How to look for records of... Chancel repair liabilities in England and Wales

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide to research potential chancel repair liability from records held by The National Archives.

Such research is not straightforward as there is no central register for records held at The National Archives or elsewhere.

You are strongly advised to check the property deeds, contact the Land Registry and current land owners, to see if they hold relevant information. Those embarking on this type of research are also advised to consult the publication Chancel Repair Liability. Details supplied in section 8.

Use our paid search service if you want us to do the research on your behalf to help establish whether chancel repair liability falls on a particular piece of land or property.

There are some chancel repair liabilities records held by The National Archives available to view online. See section 3 for details.

2. What is a chancel repair liability?

Chancel repair liability is an ancient interest benefiting some 5,200 pre-Reformation churches in England and Wales. It allows the Parochial Church Council to require owners of former rectorial (church) land to meet the cost of repairing the church chancel. Such rectorial land is not necessarily situated in close proximity to a church building.

The owner of such property in England may be liable to pay the local parish church for chancel repairs, where such liability has not ceased.

For Wales and Monmouth liability for chancel repairs is owed to the Church of Wales rather than to individual parochial churches.

NOTE: The information in this guide is not a statement of law. For advice on questions of liability in individual cases, you should consult a legal adviser. 

3. How to research chancel repair liability at The National Archives

Before you start a search you need to know the name of the Church of England or Church of Wales parish in which the property was situated in 1836.

If you are unsure about the ecclesiastical parish name in which the property is located, contact the church authorities or local council.

Alternatively, consult:

  • Phillmore’s Atlas of Parish Registers by Cecil R Humphreys-Smith (Phillmore, 2003)
  • the county diagrams (1 inch Ordnance Survey maps) available at The National Archives or a reference library
  • the Tithe index maps in IR 105, or district record maps  in IR 90 which show the boundaries of tithe districts

Step 1: Finding the Records of Ascertainment in IR 104 and looking at the indexes to the Records of Ascertainment

The Records of Ascertainment will show the likelihood of liability of a given property or land.

The Records of Ascertainment for some parishes have been digitised. For these you can search by parish name within IR 104.

If you have no results, search by county name within IR 104 instead.

For instructions on what to look for, read the section What to look for in the Record of Ascertainment.

What to do if the records aren’t online

Records of Ascertainments for a number of counties have not been digitised. If you do not find the Record of Ascertainments by the method explained above then see below.

Look at the indexes in IR 104/107-108 which are available on open access at The National Archives to find out whether there is a Record of Ascertainment for the parish in which the property you are researching lies.

If the name of the parish is annotated in the index with the following abbreviations (or if it is not listed) it means that there is no such record and no need to proceed further with a search:

If your parish has any of the above abbreviations you may wish to take a copy of the index (IR 104/107-108) for your records.

If the name of the parish is annotated with the following abbreviations it means that there is a Record of Ascertainment:

  • R/A
  • R/A (L)
  • R/A (SA)

To find the document reference for a Record of Ascertainment volume that is not online, browse IR 104 instead. You can view the original volume at The National Archives.

What to look for in the Record of Ascertainment

Once you have obtained the Record of Ascertainment for the parish you are researching, look for a list of plot numbers in the second column of the schedule which relate to the property or land you are investigating. These numbers correspond with the apportionment number on the tithe maps.

Look at What do the Records of Ascertainment Show (section 5) for more information about what the records might tell you.

Proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Locating a tithe map in IR 30

Tithe maps show the location of numbered plots which were liable to tithe, an ecclesiastical tax; these plot numbers are generally those listed in the Records of Ascertainments.

To see if there is a tithe map for the parish you are researching, search by parish name within IR 30.

If you have a problem finding a tithe map, check for a parish name change, and check tithe maps for neighbouring parishes, as boundaries may have changed over time. If these searches are unsuccessful, consult the tithe district record maps in IR 90.

When viewing a tithe map, some research, perhaps using current maps of the area, may be needed to relate the position of properties as they now are to the way they are shown on the tithe map.

Note the plot number(s) from the tithe map for the property you are investigating. If the plot number(s) on the tithe map appears on the list of plot numbers in the record of ascertainment, there may be liability on this plot.

Step 3: Calculation of proportion of liability

In the example below 306 (£1, 5 shillings, 6 pence) is an amount expressed in old pennies [£1 = 240 old pennies, 1 shilling = 12 old pennies].

The amount is shown as £1, 5 shillings, 6 pence in the Record of Ascertainment. The liability is expressed as a fraction in Section 3 of the Record of Ascertainment. This is the proportion for each old penny rent charge attached to the relevant plot. In the example below for Watford St Mary the fraction is 1/205499.

Assumed repair bill: £12,000

306 divided by 205499 = 0.001489 or approximately 0.15% of the total repair bill

0.001489 multiplied by £12,000 = £17.87

Please note if the plot is grouped with others in the Record of Ascertainment, then the figure for the whole group is the same amount as it is for each plot.

