The 1840 Tithe Map

1840 Tithe Map All images taken from a CD provided by Dorset History Centre

The tithe was the compulsory payment by landowners, of “a tenth part of the annual increase of the produce of the land”, together with the tenth of livestock nourished by any of that produce, to the church [in whichever form prevailed at the time]. Its origins were in the books of Genesis, Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

“And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD….And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord. “

“thou shall surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field brought forth year by year.”

Originally the tithe was paid voluntarily, but by the 9th century, the church claimed it was due to them by divine law and the temporal kings granted it to them as a legal right. If they were not paid, the farmer was punished at law often by confiscation of most of his crops.

It was the Lord of the Manor who usually decided who should receive the tithe. In Child Okeford there seem always to have been two manors, even before the Norman Conquest; afterwards however one manor belonged to the King and the other to his half-brother Robert de Mortain. Robert’s son gifted part of the tithe from his manor in Child Okeford to the Priory [now defunct] at Montacute.  At some stage the Priory at Christchurch seems to have had some of the tithes but by 1840 they were back in the hands of the incumbent rector , Charles Edward North.

To start with the tithe was paid “in kind” – literally every tenth bushel [8 gallons or about 36.4 litres] of wheat, tenth chicken or lamb and so on. To transport tithes in kind around the country was a formidable operation and led to the growth of “Tithe Barns”. The nearest one I have found is at Winterbourne Clenston which is now derelict but at one time was the point of collection of Tithes for Milton Abbey.

Tithes in kind may be seen clearly as “property”  but once paying the tithe became compulsory another form of property was created: the right to claim the tithe became property as well. Until the dissolution of the monasteries this latter right was of no great value but after Henry VIII sold the monasteries lands, with time, the right to claim the tithe of a particular parish were bought and sold by their lay owners.

Those ecclesiastical bodies entitled to claim the tithe were known as Rectors whilst lay owners were known as lay improprietors. Rectors could be the Bishop of the local diocese ,an Abbot or Prior, an incumbent living in the Parish or the Dean of, say, an Oxford College. If the Rector was absent from the Parish he had to appoint a substitute ; the latin for “substituting” is Vicarius and this is how we arrive at the term Vicar.

The tithe, traditionally, had been divided into three; one part went to the priests for their maintenance, one part went towards the maintenance of the church itself and the third part as alms to the poor. Nearly a thousand years after their introduction this “tripartite” division had failed utterly. Some parishes and their churches were fabulously rich, others very poor: many had absentee rectors and the parsonages and churches in poor repair: the giving of alms had virtually ceased and the poor and destitute were thrown back for support onto the rate payers of the parish.

By the late 18th century considerable resentment against payment of the tithes had built up amongst numerous groups. The farmers objected – they put all the hard work in- only to see a tenth part given away: the landowners objected because they could not charge higher rents: the radical politicians objected because they were not being used to support the poor; religious dissenters objected, especially the Quakers, because they failed to see why they should pay for a church they did not approve of and even the Church itself had opponents to the tithe because they were not being used in the way that they should have been.

In the 1780’s and 90’s William Pitt had attempted reform the system but failed and following events in France the attack on tithes abated only to be taken up again during the 1830’s. Bills for the reform of tithes were introduced in 1833,1834 and 1835; all failed until a change of administration led to the introduction of a bill in February 1836. This bill was acrimoniously debated but did finally pass, in what we are told was an atmosphere of complete silence and  received the Royal Assent in August 1836.

The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act replaced payment of tithes in kind with a monetary payment known as a “tithe rent charge” which was based on the value of the tithes to be commuted and could be varied, according to the price of wheat, every year. The Act established a Commission and the landowners [who paid the tithe] and the Rector were encouraged to agree an amount of money that the tithe was worth. Since the average value of the tithe in any parish for the previous seven years was known, all that remained to be done was to divide this amount between the landowners.

