RepositoryChurch of England Record Centre
Alt Ref NoECE/7/1
Extent150,000 files
TitleEcclesiastical Commissioners Files.
DescriptionAny description of this series of files is a provisional pending the full cataloguing of this series which due to its size will take several years to complete and this description will consequently will be regularly edited to take account of the new material being added to the catalogue. This series is the core record of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' and is the starting point for almost any research concerning the Commissioners' activities.

This is the main series of administrative files created by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' for England and incorporating the activities of the Church Building Commissioners'' (1818 - 1856), the Church Estates Commissioners' (1850 - 1936) and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' (1835 - 1948), and some of the works of the Church Commissioners' (from 1948). The Church Commissioners', while continuing to add to and open files in this series, have increasingly used departmental subject files instead. New files in the series are still being opened at the behest of the Agricultural Section of the Property Investments Department. The material contained in the files relate to England, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, however the Welsh files were transferred to the custody of "The Commissioners' of Church Temporalities In Wales" (Welsh Church Commission) as part of the disendowment of the Anglican Church on its disestablishment in Wales in 1920 under the provisions of the Welsh Church Act 1914 (4 & 5 Geo.V Chap 91) and Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act 1919 (4 & 5 Geo.V Chap 8).

This series of files began in the 1830's as benefice case files, relating to a particular transaction or subject. However, as the range and volume of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners'' activities increased the file series became more general and dealt with a benefice, property or subject over a long time. In the 1860's the present filing system was developed and all files were held in the central registry and there was no such thing as a departmental file: any clerk, or any commissioner, could refer to a file and correspondence dealt with by different departments but referring to the same benefice, property or subject would be kept on a single file. The files contain, in letters, draft out letters, printed returns made by incumbents, tenants and other parties having transactions with the Commissioners', extracts from minutes, reports from surveyors, maps, drafts and prints of Orders in Council and a number of printed forms summarising the essential details of each transaction. As many of the letters and Orders In Council were based upon precedents during the 1860's a number of printed forms were developed for standard replies to incoming correspondence. However from the late 19th century the attempt to keep to a single file for each subject was abandoned and multiple files were increasingly kept particularly in relation to Benefice and the Bishopric and Cathedral Estate files.

Operating under powers granted by Acts of Parliament before 1919 and Church Measures since 1919 the responsibilities of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' fall into three board areas of activities: benefice administration; the management of the preferment estates including bishopric and cathedral estates and general administrative functions and this is reflected by the wide range of subjects to be found in this very extensive series of files.

Benefice files relate to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' relations with individual benefices and illustrate the variety of powers the Commissioners' exercised in relation to benefices. These included: consenting to the sale or leasing of glebe land; making augmentation grants towards the stipends of both incumbents and curates; subdivision and amalgamation of existing parishes to form new benefices; meeting local claims for chancel repairs inherited by the Commissioners' from the former Bishopric and Dean and Chapter Estates which sometimes include elevations and plans of the proposed works and arranging the exchange of patronage (advowson) to a benefice. Other topics that can be found in benefice files include burial grounds, church and parsonage sites, investment of the proceeds of sales of glebe, pew rents, parochial charities and the tables of fees. An individual benefice may have several files relating to it under a variety of subject headings A benefice such as Shipham and Rowberrow in Somerset and in the Diocese of Bath and Wells has separate files for augmentation of the benefice, dated 1870-1947 (Ref. ECE/7/1/46409/1-2]; the chancel repairs, dated 1840-1899 (Ref.ECE/7/1/27308); consents to the sale and leasing of the glebe, dated 1870-1949 (Ref. ECE/7/1/42492) and the exchange of patronage to Rowberrow between the Bishop of Worcester and the Lord Chancellor, dated 1907-1908 (Ref. ECE/7/1/83064).

In addition it appears that the incoming correspondence of the Church Building Commissioners (1818-1856) was in many cases added to the augmentation file appropriate benefice. An example is the first in the series of augmentation files relating to St. James, Bermondsey which includes correspondence and papers of the Church Building Commissioners concerning the proposed construction of the present church, dated 1819-1831. The file includes; the original petition and application of the minister, churchwardens and inhabitants of the parish to the Church Building Commissioners' for financial assistance for the construction of a new church; a ground plan of pew rents; a consultants report by the Architect Robert Smirke commenting upon "two modes proposed for constructing the foundations" submitted by the Henry Phillips and Henry Varnham and correspondence between the Building Committee appointed by the parish vestry, the Bishop of Winchester and the Church Building Commissioners' concerning the acquisition of the church site and the parliamentary passage of the necessary Local Act of Parliament in 1826 (Ref. ECE/7/1/24167/1).