4. Other records of potential interest

4.1 Beyond these records

The Records of Ascertainments in IR 104 deal solely with the liability, if any, attached to the ownership of the tithe rentcharge. These records do not deal with parishes where tithe rentcharge was never created, nor do they necessarily cover the whole liability in a parish.

Examples of situations where liability may exist but is not documented in the record of ascertainments are:

  • where enclosure of the land led to conversion of some or all of the tithes in the parish into corn rents, or allotment of lands in lieu of tithes
  • where rectorial glebe land has passed into lay hands
  • where the tithes were merged with the land

4.2 Other sources for researchers

Further records for a few parishes which indicate chancel repair liability from 1847 until 1920 are in IR 97, which contains special apportionments and deeds of special charge.

Other records which researchers may wish to consult are:

  • IR 94 for orders for apportionment indentifying remaining tithe rentcharges after 1936
  • IR 107 for altered apportionments of corn rents
  • IR 110 for records of tithe rentcharges which had not been redeemed by 1936
  • IR 102 and MAF 22 for certificates of redemption of tithe rentcharge by annuity
  • TITH 3 for documents of mergers of tithe rentcharges (where the landowners were the tithe owners)

If you do not find a record, this does not mean that there is no chancel repair liability for the property concerned. It may mean that no records showing potential liability were created for that parish which survive at The National Archives. Read Chancel Repair Liability (see section 8) for more information and other sources to research.

5. What does a record of ascertainment show?

A typical first page of a record of ascertainment gives the following information (the example below is taken from IR 104/28).

1. The apportionable amount of rentcharge liability (ie the residue of the rentcharges to which the liability originally attached) is £856 s.
2. That residue consists of:
(a) Rentcharges in respect of which stock was to be issued under the Tithe Act 1936 and which were not vested in any of the corporations or bodies mentioned in (b) below 671 15 10
(b) Rentcharges in respect of which stock was to be issued issued under the Tithe Act 1936 but which were vested in certain corporations or bodies (specified in the proviso to section 31(2) of the Tithe Act 1936) NIL
(c) Rentcharges specified in the First Schedule to the Record of Ascertainments (these were rentcharges owned by the landowner, as described in section 21 of the Tithe Act 1936) NIL
(d) Rentcharges specified in the Second Schedule to the Record of Ascertainments (these were rentcharges merged or extinguished under the Tithe Acts 1836-1925 in the land to which section 1 of the Tithe Act 1839 applied) 184 9 1
£856 4 11

If there is an amount payable against the following paragraphs:

  • 2(c) or 2(d) or both 2(c) and 2(d) then there is liability for the repair of the chancel
  • 2(a) only then there is no liability to pay for chancel repairs
  • 2(b) only and one body is named then the body is responsibility for the whole liability
  • 2(b) plus 2(c) or 2(d) or both 2(c) and 2(d) then a calculation needs to be made in order to determine the partial amount payment for chancel repair

6. Background information

6.1 Tithe Acts

Following the Tithe Act 1936, which extinguished all tithe rentcharge, it was necessary to establish liability for chancel repairs that had previously attached to the ownership of rectorial tithe rentcharge and to any vicarial tithe rentcharge that exceptionally fell into the same category.

There still existed in 1936 a substantial amount of rectorial tithe rentcharge in the ownership of ecclesiastical corporations, universities and colleges and other corporate bodies as well as private persons (commonly known as lay rectors).

The liability continues in the case of ecclesiastical corporations, certain universities and colleges, the owners of merged land and the owners of land in which tithe rentcharge was constructively merged by the operation of the Tithe Act 1936, section 2l.

In all other cases where there was liability in respect of the ownership of tithe rentcharge, the liability was extinguished and compensation was paid by the tithe-owner to the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities. This compensation took the form of an issue of stock, which was deducted from the amount which otherwise would have been issued to the tithe-owner.

6.2 Land Registration Act 2002

The Land Registration Act 2002 states that from 13 October 2013, new owners of land will only be bound by chancel repair liability if it is entered in the land register.

7. Appendix

List of abbreviations found in indexes in IR 104/107-108:

Abbreviations What it means
 D/N Refers to Declarations of no rentcharge liability in IR 104/102-106 arranged alphabetically within counties in county number order (county numbers form part of both the IR 29 and IR 30 tithe record references in our catalogue, for example the county number for Kent is 17)
 R/N Refers to the individual Record of Ascertainments showing no rentcharge for the parish
 R/AN (Cty) Refers to records included in a collective record for each county, showing that no individual Record of Ascertainment exists. These records can be found at the end of the final (or only) IR 104 volume for each county

8. Further reading

Chancel Repair Liability: How To Research It by James Derriman (Barry Rose Law Publishers Ltd. 2005) suggests other sources of chancel repair liability, shows how to calculate it and provides background information. Copies of the book are available through our library and our bookshop.