To do this the amount of land that each landowner held had to be measured and its state of cultivation recorded. It was decided that to aid this process a map would be compiled detailing all the land in a parish which was subject to the tithe. When this had been done it became possible to “apportion” to each landowner a part of the tithe rent charge according to the amount of land they held. Thus if I owned 6 acres and you owned 3 then if the tithe rent charge that was due amounted to £18 then I would pay £12 and you £6. All this was written down in a separate “apportionment” file which provides a great deal of information about the landowners, those who farmed the land and the state of cultivation in the village. The Child Okeford map and apportionment file date from 1840 so it is possible to collate the data with the 1841 census.

The man the villagers chose to survey and value the village was called John Martin. He lived in Evershot and drew more of the Tithe Maps in Dorset than any other individual surveyor. The Tithe Commission had wanted high quality maps to be drawn, akin to today’s Ordnance Survey maps and these were called “first class maps” and were embossed with a seal. The Child Okeford map does not bear such a seal and is known as a “second class” map, produced because they were cheaper! Three copies of the map were produced. One was retained by the Tithe Commission , one sent to the local Bishop and one kept in the village Parish chest.

The version held at Dorset History Centre is one of the copies. None of the signatures on the map, other than the surveyors name , John Martin, are the actual signatures but copies made by the copyist.

The maps were drawn to a variety of scales the best quality being drawn to a scale of 3 chains [66 yards] to an inch which equates to a scale of 26.6 inches to the mile. The Child Okeford map [both copies and original] were drawn to a scale of 6 chains to an inch equivalent to 13.3 inches to the mile. The photocopy of the Child Okeford map in the Dorset Heritage Centre has been reduced in size to fit the storage cabinet but the original is approximately 42.5  inches wide by 40 inches deep.

What’s on our Map?

Perhaps however we should first comment on what is not the map. There are no reference points; no ordnance survey grid reference, no latitude or longitude and nor are there any contour lines. We get no sense of the topology of the village; this is more of a plan rather than a map.

Inscription indicating acceptance by the Tithe Commission of the Map

At the top of the map is an inscription which reads.

“We the undersigned Tithe Commissioners for England and Wales do hereby certify this to be a copy of the Map or Plan referred to in the apportionment of the Rent Charge in lieu of Tithes in the Parish of Child Okeford in the County of Dorset

As Witness our Hands Wm Blamire W Buller.”

William Blamire and William Buller were two of the Tithe Commissioners. Once they had signed the map it indicated acceptance of John Martins award and legally the apportionment could not be overurned. The map was received in the Commission office- January 21st 1841

At the bottom right is John Martin’s signature and the term “valuer”. He assessed the value of each parcel of land and apportioned a part of the new rent-charge to it. We have good evidence that although he valued the parish his map may not have been original.We have a map from 1834 which is virtually identical to the tithe map and indicates the parish was surveyed then and the tithe map created from it. Even more intriguingly we have a survey dating from 1826 which appears to indicate the existance of a still earlier map [now lost] but which has field numbers and field size which are also the same as on the tithe map.

In the far bottom is text which appears to read that the map was exd [presumably examined] by a J Pyne on 22/1/41. In fact the 1841 census reveals that there was a J Pine living in Martin’s household. It is believed he was the person who actually drew the copy maps.

The maps were supposed to be drawn North up but few are, even when the parish could easily be fitted into a North South orientation. This can be confusing. This picture shows an area known as Gobson Common. If you search for this name today you won’t find it. David Popes map shows where it was, superimposed on the 1888 Ordnance survey map and it is out towards Piddle Wood. How the village came to acquire it we do not know but the Parish also had a malthouse and houses in Fiddleford as well.It seems that “Gobson Common” ceased to be a part of Child Okeford in about 1965.


Each field has a number which correlates to an entry in the apportionment file which lists the landowners, the occupiers of the land, the state of cultivation and the area in Acres, Roods and Perches.

If not quite at the centre of the map, the church was central to the whole process. It was normally allotted the first position on the map. It was not however usual to depict it in a pictorial manner but John Martin clearly liked drawing them as many of his maps have them. This is not always the case , sometimes they are blocks, like the houses, but when he includes them they are not “generic”, they are drawings of the actual church. Although a little blurry if you look closely you can see the flagstaff on the top of the tower and the footpaths leading to the church. Circling the top are what appear to be birds. This is unique in his maps and it is clear the Church had a problem with birds.

