tithe apportionment, which was the legal document setting out landowners’ individual liabilities. Each apportionment was accompanied by a map; both were signed by the Tithe Commissioners. Tithe rentcharge then became payable.

3. Overview of key record series

The major record series are:

  • Tithe apportionments (IR 29) which provide the names of landowners and occupiers, land use and tithe rentcharge
  • Tithe maps (IR 30) which show numbered plots described in the apportionments
  • Tithe files (IR 18) which contain the administrative records created while the Tithe Survey was being carried out

See sections on each of the record series in this guide for more information.

3.1 How do the records relate to each other?

The apportionments contain written information about the area shown on the map. The maps provide a graphic index to the apportionments, using plot numbers to link each plot of land shown on the map to its description in the apportionment, which shows how much tithe rentcharge was due on that plot.

A tithe map and apportionment were originally kept together and technically constitute a single document, but have been separated to facilitate use and storage, while in the custody of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, long before their transfer to the Public Record Office, and now form two record series.

4. Where do I start?

Depending on your research interest you may wish to start by either consulting the tithe map first or the apportionment first.

Those looking for individuals will start by finding the relevant tithe apportionment, in which people’s names are listed. Note the plot number in the column against any names in which you are interested, and then look at the map to see where these plot numbers were located.

If you are interested in a place, look at the tithe map and find the plot number attached to the area in which you are interested. Look up the number in the key at the front of the apportionment, to find on which page this plot number is described.

You can access images of the records on The Genealogist online. See the relevant sections for more search guidance:

5. What can I view online?

You can view the apportionments and tithe maps online at The Genealogist (£).Consult the sections on apportionments and tithe maps in this guide for more advice on how to search the records online.

6. Apportionments (IR 29)

The tithe apportionment was the main record of how tithes were to be commuted, showing how the overall rentcharge for the district was apportioned to individual landowners on the basis of identifiable pieces of land, and how much tithe had to be paid for each plot of land.  Details include names of owners and occupiers, size and use of plots of land.

6.1 How do I search the apportionments?

You can view the apportionments online at The Genealogist (£).  Search them by a parish or a person’s name. If you are searching by parish, enter the parish name in the ‘keyword’ field.

You can search for a plot number by including it with the parish. Click on the ‘original image’ icon to view the image and/or browse through the apportionment.

You can also view the microfilm copies of the tithe apportionments onsite (for preservation reasons you will not be able to access the originals unless you need to consult any coloured annotations in the Remarks column of the apportionment).

Before you can consult the record, you will need to find the document reference using Discovery, our catalogue, searching by place name and IR 29.

For more advice on how to use our catalogue, see Discovery help.

6.2 What can I expect to find?

These documents are standard in format and content.

The apportionment opens with a preamble which usually contains the articles of agreement between landowners and the tithe owner or owners, or compulsory award made by the Tithe Commissioners.  It also gives statistics on the overall extent and state of cultivation of the lands in the tithe district, and of any lands exempted on various grounds from payment of tithes, such as commons and roads.

The detailed schedule of apportionment follows. The schedule is a written form which contains columns for:

  • names of the landowners
  • occupiers
  • plot numbers of tithe areas
  • name (if applicable), description and type of crop of each tithe area
  • how much tithe rentcharge was payable on that tithe area

The summary of schedule lists the landowners alphabetically by surname; names occupiers of their holdings (not listed alphabetically, but usually by the size of the land held); and adds up the rentcharge on individual properties to the global figure due from each landowner to the tithe owner.

A key to the plot numbers

Most tithe apportionments had a numerical key added, showing the page of the apportionment on which a description of each tithe plot appears.

6.3 Altered apportionments and related maps

Changes in ownership and the way land was divided up may be recorded in altered apportionments. Sometimes these were not formally made until several years after the change in ownership, and in many cases, no formal record was made; informal and local agreements may have been made between tithe owners and landowners.  Many parishes have no altered apportionment.

Some altered apportionments have maps to show where and how changes had been made. Where there were a number of changes, at different dates, series of numbers may be differentiated by letters or some other sign, either in the original apportionment or in subsequent altered apportionments, as, for example, 22, 22a, 22Aa, A22. You must observe the correspondence of the number in the apportionment with the number on the map.  A table explaining the meaning of these numbers and abbreviations found in the Remarks column of the original apportionment is on page 27 of Maps for Family and Local History.

Until 1936, altered apportionments were laced up with the original apportionment; unless it was a large enough document to form a separate roll. Some are to be found with the associated maps. After 1936, altered apportionments were filed separately in the Orders for Apportionment in IR 94.

