RepositoryChurch of England Record Centre
Alt Ref NoECE
ExtentApproximately 16,000 linear feet.
TitleEcclesiastical Commissioners for England
DescriptionThis archive is currently in the process of being catalogued.
Includes foundation, corporate, operational, property and financial records. Also includes reports and papers of the Secretary to the Commissioners and publications.
AppraisalThe archive is being progressively collected from various different locations within the Church of England Record Centre, where they have been stored in a fragmentary and unlisted state since the late 1980s. They are now being appraised and arranged in a way that best represents the original order. Those records that appear in the catalogue have been deemed important enough to be permanently retained.
ArrangementThe records are provisionally arranged into distinct groups.
FindingAidsManual index of approximately 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 to the main series of administrative files.
PhysicalDescriptionMostly bound volumes, paper, parchment plans and occasionally photographs.
CreatorNameEcclesiastical Commissioners' for England
AdminHistoryIn the early 1830's there was a growing consensus that the Church of England required major reforms if it was to survive as an established Church. The passage of the repeal of the Test and Corporations Act, 1829 which removed disabilities of Protestant Dissenters from holding public office (9 Geo. IV Cap. 17); the Catholic Emancipation Act, 1829 (10 Geo 4, Cap 7), followed by the Reform Act 1832 (Ref. 2 &3 William 4, Cap 45) cumulatively ended the confessional state where MPs had nominally at least to be Anglican. Consequently the political pressure for change rapidly developed causing Thomas Arnold to write in 1832 "The Church as it now stands no human power can save". The creation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' occurred in the context that there had been three temporary Commissions appointed between 1830-1835 to investigate various aspects of the Church of England.

The first of these was the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission in appointed on 28 January 1830 to investigate the operation of the Church Courts and their reports in 1831 and 1832 led to the abolition of the Court of Delegates and the transfer of its jurisdiction to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (2 & 3 William IV, Cap 92). The second enquiry was the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Commission appointed on 23 June 1832 to investigate the income and the distribution of funds within the Church of England, which reported on 16 June 1834. The third enquiry was the Ecclesiastical Commission, sometimes confusingly called the Church Inquiry Commission, appointed on 4 February 1835 by Sir Robert Peel the new Tory Prime Minster to consider the state of the dioceses, cathedrals and parish incumbents, with a view to secure a more equal distribution of revenue, a more efficient Church and to reduce the numbers of non resident clergy.

The first meeting of the Ecclesiastical Commission was held on 9 February under the aegis of the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. On 4 April the short-lived government of Sir Robert Peel resigned and under the succeeding Whig government led by Lord Melbourne the Commission rapidly produced four reports relating to the reform of the episcopate and creation of new dioceses, at Manchester and Ripon (First Report), proposals for the reduction in the number of residentiary canonries (Second Report); proposals for changes to diocesan boundaries and for a parliamentary legislation for empowering the Privy Council to make Orders and ratifying schemes of reform (Third Report) ; draft legislation for the reform of cathedral and collegiate establishments (Fourth Report) and the Fifth Report was a revised version of the Parliamentary bill proposed in the Fourth Report.

The members of this Commission become the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' for England when a new Commission issued on 4 February 1836 and were incorporated by an Act of Parliament (6 & 7 William IV Cap 77). This delegated legislation to the Commissioners by empowering them to enact schemes through Orders In Council. There were 13 Commissioners and their operations remained relatively small focusing on the creation of new dioceses, changes in diocesan boundaries, reorganisation of episcopal patronage and revenues and the supervision of the sale of the ecclesiastical patronage of Municipal Corporations under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1834 (5 & 6 William IV Cap 76).

The activities and complexity of the Commissioners was greatly increased and their constitution were remodelled on a permanent footing by the Cathedrals Act, 1840 (3& 4 Vic Cap 113) which reduced the number of residentiary canons at many cathedrals and provided that the separate estates of the prebends, deaneries, canonries, and sinecure rectories were vested in the Commissioners' on the death, retirement or by agreement of the existing office holders making them an increasing important landowner. The Act established a Common Fund to receive the Commissioner's revenues and provided that by Order in Council funds could be used to support "cure of souls in parishes where such assistance is most required". Particularly the Commissioners' were to give due consideration to the "Local Claims" of the places in which their estates were situated and were given powers to make endowment grants for benefices in mining districts. Section 78 of the Act also enlarged the membership of the Commissioners included 7 laymen appointed by the Crown and 2 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and created the posts of the First, Second and Third Estate Commissioners'. The Second Estate Commissioner was always a member of the House of Commons and of the government party, and was the Commissioners' spokesman in Parliament

Further constitutional changes were enacted in 1850 (13 & 14 Vic Cap 94), which established the Estate Committee with the duty to manage the Commissioners' property. This constitution with minor changes continued until 1948. In 1857 the powers of the Church Building Commission were vested into the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' by an Act of Parliament (19 & 29 Vic Cap 55).

