Help with Tithe Maps

What are Tithe Maps and Apportionments?

Tithes and the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836

Tithe maps and apportionments were drawn up following the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. Traditionally tithes were a local payment in kind of one tenth of the produce of land and levied for the upkeep of the local church and clergy. A landowner would therefore give the incumbent of the parish church eggs, wool, wheat, etc. With changes in tithe ownership and more extensive land enclosure, payment in kind was increasingly converted into a fixed sum of money.

By the 19th century, there were wide variations in the method and level of payment of tithes across the country. Disputes were frequent, tithe payments were devalued by inflation and increasingly parishioners resented the payment of tithes. Resentments had a number of causes: tithes increasingly were paid to laymen, Nonconformists objected to supporting the Established Church and many powerful landowners viewed the payment of tithes as a restriction on innovation and growth. The Act replaced payments in kind with a rent-charge levied in accordance with the value of land and in proportion to the price of corn.

The process of tithe commutation

The implementation of the 1836 Act was overseen by Tithe Commissioners based in London, while locally local assistant commissioners and surveyors carried out the work. In Cheshire, the area on which the payment of tithes was based was the township. In 239 Cheshire townships there was a voluntary agreement for the conversion of tithes to a rent-charge, while in 213 – where no agreement was forthcoming – a compulsory award was made.  Once the amount payable was established a valuer was appointed to draw up the tithe apportionment.

The tithe apportionment

Tithe apportionments are documents recording the acreage subject to tithe, the names of all tithe owners and their tenants and the rent-charge due on each plot or parcel of land in the township in question. Each plot is given a number relating to its position on an accompanying map. Within a township a number of plots would be recorded for which no rent-charge was due. Typically, these include such features as roads, rivers and canals.

The tithe map

The tithe map shows where each plot numbered on the apportionment is located. Guidelines for the production of these maps were drawn up, but these were generally ignored. Nevertheless, dwelling houses are generally coloured red, other buildings black, while trees are usually drawn to indicate woodland and water features are coloured blue. Roads are generally coloured pale yellow and are included, along with such features as canals, even when not subject to tithe.

Landowners had to pay for the work of surveying and were keen to keep such costs down. Resulting pressure brought an act of 1837 which stated that any map was acceptable for the process of tithe commutation as long as it was accepted by two thirds of landowners in a tithe district. In many cases, existing maps were used as the basis for tithe maps and no new surveying was carried out; there is therefore a wide variation in the standard of mapping.
If the Tithe Commissioners were satisfied with the accuracy of the maps, they would certify them as such. These ‘First Class’ maps bear the seal and signatures of the Commissioners and are accurate enough to serve as legal evidence. They account for 16% of all maps produced in England and Wales.

The maps were produced locally and had to be approved by the Tithe Commissioners. Three maps were produced – an original map held at the Tithe Commission and now at The National Archives, and two copies – one for the parish and one for the diocese. The diocesan copies, as well as some of the parish copies, are now at Cheshire Record Office and the diocesan copies have been published on the Cheshire Tithe Map website. 


Tracing the History of a Property

If a building in which you are interested was built before c1850 the tithe map is an invaluable source. It is usually the earliest reliable large scale map of a complete township and identifies each building in the township at that time. The outline shape of the house at the time of the map can be seen and, by linking the map to the tithe apportionment, you can also see who owned and who occupied the property then.

Even if your house was not built before c1850 you can still find out what the land your house is on was used for and who owned it.

Some useful websites include:

Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles
National Archives guide to house history