The Preferment Estates files were created as an increasing number of bishopric and dean and chapter estates were vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' following the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' Act, 1840 (23 & 24 Vic Ch. 124) which led to a growing volume of estate administration. The files for each preferment estate are usually subdivided by parish. Each parish will often have a copy of the survey made by the Commissioners' agents soon after their acquisition of the estate, a management file which sometimes is called the stewardship file where manorial property is concerned and a variety of case files ranging from a single transaction such as a sale to a tenant to a subject file which in some instances such as chancel repairs can still be active. There are also files relating to episcopal residences and the financial relations between the cathedrals and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' following the transfer of their estates.

The parish of North Curry in Somerset was part of the Wells Chapter Estates and well illustrates the variety of files that can found for a single parish. There are a series of corporate estates files relating to: a copy of the survey of the estate undertaken by Cluttons in 1870 (Refs. ECE/7/1/43986/1-2); stewardship of the manor and the management of the estate, dated 1866-1945 (Refs.ECE/7/1/35655/1-4) and chancel repairs to the parish church, dated 1870 to date which is a still an active file, subject to a 30 years closure rule for the most recent parts of the file (Refs. ECE/7/1/43922/1-4). In addition there are number of case files relating to a specific property or transaction. An example of a property file is one relating to the tenancy and sale of the "water and Steam power flour mills" on the River Tone and the repair of Athney Bridge, dated 1871-1900 (Ref. ECE/7/1/44388). An example of file relating to a single transaction is a file concerning the enfranchisement of a 3 acres and 24 perches forming the copyhold tenement held by Mary Ann Coates in 1870 [Ref. ECE/7/1/44387]. These files together provide a source of information on varied range of subjects including the local agriculture and industry, the restoration of the parish church, the local market and customs such as the detailed description of the "Customs of the North Curry Feast" held each year on Christmas Eve, unless it was a Sunday with a menu of beef, pork, "good ale" and "a large mince pie with and effigy of King John" followed by a toast to his "immortal memory"[Ref. ECE/7/1/35655/1].

The General files relates to a variety of subjects often concerning the internal management of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners', relations with central government, Parliament and other institutions such as the Universities. The files are arranged by a specific subject for example the creation of new bishoprics, dated 1906- 1914(Ref. ECE/7/1/10706/2-4), the relationship with Oxford and Cambridge Universities in regard to the application of the Universities and Colleges Estates Act, 1925 (15 Geo 5 Ch.24) to the augmentation of benefices, tithe redemption and ecclesiastical patronage, dated 1925-1970 (Ref. ECE/7/1/14201) and the financial relationship between the Commissioners' and the H.M. Treasury and the National Debt Office which includes information on the loans made by the Commissioners' to the government as part of the financing of the First World War, dated 1916-1921 (Ref. ECE/7/1/8056). This group of files form a good source for the evolving national position of the Church of England as part of the wider Establishment

ArrangementThe series is numbered from 1 to 96000 totally irrespective of subject and formed part of a highly centralised filing system which operated down to the creation of the Church Commissioners' in 1948. This numbering system was developed in the 1860's by John Cox and developed in conjunction with a series of letter books of outgoing letters arranged in a sequence of individually numbered letters which have not survived.

A number of files are missing or have been amalgamated with other files. The majority of the file run survives, however some files have been thinned, destroyed or amalgamated. Files relating to Wales were transferred to the custody of "The Commissioners' of Church Temporalities In Wales" (Welsh Church Commission) as part of the disendowment of the Anglican Church on its disestablishment in Wales in 1920 under the provisions of the Welsh Church Act 1914 (4 & 5 Geo.V Chap 91) and Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act 1919 (4 & 5 Geo.V Chap 8).
FindingAidsManual index of appoximately 81000 cards in 41 filing cabinet draws held at the Church of England Record Centre arranged alphabetically in five main runs; Benefice, Preferments, Commissioners' Estates, General and Others. The titles (on the right of the card) may be the title of the file or one of a number of topics dealt with in a file. The file numbers (listed on the left of the card) may be repeated several times in the same run or different runs. Titles and topics are listed alphabetically on separate lines of the card or cards where necessary.

The Benefice section occupies 18 drawers and relates to dealings with ecclesiastical benefices. There is, generally, one or more cards for each benefice, past and present, the name of the benefice appearing along the top of the card with (on all but the most recent cards) the original county immediately below to the right. The diocese is not shown except as an addition or on cards recently added. When benefices have been united or dissolved, the old cards have generally been cross - referenced to the new ones and left in place. In the case of some benefices, where there were sales or leases of glebe, after the run by topic there is a second alphabetic run by name of the lessee or purchaser. There are guide cards in alphabetical order for the first three letters of benefice names and for principal parish names. Examples of topics are Augmentation, Assignment of District, Burial Grounds, Chancel Repairs, Church Site, Glebe Sales, Exchange of Patronage, Investment of Proceeds of Glebe Sales, Parochial Charities, Parish Room, Pew Rents, Parsonage Site, Table of Fees, Transfer of Patronage. The same topics occur, benefice after benefice. There is not the great variety of topics that is to be found in the other three runs. Please note in this context a benefice is a clergy living that may cover one or more parishes, the name or names of which usually form the name of the benefice.

