1902 Encyclopedia > Parish


PARISH. In England the parish may be regarded as originally an ecclesiastical institution, being defined as the township or cluster of townships which was assigned to the ministration of a single priest, to whom its tithes and other ecclesiastical dues were paid; and it has been decided that if a place has not a church, churchwardens, and sacramen-talia it is not a parish in this original sense of the term.

The word has now acquired several distinct meanings, which must be separately mentioned and investigated.

The Old Ecclesiastical Parish.—In the absence of evi-dence to the contrary, the ecclesiastical parish is presumed to be composed of a single township or vill, and to be con-terminous with the manor within the ambit of which it is comprised. Before the process of subinfeudation became prevalent, the most ancient manors were the districts which we call by that name when speaking of the tenants, or "townships " when we regard the inhabitants, or " parishes " as to matters ecclesiastical. The parish as an institution is in reality later in date than the township. The latter has been in fact the unit of local administration ever since the country was settled by the English in their several states and kingdoms ; the beginnings of the parochial system are attributed to Theodore of Tarsus, who was archbishop of Canterbury towards the close of the 7th century. The system was extended in the reign of Edgar, and it appears not to have been complete until the reign of Edward III. It has been considered that the intimate connexion of church and state militates against the view that the parochial system was founded as a national institution, since any legislation on the subject of the township and parochial systems would probably have resulted in the merging of the one into the other. " The fact that the two systems, the parish and the township, have existed for more than a thousand years side by side, identical in area and administered by the same persons, and yet separate in character and machinery, is a sufficient proof that no legislative Act could have been needed in the first place; nor was there any lay council of the whole nation which could have sanctioned such a measure " (Stubbs, Const. Hist., i. 227). The boundaries of the old ecclesiastical parishes are usually identical with those of the township or townships comprised within its precinct; they are deter-mined by usage, in the absence of charters or records, and are evidenced by perambulations, which formerly took place on the " gang-days " in Rogation week, but are now for the most part held triennially, the Poor-Law Act of 1844 permitting the parish officers to charge the expense on the poor-rate, " provided the perambulations do not occur more than once in three years." The expense of preserving the boundary by land-marks or bound-stones is chargeable to the same rate. Many parishes contain more than one township, and this is especially the case in the northern counties, where the separate townships are organized for administrative purposes under an Act passed in 1662. In the southern and midland districts the parishes are for the most part subdivided into hamlets or other local divisions known as "tythings," "boroughs," and the like; the distinction between a parish and a subordinate district lies chiefly in the fact that the latter will be found to have never had a church or a constable to itself. The select committee of 1873, appointed to inquire into parochial boundaries, reported to the effect that the parish bears no definite relation to any other administrative area, except indeed to the Poor-Law Union. It may be situated in different counties or hundreds, and in many instances it contains, in addition to its principal district, several outlying portions intermixed with the lands in other parishes. Since the abolition of compulsory church rates in 1868 (subject to certain exceptions as to rates which have already been mortgaged), the old ecclesiastical parish has ceased to to of importance as an instrument of local government. Its officers, however, have still important duties to perform. The rector, vicar, or incumbent is a corporation-sole, in whom is vested the freehold of the church and churchyard, subject to the parishioners' rights of user ; their rights of burial have been enlarged by the Burial Laws Amendment Act, 1880, and an Act passed in 1882 to regulate the inter-ment of suicides. The churchwardens are the principal lay officers. Their duties consist in keeping the church and churchyard in repair and in raising a voluntary rate for the purpose to the best of their power; they have also the duty of keeping order in church during divine service; and by Acts passed in 1860 and 1877 they are required to furnish annual accounts to the Local Government Board. The other officials are the parish-clerk and sexton. They have freeholds in their offices, and are paid by customary fees. The office of the clerk is regulated by an Act of 1844, enabling a curate to undertake its duties, and providing facilities for vacating the office in case of misconduct. It is said that the only civil function of the parish-clerk now remaining is to undertake the custody of maps and documents, which may be deposited under the provisions of the Railway Clauses Act, 1845.

The. New Ecclesiastical Parish.—Under the powers given by the Church Building Acts, many populous parishes have been subdivided into smaller ecclesiastical parishes. This division has not affected the parish in its civil aspect (Chalmers, Local Government, 39). The change has helped to increase the distinction between the ecclesiastical and civil parishes. Mr Chalmers estimates that there are now about 15,000 civil and 13,000 ecclesiastical parishes in England, and that in 1871 not more than 10,000 civil parishes coincided with the ecclesiastical districts of the same names.

