IV. Government Reforms On The Church of England


Lord Henley: The Hon. Robert Henley Eden (1789-1841)


Another kind of Reform was taking place, not at Oxford but in the British Houses of Parliament. Lord Henley in 1832 made the first proposal for church reform resulting in the establishment of the ‘Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ in 1835. It was comprised of two Archbishops, three Bishops and four Laymen.


They recommended a complete redistribution of finances of Dioceses, the creation of two new Sees in the heavily populated areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire and issued plans for a complete overhaul of Cathedral Chapters. They proposed that enough money should be set aside at each Cathedral for the endowment of the Dean and four residentiaries and other Canonaries were to be honorary.

The immediate effect of the Commission was the establishment of the Diocese of Ripon in 1836, and the Diocese of Manchester in 1847. In 1837, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners became a permanent body with substantial control over the finances of the Church of England.

Parliament also took on the issue of Church tithe and rates. The tithe was, for many clergy, the main source of income; but for the most part was a flawed system of taxation. Tithe-payers hated it, especially Roman Catholics, Dissenters and Non-Conformers, and saw no reason why they should be obliged to support the established Church.

The clergy didn’t like it because they never knew what their incomes would be at any given time and they were irritated by having to negotiate with their parishioners. “In 1836, Parliament passed a Tithe Act which made commutation compulsory and based the amount on a tithe rent charge which was fixed by the price of corn.”’1

For a long time, Church rates were levied for the purpose of church maintenance. Non-conformists, of every stripe, protested a general taxation for church maintenance. They felt no obligation to support a building in which there was no personal attachment. The question was finally settled by an Act of Parliament in 1868, when compulsory church rates were abolished. From this point on, the responsibility for the parish upkeep was placed in the hands of the worshippers, and even in this circumstance their payment was voluntary.

Parliament also looked into the matter of Church Courts. In 1830, a commission began to study the function of Ecclesiastical Courts and in 1832, recommended the abolition of the ‘Old Court of Delegates’; which had been established in 1534. With regard to Church matters, appeals would go to the Privy Council, a body constituting only of laity. In 1840, an amendment was created to allow the presence of at least one Archbishop or Bishop, who was already a Privy Councillor, into the Judicial Committee on issues relating to church appeals, if it was sent up from a consistory court.

At the height of Government reform, the Church of England began to look inward and the need for Convocation was becoming apparent. Since 1717, the Convocation had only met informally and many Archbishops and Bishops looked negatively at such a revival. Many of them felt they had absolute power over the affairs of the church and thought that Convocation would give too much control to the Priests and Laity.

Despite this, there were people who respectfully requested a revival of these ancient institutions. Amongst these was Henry Hoare, a London banker, who founded the ‘Convocation Society’ in 1851, as well as Bishop William Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873). The result of their efforts led to a Convocation finally meeting in the Southern Province in 1854, followed by a Northern Province Convocation in 1861.

One of the responsibilities that the Church wanted to maintain was the matter of education, since it was a widespread view that education was a matter for the church alone. However, the government was now starting to look at ways to educate the poor and gain a greater control in the implementation of education.

In 1833, the first government education grant was given, despite the fact that state schools did not exist. The State found itself dealing with two kinds of school systems; the Church of England’s, which had been the primary force for education, and the protestant non-conformist’s, who were less successful, yet trying to make inroads throughout the nation.

The non-conformist protestant churches, as opposed to the Church of England, had difficulty raising money for their schools and were in favour of possible state interference in education. They were less doctrinal and focused on simplified biblical lessons of an un-dogmatic nature.

In 1839, an education committee of the Privy Council was set up and in the same year school inspectors were appointed. The Church schools were allowed to make suitable financial enquires, but the Church still kept control of its schools and liberties.2 Nonetheless, over time with a growing urban population, old models of education were beginning to give way to newer ones.

By the middle of the nineteenth century more schools were being built, and as soon as this happened, trouble began over the religious question. Because of religious differences, the two rival groups began to provide more schools for their own persuasion. The Church of England had already started a number of training colleges to provide qualified teachers for her schools. Even though reform was imposed by the government, each group, especially the Church of England, sought reform from their own position of power.

Sources for this Article

  1. A History of the Church in England - The Progress of Reform Chapter XIX Part IV Page 348


2. IBID…. Page 350 'It should be noted that all reports for financial assistance were first sent to a board and than sent on to an Archbishop.'

* Additional note on Lord Henley: In 1832 he made a considerable impact with his Plan of Church Reform, which called for ‘a timely and judicious correction of abuses’ and went quickly to eight editions. He wished to eradicate pluralism, non-residence and sinecures, redistribute church revenues and create new sees. Most controversially, he suggested the establishment of a commission, partly salaried, to manage episcopal property. The scheme infuriated many churchmen and provoked a lively response. Henley, for his part, repeatedly pressed Brougham to persuade ministers of the need for action, and in September 1832 he formed the Church Reformation Society, of whose provisional committee he became chairman. His ideas were in close accord with those of Peel, whose ecclesiastical commission of 1835 proceeded on broadly similar lines.

Source: Henley to Brougham, 24 Aug., 1 Sept. [Sept.], [Oct.] 1832; Add. 40403, f. 69; G.F.A. Best, Temporal Pillars, 252-3, 280-91, 311, 319. { EDEN, Hon. Robert Henley (1789-1841), of 19 Whitehall Place, Mdx. | History of Parliament Online }


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© 2005 Article taken from Master's thesis The Oxford Movement: Anglo-Catholicism and the Birth of Anglican Catholic Identity.

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