7. Tithe maps (IR 30)

The primary function of the tithe maps is to provide a graphic index or visual means of reference to the apportionments.  Each piece of land liable to tithes was depicted and given a plot number, unique within that parish, by which it could be identified in the apportionment.

Tithe maps are usually manuscript, and are often earlier in date than the earliest Ordnance Survey maps.  They may show details such as boundaries, roads, waterways, buildings and woodlands. Occasionally they show other details such as hedges, field names, mines and factories.

7.1 How do I search for tithe maps?

You can access images of the records on The Genealogist (£) online.  The Genealogist is currently working on a project to scan the originals in colour, some of which are already available online; others are scans from black and white microfilm.

You can search by place by entering the place name in the ‘keyword’ field for some maps through Click on any map icon from the results list to view the map. Please note you may need to zoom out to view the whole map.  Maps for English counties alphabetically up to and including Middlesex, are also available to view on microfilm at The National Archives. Before you can consult the document, you need to locate the document reference using our catalogue by searching for the place name within record series IR 30.

7.2  Looking at the map

The numbers of the tithe areas on the map correspond to those in the schedules to the apportionment. These numbers are not consecutive. Most tithe apportionments of any size had a numerical key added, showing the page of the apportionment where each tithe area appears, to help the user to find the details.

Tithe maps vary in scale, accuracy and size. While water is often coloured blue, inhabited buildings are red, uninhabited ones are grey, and roads are often brown, there is no overall standard or key to conventions which applies to all the maps, and no inference can be made about the inclusion or omission of features or colouring. It must be remembered that the maps were primarily to allow for the administration of the Act to commute tithes.

7.3 Scale and accuracy of maps

At the outset, the Tithe Commissioners sought a uniform and high standard, but had to make concessions, because it was the landowners who had to provide the maps.  A provision was inserted a year after the 1836 Act that a map or plan should not be deemed evidence of the quantity of the land, or treated as accurate, unless it was sealed as well as signed by the Commissioners.  This created two standards of map, based on their accuracy: ‘first class’ and ‘second class’ maps.

Approximately 1,900 tithe maps (about one-sixth of the whole) were certified by the Tithe Commissioners as first class: they were considered sufficiently accurate to serve as legal evidence of boundaries and land plots.

The second class maps vary in accuracy, from those which narrowly missed a first class seal to some which are little more than topographical sketches.

7.4 Other tithe maps in our collection

A number of original tithe maps were so heavily used that they fell into disrepair. Some of these maps were copied by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and in such cases it is these copies rather than the original maps which are now in IR 30.

The original maps, together with a few drafts and earlier versions of tithe maps, are preserved as Tithe Maps Supplementary in IR 77.  Although the maps in the two series are not always identical, many of those in IR 77 are in poor condition and you should consult them only when the maps in IR 30 fail to provide the required information.

8. Can’t find a record of apportionment or tithe map?

As tithes were normally commuted as part of the enclosure process, areas covered by enclosure maps often lack tithe maps and vice versa. See our guide to records of Enclosures for more information.

For some areas no tithe maps or apportionments were made. This may have been because the amount of tithe involved was negligible, or because there was a Special Award (see section 10.1) and/or the redemption or merger of the tithe rent charges (see section 10.2). By these means the expense of a formal apportionment and of the preparation of a map was avoided. Tithe files may contain information on such matters and explain the limitations or the absence of an apportionment.

9. Tithe files (IR 18)

The tithe files contain the administrative records of the Tithe Survey.

9.1 What information do they contain?

Contents vary. Some files consist only of a cover and nothing else, apparently due to an appraisal in the early twentieth century.  When there was agreement between the parties, the files often contain fewer papers; whereas in cases of dispute about the commutation process leading up to an Award they may contain a large number of papers.

Papers are generally filed in a chronological order.

Contents might include:

  • surviving correspondence of the Tithe Commissioners, illustrating the commutation process
  • the report of the Assistant Commissioner who conducted various meetings in the district, and minutes of meetings
  • drafts of the award or agreement and draft maps
  • some of the files also contain correspondence and drafts relating to later proceedings under subsequent Tithe Acts; for example, the exchange of glebe land, the sale of tithe barns, and the apportionment and redemption of tithe rentcharge

9.2 How do I search for tithe files?

Search our catalogue by parish name and IR 18 in our catalogue.

Alternatively you can browse the catalogue to locate relevant document reference(s). The records in IR 18 are arranged by county and then by tithe district, broadly (but not strictly) in alphabetical order.

10. Other records

10.1 Awards and agreements

The Awards and Agreements in TITH 2 (sealed originals) generally provide little more information than can be found in the apportionment.  The preliminary documents reveal whether the parties acted by themselves or by attorney, and the signature of the parties: material that may interest family historians but has rarely any other significance.