The Preferments section occupies a single drawer and deals with bishoprics, cathedral and diocesan livings, and other diocesan matters. The files cover the acquisition and administration of ecclesiastical estates, mainly comprising those of bishops and chapters, that were transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, some under an act of 1860 when they fell vacant, others by Order in Council; as well as such matters as revenues and boundary changes. There is one or more cards for each preferment, the name of the preferment appearing along the top line of the card and, often, again at the very top right. There is a guide card for each diocese in alphabetic order within each diocese. There are, sometimes, divisions of cards by topic within one preferment e. g. cards for Durham Bishopric Estates are followed by cards for Durham Bishopric Revenues. Topics in alphabetical order, with a file number beside each, follow one another down the card as in the run of cards relating to benefices. Examples of topics are, Episcopal Residence, Formation, Grants under Section 30 Cathedrals Measure, Pay of Stipend, Stewardship. Headings are repeated under the letters of the alphabet that begin their constituent words.

The Commissioners' Estates section occupies 19 drawers and is much like the first, but deals with the Commissioners' own property, derived as stated above with the purpose of augmenting the poorer livings and creating new ones in towns and cities. There is a card or more for each parish, the parishes following one another in alphabetical order. The name of the parish appears along the top line of the card, often with the name of the preferment at the top right. There are two alphabetical runs within each parish, the first by topic, the second by the name of the lessee or purchaser. Examples of topics are 25 Agincourt Road, Childs Welfare Foster Home, Dwellings for the Working Classes (Hampstead Borough Council).

The General section is contained in approximately two drawers. The cards deal with subjects that it has not been found possible to class topographically.

They are arranged alphabetically by subject heading and occasionally, sub - heading. At the time the index was begun the topics under each heading were entered down the right of the card in alphabetical order; but thereafter topics and file numbers were added to existing cards in the order that the files were opened. There are guide cards for letters of the alphabet, principal words and parts of words. Examples of headings are Benefactions, Cautions, Estates Management, of sub - headings Armstrong College, of topics, Forestry Instruction in Woods in North of England for Students, Trotter's Bequest. At the other end of this section are cards relating to acquired properties in alphabetical order of street, estate, development, building, town or parish; mortgages in alphabetical order of property and mortgagor indescriminately; and tenancies of Church Commissioners' property that had belonged to Queen Anne's Bounty, arranged in alphabetical order by estate and road with a separate card for each road.

Abbreviations found on the index cards for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ ‘Five Figure’ series. It is of course possible that an abbreviation given below could represent a different word to that given in the left hand column, but these are examples encountered so far:
Addn - Addition
Alt / Alter - Alteration
Asst of dist - Assignment of district
Aug - Augmentation
Bur Gnd - Burial Ground
Ch - Church (usually, though possibly chancel)
Ch Ch - Christchurch
Chyd - Churchyard
Colly - Colliery
Comp. - compensation
Contr. tow. - contribution towards
Conv - Conversion
Dist. - District
ELA money - Ecclesiastical Leasing Acts money? In context of proceeds derived from sale of glebe land
Erect - Erection
Exch - Exchange
Form. - Formation
Gen - General
Imprvt - improvement
Inst - Institute
Invest of Proc - Investment of proceedings
LC - Local Charge
LG - London Gazette
Miss. - Mission
N.P - New Parish
O in C - Order in Council
P.C. - Perpetual Curacy
Par. Ch - Parish Charities (usually)
Pars - parsonage
Pat. - Patronage
PH - Parsonage house
Psh - parish
R. - rectory
Regt - Registration
Sch - School
Subst of new for old CH - Substitution of new for old church
PhysicalDescriptionLoose papers filed and secured by treasury tags in cardboard folders.
AdminHistoryThe Ecclesiastical Commissioners' for England were established in 1835 by "An Act for carrying into effect the Reports" of the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Commissioners' (6 & 7 Will IV Chap. 77), received further powers under subsequent legislation notably with the Cathedrals Act, 1840 (3 & 4 Vic Chap 113) and was amalgamated by the Church Commissioners' Measure 1947 with the Queen Anne's Bounty in 1948 to form the Church Commissioners'. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners' inherited the records from the Commissions on Church Courts (1830-1832), Ecclesiastical Revenues (1832-1835) and Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues sometimes known as the Church Inquiry Commission (1835-1837). In 1856 Commissioners and absorbed the Church Building Commissioners' (1818-1856).
The benefice files series was closed in 1961 (See Records Department Annual Report for 1961-62 in ECE/7/1/70019pt4) and new series NB files was started.
RelatedMaterialMany of the files in this series continue in the NB files. "Temporal Pillars Queen Anne's Bounty and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners', and the Church of England" by G. F. A. Best, Cambridge University Press 1964.
The Work and Records Of The Ecclesiastical Commission 1836 To 1860, unpublished thesis by Elizanbeth Finn, 1986
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