What are tithe maps and tithe apportionments?

Tithe maps are detailed maps produced by surveys that took place in the late 1830s, the 1840s and the 1850s. The tithe apportionments are the lists of house dwellers that accompany the maps, and the two are linked together by numbers that appear on the tithe maps. This has the great value to family historians that it is possible to find out where an ancestor of yours lived in the 1840s, by looking them up in a tithe apportionment and then cross referencing the number with the corresponding tithe map. Most of the maps are very detailed and you can see the exact layout of their land, with any fields, and the shape of buildings and outbuildings.

Searching tithe apportionments used to be extremely time consuming as the records are rarely indexed. In the last couple of years, however, many counties have begun to digitise their tithe maps, putting the whole map online in sections, and providing a searcheable online index of people who crop up in the corresponding tithe apportionment.


 The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836

Tithe maps all began with this. An Act of Parliament that changed the way people paid tithes, or dues, or what we might call taxes to the local church. Payment from the community was used to fund churches and clergymen in those days and each person who owned land, no matter how great or small their property, had to give the clergy of their local church a tenth of everything they made, earned, grew or produced. This could be in the form of one lamb in ten for the church table, one tenth of their crop of potatoes, or one tenth of their onions. By the 1830s this form of paying for the upkeep of the church had become a bit outdated. Since the Act of Enclosure, which effectively stopped a lot of individual people owning their own land and living off the land, farming was left more to the rich landowners. It became more convenient for the clergy to be paid in money, rather than in goods or food.

For more information on the tithe maps of Cheshire see our news page to find out how to search the Cheshire tithe maps online. See also news about the Yorkshire tithe map digitisation project.

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What did the 1836 tithe act do?

The Tithe Commutation Act commutated, or converted tithe payments from goods and food into money. In doing so, it was hoped that the new law would solve a lot of disputes. The charges were set as a proportion of the value of the land that someone owned, with some reference made to the current price of corn, a sort of built in inflation factor.

In order to set up the system, a massive survey had to be carried out to determine exactly how much land each person owned, hence the need to draw up accurate maps of land ownership and detailed lists. The quality of the mapping does vary from county to county, which was more to do with cost than anything. Some counties saved money by using pre-existing maps and modifying them, whereas others had new and very accurate maps drawn. The better maps were designated with the First Class seal of the Tithe Commissioners and this says that the maps are good enough to be used in legal land disputes. Only 16% of the tithe maps of England and Wales were designated in this way. 


How many tithe maps were produced for each area? 

Three copies of each tithe map were originally produced. The original map was lodged with the Tithe Commission in London - this is now at the National Archives. Two copies were made, one for the parish and one for the diocese.

Cheshire tithe maps

All the exisiting Cheshire tithe maps have now been digitised and are available online (follow the link to the right).

Other counties are also involved in tithe map digitisation projects - we will have more news on that very soon.

For news on the Yorkshire tithe map digitisation project see our news item - this project is still underway and there is currently no indication about when it might be finished.


Ancient parishes of Cheshire
Tithe Commutation Act 1836
Cheshire Tithe maps online

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