When an award was not followed by an apportionment because the rentcharge was subsequently extinguished by merger and/or redemption (see Deeds of Merger and Redemptions below), the awards were filed separately and known as Special Awards in IR 106.

10.2  Deeds of merger

When the landowner was also the tithe-owner, a situation was created in which an individual was effectively liable to pay tithes to himself. Such a situation was usually resolved by merging the tithes (or tithe rentcharge) in the land – that is to say, extinguishing the liability to pay tithes by virtue of being also entitled to receive them. (For a more detailed explanation of the legal term ‘merger’ see, for example,  Jowitt’s Dictionary of English Law, volume 2, 2nd edition, 1977).

Although unity of possession was the most common cause of merger, the Tithe Acts also provided for merger under certain other circumstances. Provision was made for mergers to be confirmed under the seal of the Tithe Commissioners. Many Declarations of Merger in TITH 3 were executed under various provisions of the Acts, thereby making the lands free of rentcharge liability, until by the Tithe Act 1936, all tithe rentcharge was extinguished (see The Tithe Act 1936 below).

A merger, whether of tithes or of tithe rentcharge, might take place before apportionment. In such cases the merger may have been effected by the original agreement or award and not by a separate deed. The instrument under which merger was effected may be important to establish liability for chancel repairs. See guide on Chancel repairs for more information.

10.3 Boundary awards (TITH 1)

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages of commutation, the commissioners had to ascertain and define ancient boundaries between parishes or townships, or to establish new boundary lines, in order to resolve disputes between landowners.

These boundary awards are in TITH 1, made under the Tithe Acts 1839 and 1840. They are usually accompanied by a plan and often include schedules of lands giving names of owners and occupiers.

10.4 Extraordinary tithe rentcharge

As the value of the produce from hops and fruit was greater than that from most other agricultural produce, lands cultivated as market gardens, orchards and so on, were subject to a separate payment in addition to the normal tithe rentcharge. This charge, called an extraordinary tithe rentcharge, was payable only during years when the land was so cultivated.

Such lands were to be found in sixteen counties, but the majority lay in Kent (almost half), Sussex and Herefordshire.

The Extraordinary Tithe Redemption Act 1886 ended this extraordinary charge and enabled its capital value to be ascertained and certified by the Commissioners. Thereafter the land was charged with the payment of an annual rentcharge at the rate of 4% per annum on the certified capital value until the charge was redeemed.

The basic documents in respect of these districts, equivalent to the tithe maps and apportionments for ‘ordinary’ districts, are known as Certificates of Capital Value in IR 95.

A list of the Certificates of Capital Value issued under the 1886 Act was published for Parliament (House of Commons 1890, LV, 353). Each certificate has a map (usually attached, but sometimes filed with the District Record Map in IR 90), which shows those lands subject to the extraordinary rentcharge.

In 1897, a further Act was passed to clarify the intentions of the 1886 Act. Payments under both these Acts were subsequently extinguished by the Tithe Act 1936 and replaced by terminable annuities.

 10.5 Redemption of tithe rentcharge

Prior to the Tithe Act 1936 (see Section 13), various Acts made provision for the extinction of liability to pay tithe rentcharge by redemption of the charge. The Tithe Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vic c73) was the first to make such provision.

Until 1918, redemption could be effected only by payment of a lump sum; such redemptions are recorded in the Registers of Certificates of Redemption of Tithe Rentcharge by Lump Sum in IR 109.

The Tithe Act 1918 (8 & 9 Geo V c54) made provision for the redemption of tithe rentcharge by means of terminable annuity payments, initially for a period not exceeding 50 years, but extended by the Tithe Act 1925 (15 & 16 Geo V c87) to a maximum of 60 years.

After 1918, therefore, redemptions may be recorded either in the above-mentioned registers or on the Certificates of Redemption of Tithe Rentcharge by Annuities in IR 102. The latter are similar to tithe apportionments, and may be supplemented by the addition of later apportionments.

They are annotated to show subsequent transactions, but it does not necessarily follow that all subsequent transactions are recorded, since there was nothing to prevent the informal redemption of an annuity.

Lands subject to such annuities can generally be identified by reference to the original tithe apportionment or, where the tithe areas became divided in ownership, by the maps attached to later altered apportionments or orders for apportionment.

10.6 Special Acts

Certain areas were subject to separate Acts of Parliament for tithe purposes. Records relating to

  • the London (City) Tithe Acts are in MAF 8
  • the Vicar’s Rate in Halifax Act 1877 are in MAF 16 and MAF 76

The tithes payable in Kendal were commuted under the Kendal Corn Rent Act 1834, and records relating to the redemption of this corn rent after 1932 are in MAF 28 and HLG 64.