John Houseley in his analysis of the Church’s ’ Vestry Minutes notes that in 1841 2 shillings and 9 pence were paid for 11 dozen “sparo” heads at 3d per dozen.

Perhaps the tithe map was the last time that they were to be seen circling the church.

The primary concern of the valuer was to define the amount and type of land given over to agriculture that was subject to the tithe, but other points of interest may be noted particularly in relation to the houses and the roads within the village.

Many people become interested in the tithe map if they have an old house and want to know precisely how old it is. Much work has still to be done in this area but one area that might prove fruitful is to [as historians put it] repopulate the village. By a happy coincidence the year after the map was produced saw the fifth census take place. The census started in 1801 and every 10 years after; the early censuses were simply head counts showing that in 1801 there were 498 people in the village.By 1841 this figure had risen to 648 and for the first time the villagers are named. Using the tithe map we can identify which plot of land the head of the household inhabited and the census provides additional information about the rest of the household . It is probably unique in English history that a map of the village houses can be correlated directly with the population. An example of what can be done is shown below.

Another area of interest is the road system. In general the roads were in poor condition and maintained at public expense – the public of the village that is. Every tenant or landowner who had property worth £50 or more had to contribute to the upkeep of the roads and by and large they weren’t keen.

It is worth remembering that relatively few people travelled around the country -even locally. People did not go on holiday, or recreational walks, or Tesco’s or whatever. Almost all of the needs of the villagers were supplied from within the village and in any case if you left the village you were born in you would be sent back there if you needed Poor relief. The roads served the agricultural interests and little else.

This picture looks better when you click on it. If you follow what is now the Shaftesbury road out you will see that it stops just past the junction with Sandy lane. Similarly if you follow the road out of the Hollow and up towards Gold Hill you will notice that the road runs out. Both end in rough tracks but they are not yet proper roads.

Child Okeford in 1840 was a dead end – literally. Roads came into the village via Hanford and Haywards lane but there was no direct road communication to Shaftesbury or Manston.

Part of the Manston Tithe Map showing no road connection between Manston Farm and Manston Church. Dorset History Centre

Even if you got to Fontmell Parva and wanted to go on to Manston the road ran out at Manston Farm. This situation was to change within the next 5 years. In 1845 the remaining common land was inclosed and with it came new roads. In particular the Lower Common Road and what was called as the Shroton Road.


The Common

The tithe map is most of use when looking at the agriculture of the village and this is an area of work in progress. In 1840 there were still traces of the Common left but it is clearly much reduced to what it was. At some stage the common either side of what is now known as the Ridgeway Lane were enclosed as was the common near to Fontmell Parva.

Although most of the fields in Child Okeford had been enclosed this section of the map is particularly interesting. It shows the field known as Net [aka Lot] Mead at the bottom of Netmead Lane and Greenway Lane. It is divided up into many strips and this is because a number of the villagers had “common rights” over the land. This field, historically was almost certainly only used for production of hay and for grazing after the hay was cut. Each farmer had the right to hay from his [or her] strips. The alternative name Lot mead indicates that these strips were not fixed but allocated each year by drawing lots. Today Net Mead is the only field in the village registered as “common” land.

At a national level agricultural historians have used the Tithe maps extensively to study the state of agriculture. A typical example of what has been done , but this time using Child Okefords data is a map showing the landowners in the village. There are far more than we might expect.  Excluding the houses one wonders how many colours we would need today if we were to plot them on a map.

Another use has been to map the relative proportions of pasture, meadow and arable. The following map shows the distribution of arable [yellow] pasture[dark green] meadow [light green] and coppice [brown].

Tithes were “abolished” in 1936 just over a thousand years since their introduction however this was not the end of the story. As tithes were property they could not just be got rid of ; the farmers had to buy an annuity sufficient to provide for their share of the tithes. It was planned this would take some 60 years but in the event it happened that in 1977 the fund size had grown to such an extent that all obligations were paid off.

Information on this page has been compiled from various sources including, Dorset History Centre and The British Newspaper Archive 

It has been published on a non-commercial basis to further historical interest and knowledge about our village. No part may be reproduced without acknowledgement of the sources above from which it has been compiled and never for commercial reasons.


Kevin Pearce 2017

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