The jurisdiction of Ecclesiastical Commissioners' for England included England, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Wales until 1920. On the disestablishment and separation of the Anglican Church in Wales from the Church of England in 1920 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' ceased to exercise any powers in Wales and consequently many of the records 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 Cap 91) and Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act 1919 (4 & 5 Geo.V Cap 8).

Operating under powers granted by Acts of Parliament before 1919 and Church Measures after 1919 the responsibilities of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' fall into five board areas of activities:

1. Management of the preferment estates including bishopric and cathedral estates and its other investments;

2. Benefice administration including legislation through the Orders In Council implementing changes in the church structure for example the creation and amalgamation of benefices and the regulation of benefice assets for example giving consent to sales of glebe land;

3. Augmentation of poorer benefices through loans for new parsonage houses and grants in support of clergy stipends;

4. Financial and administrative support for the development of the ministry of the Bishops and the Cathedrals especially following the New Bishoprics Act, 1875 (38 & 39 Vic Cap 34) and the Commissioner's growing responsibility for the stipends of the Cathedral clergy during the 19th century.

5. Various ad hoc administrative functions acquired through legislation for example administering the City Church Fund for the Metropolitan area under the terms of the City Parochial Charities Act, 1883 (46 & 47 Vic, Chap 36) and the setting of the Ecclesiastical Table of Fees that included powers inherited from the Church Building Commission (58 & 59 Geo III, Cap 134, Section 11).

Following the creation of the Church Assembly under the terms of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 (9 & 10 Geo V, Cap 76) the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' worked increasingly closely with the Church Assembly both financially and with its legislation. For example following the establishment of the Church of England Pensions Board by the Clergy Pensions Measure, 1926 from 1927 the Commissioners' contributed the annual sum of £100,000 to aid the establishment of the Clergy Pensions Scheme and provided financial support for the Queen Anne's Bounty's role in the administration of the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measures, 1923-1929. The Commissioners' also increasingly acquired administrative responsibilities under Church Assembly Measures for example the Union of Benefices Measure 1923 which modernised the procedures for uniting benefices.

The operations of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners overlapped with those of the Queen Anne's Bounty especially in their work to augment the income of poorer clergy. With the devolution of church legislation to the Church Assembly in 1919 new ecclesiastical legislation rapidly changed the role of the Queen Anne's Bounty's and its activities increasingly required close co-ordination with those of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for example its new responsibilities as the "Central Tithe Authority" under the Tithe Act, 1925 until the abolition of Tithe Rent Charge in 1936 and its role as the "Central Authority" under the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measures 1923-1929. Gradually a consensus developed that the amalgamation of both organisations was desirable. In 1901 a Joint Select Committee of the House of Commons and Lords expressed the view that the two bodies should be amalgamated. The Report of the Archbishops Commission of Enquiry into Property and Revenues of the Church in 1924 still felt the two organisations should remain separate, however in 1933 the Archbishop's Commission on the Reconstitution of the Ecclesiastical Commission and Queen Anne's Bounty" chaired by Lord Selborne recommended that the two bodies should be amalgamated due to their "similarity of function" (Ref. CA 440). The necessary legislation was delayed by the Second World War and was enacted by the Church Commissioners Measure, 1947. The two bodies being amalgamated to form the Church Commissioners' on 1 January 1948.
CustodialHistoryThe records were held at the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' first offices at No. 5 Whitehall Place, Westminster and in 1855 the offices were moved to 11 Whitehall Place where a set of new muniment rooms were constructed. In 1905 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' moved into new offices at No. 1 Millbank, Westminster which were equipped with a set of basement and attic muniment rooms. The records were transferred to the Church of England Record Centre at Bermondsey following its establishment in 1988 and then, following CERC's merge with Lambeth Palace Library to the Library's new building in 2021.
RelatedMaterialECE/1: Foundation
ECE/2: Corporate Governance
ECE/3: Annual Reports
ECE/4: Corporate Financial Management
ECE/5: Legal
ECE/6: Estates and Investment Management
ECE/7: Operational Records
ECE/8: Premises and Staff
ECE/9: Correspondence
ECE/10: Publications
ECE/11: Architectural and Estate Plans
ECE/12: Photographs
PublnNote"Temporal Pillars Queen Anne's Bounty the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and Church of England", by G. F. A. Best, Cambridge University Press, 1964

"Number One Millbank The Story of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners", by James Raitt Brown, Society For Promoting Christian Knowldege, 1944.

"The Ecclesiastical Commission A Sketch Of Its History And Work", by Sir Lewis T.Dibdin and Stanford Ewin Downing, Macmillan & Co., London, 1919.

"Archbishop Fisher, 1945-1961: Church, State and World", by Andrew Chandler and David Hein, Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, 2012 [Lambeth Palace Library H5198.A1F5].

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NA2097Ecclesiastical Commissioners; 1836-19481836-1948
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