10.7 Overlap Orders

By the Tithe Act 1860, s34, the Tithe Commissioners were empowered to determine the parish in respect of which tithe rentcharge ought to have been charged, where land had been made chargeable in more than one parish. This power was later extended by the Tithe Act of 1936. Overlap Orders concerning such determinations from 1928 onwards are preserved separately in IR 96.

11. Later records (from 1936 Act)

The Tithe Act 1936 (26 Geo V & 1 Edw VIII, c43) was introduced following the Report of the Royal Commission on Tithe Rentcharge 1934 (whose records are in IR 101), and affected the position in three main ways:

  • It abolished all tithe rentcharges payable on land immediately before 2 October 1936 and replaced them with redemption annuities payable for 60 years ending on 1 October 1996, unless redeemed or otherwise extinguished in the meantime These annuities were to be paid to the state by those who had formerly paid rentcharge
  • It compensated the former tithe-owners out of Government stock
  • It set up the Tithe Redemption Commission with the task, inter alia, of collecting the new terminable redemption annuities for the state. In 1960 the functions of the Commission were transferred to the Board of Inland Revenue

The first task facing the Tithe Redemption Commission in 1936 was to check claims submitted by tithe-owners who had hitherto been entitled to collect tithe rentcharge payable under the Tithe Act 1836. These are preserved as Particulars Submitted by Owners of Tithe Rentcharge in IR 110.

Valid rentcharges were then converted into redemption annuities and the sums to be collected from landowners were calculated.

At the same time, the Commission also undertook to prepare fresh maps for each tithe district, based on modern Ordnance Survey sheets.

Interpretations of each area as shown on the original tithe maps were plotted as accurately as possible in a limited time. Subsequently a programme was begun to check these first interpretations in detail and to establish the accuracy of the rentcharge/annuity conversions and the ownership of the properties concerned, after which the annuities were confirmed and, where appropriate, apportioned by a formal Order. This process was known as ‘District Apportionment’, and resulted in the creation of District Record Maps (in IR 90) and Orders for Apportionment (in IR 94).

The programme was interrupted by the Second World War, modified by the Tithe Act 1951, and abandoned in about 1956, by which time about 5,900 of the 11,830 tithe districts had been dealt with.

District record maps do not exist for all the original tithe districts. Maps were not prepared for districts in respect of which a claim was either not received or, on checking, was found to be invalid. Moreover, until about the early 1950s it was the practice, after an approved period, to destroy the maps of districts in which all annuities had been redeemed or otherwise extinguished.

The whole scheme as envisaged by the 1936 Act was wound up prematurely under the Finance Act 1977.

In 1976, the Government announced that as there were sufficient funds in the tithe account to service the existing redemption stock, and that because of the high administrative costs of the scheme tithe redemption annuities should be extinguished. The Government proposed a normal payment in 1976 followed by a final payment in October 1977 equal to twice the normal payment. Legislative effect was subsequently given to this in the Finance Act 1977.

12. Records of the Tithe Survey held in other archives

The Tithe Acts provided for the making of an original and two copies of every confirmed instrument of apportionment. All were signed by the Tithe Commissioners. The originals were retained in the custody of the Commissioners and are now held by The National Archives. The copies were deposited with the Registrar of the diocese and the incumbents and churchwardens of the parish.

Copies of subsequent altered apportionments and certificates of redemption were to be similarly deposited, as well as a copy of the record of ascertainments. Many of these copies are now held by local record offices.

Find contact details for archives elsewhere using Find an archive.

Many local statutory copies have suffered from neglect and accidental loss or destruction, meaning that they are rarely complete. Nevertheless, for most purposes the local copies may be found as serviceable as the originals.

Great trouble has been taken by some county archivists to create photographic copies of originals where possible and in some cases to create scans of their maps and apportionments available on their websites.  In such cases there is rarely any need to consult the originals, unless the Tithe Commission copy is required for legal reasons.

13. Further reading

These books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library.

G Beech and R Mitchell, Maps for family and local history, chapter 2 (The National Archives Publications, 2004)

Robert Davies, The tithe maps of Wales (Aberystwyth, The National Library of Wales, 1999)

Eric J Evans, The contentious tithe (London, 1976)

Roger JP Kain and Richard R Oliver, The tithe maps of England and Wales – a cartographic analysis and county-by-county catalogue (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Roger JP Kain and Hugh C Prince, Tithe Surveys (Phillimore, 2000)

Roger JP Kain, An atlas and index of the tithe files of mid-nineteenth century England and Wales (Cambridge University Press, 1986)

PW Millard, The law relating to tithes (3rd edition, London, 1938)

Guide reference: Domestic Information Research Guide 41