The Poor-Law Parish.—For the purposes of civil government the term " parish " means a district for which a separate poor-rate is or can be made, or for which a separate overseer is or can be appointed ; and by the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1866, this definition is to be used in interpreting all statutes except where the context is inconsistent therewith. This district may of itself con-stitute a poor law union; but in the great majority of cases the unions, or areas under the jurisdiction of boards of guardians according to the Poor-Law Amendment Act of 1834, are made up of aggregated poor-law parishes. Each of these poor-law parishes may represent the extent of an old ecclesiastical parish, or a township separately rated by custom before the practice was stayed in 1819 or separated from a large parish under the Act of 1662, or it may repre-sent a chapelry, tything, borough, ward, quarter, or hamlet, or other subdivision of the ancient parish, or an area formed by the merger of an extra-parochial place with an adjoining district under the Acts of 1857 and 1869, or by the union of detached portions with adjoining parishes under the Acts of 1876 and 1879, or by the subdivision of a large parish for the better administration of the relief of the poor under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1867 and the Local Government Board Act of 1871. The civil importance of the poor-law parishes may be dated from the introduction of the poor law by the statute of 43 Elizabeth, which directed overseers of the poor to be appointed in every parish, and made the churchwardens into ex officic overseers. The statute was preceded by tentative provi sions of the same kind enacted in the reigns of Edward the VI. and Mary and in the fifth year of Elizabeth, and after several renewals was made perpetual in the reign of Charles I. The chief part of the parochial organization is the vestry-meeting. -It derives its name from the old place of assembly, which in parishes exceeding two thousand in population may now be replaced by a vestry-hall. The vestry represents the old assembly of the town-ship, and retains so much of its business as has not been insensibly transferred to the court-baron and court-leet. The freemen, now appearing as the ratepayers, elect the " parish officers," as the churchwardens and way-wardens, the assessors, the overseers, and (if required) paid assistant-overseers, a secretary or vestry-clerk, and a collector of rates if the guardians apply for his appointment. A meet-ing for the election of guardians is held in April every year, subject to the rules laid down by the Local Govern-ment Board as to the number of guardians for each parish, and the union of parishes for voting purposes. In case of a contest the election is conducted under Sturges Bourne's Act. Common vestries are meetings of all the ratepayers assembled on a three days' notice; the minister of the ecclesiastical parish is chairman, if present; the meeting acts by show of hands unless a poll is demanded; if demanded, the poll is conducted by plural voting according to payment of rates. Select vestries are regulated by local custom, or may derive their power from Hobhouse's Act (1831). The vestries of the Metropolitan District are elected under the Metropolis Management Acts. The functions of the vestry, apart from elections, are practically confined to the management of the property of the parish. The vestry, however, has power to adopt the Free Libraries Act, or the Lighting and Watching Act of 1833, and may appoint a new burial board if a new burial-ground is required; but with these exceptions, most of its active powers and duties have now been taken away by the Acts relating to the poor laws and public health.

The Land-Tax Parish.—The parishes or places sepa-rately assessed for land tax form another class. They are described in the series of land-tax accounts from 1692 to the present time, and are also defined in the Taxes Management Act of Í880.

The Burial Acts Parish.—The Burial Acts from 1852 to 1875 deal with areas which are treated as parishes for the purposes of those Acts, but which have no necessary connexion with the boundaries of the civil and ecclesiastical districts known as parishes in the ordinary sense of the term.

The Highway Parish.—The word " parish " is used in a very wide and vague manner in the Highway Acts. It includes any civil district less than the county, such as wapentakes, hundreds, cities, liberties, or franchises, as well as subdivisions of the ordinary parish, such as townships and hamlets, if by reason of tenure or custom or otherwise such larger or smaller district either maintains its own highways or would do so if it were not included in
a highway district composed of several highway parishes or in an urban sanitary district. The constitution of the highway parish is discussed in the Report of the Lords Committee on Highways. (C. I. E.)

The Parish in Scotland.—There can be little doubt that about the beginning of the 13th century the whole, or almost the whole, of the kingdom of Scotland was parochially divided. It seems probable (though the point is obscure) that the bishops presided at the first formation of the parishes—the parish being a subdivision of the diocese—and at any rate down to the date of the Reformation they exercised the power of creating new parishes within their respective dioceses (Duncan, Parochial Law, p. 4). After the Reformation the power of altering parishes was assumed by the legislature. The existing parochial districts being found unstated to the ecclesiastical requirements of the time, a general Act was passed in 1581, which made provision for the parochial clergy, and, inter alia, directed that "a sufficient and competent" district should be appropriated to each church as a parish (1581, cap. 100). Thereafter, by a series of special Acts in the first place, and, subsequent to the year 1617, by the decrees of parliamentary commissions, the creation of suitable parochial districts was pro-ceeded with. The powers conferred on the parliamentary commis-sions embraced what are technically known as (1) the disjunction and erection of parishes, (2) the union of parishes, and (3) the disjunction and annexation of parishes. In altering and defining parochial areas in those several ways, the object which the com-missioners had in view was to provide for the spiritual wants of particular districts of the country, and to procure from the lands in the parish a proper stipend for the clergy. In the year 1707 the powers exercised by these commissioners were permanently transferred to the Court of Session, whose judges were appointed to act in future as "Commissioners for the Plantation of Kirks and Valuation of Teinds " (Act, 1707, cap. 9). Under this statute the areas of parishes continued to be altered and defined down to 1844, when the Act commonly known as Graham's Act was. passed, (7 & 8 Vict. e. 44). This Act, which applies to the disjunction and erection of parishes, introduced a simpler form of procedure, and to some extent dispensed with the consent of the heritors, wdiich had been required under the earlier statute. Since 1844 proceedings for disjunction and erection of parishes have been taken under it.

The main division of parishes in Scotland as they now exist is into civil and ecclesiastical, or, to speak more accurately, into parishes proper [i.e., for all purposes, civil and ecclesiastical) and ecclesiastical parishes. This division is expressed in legal language by the terms, parishes quoad omnia (i.e., quoad civilia et sacra) and parishes quoad sacra—civilia being such matters as church rates, education, poor law, and sanitary purposes, and sacra being such as concern the administration of church ordinances, and fall under the cognizance of the church courts. There are other minor divisions which will be noticed below. (1) The Parish Proper.—In a number of instances it is difficult to determine the exact areas of such parishes at the present day. The boundaries of the old ecclesi-astical parish were nowhere recorded, and the descriptions in the titles of private properties which appear to lie in the parish have sometimes to be taken as evidence, and sometimes the fact that the inhabitants attended a particular church or made payments in favour of a particular minister. "Where there has been a union or disjunction and erection of parishes the evidence of the boundaries is the relative statute, order in council, or decree of commission or of Court of Teinds. The total number of parishes proper in Scotland is eight hundred and eighty-six, and they vary to a great degree both in size and population. For ecclesiastical purposes, the minister and kirk-session constitute the parochial authority. The minister is vested with the manse and glebe, to be held by him for himself and his successors in office, and along with the kirk-session he administers church ordinances and exercises church discipline. For purposes of local government, on the other hand, the Scottish parish, unlike that of England, has been largely utilized by modern legislation. The oldest governing authority is the meeting of the heritors or landowners of the parish. Though shorn of much of its old importance, the heritors' meeting has still the power of imposing an assessment for the purpose of providing and maintaining a church and churchyard and a manse and glebe for the minister. It also possesses power to assess under the Parochial Buildings Acts of 1862 and 1866. In a certain number of parishes also, which have not adopted a parochial board under the Poor-Law Act, 1845, the heritors along with the kirk-session provide for the relief of the poor, and administer the funds legally destined for that purpose. In the great majority, however, of civil parishes the chief governing authority is the parochial board, which in non-burghal parishes is composed of owners of land of £20 annual value and upwards, and representatives of the kirk-session and of the magistrates of any burgh within the parish and of the rate-payers—the number of representative members being in each case fixed by the Board of Supervision. Another local authority of great importance is the school board, created by the recent Education Acts. Speaking' generally, the matters administered in the civil parish are poor relief, education, public health, burial, registration, and church rates. (2) Quoad Sacra Parishes.—The ecclesiastical or quoad sacra parish is a modern creation. Under Graham's Act, above mentioned, a parish may be disjoined and erected quoad sacra tantuin on the application of persons who have built and endowed a church, and who offer securities for its proper maintenance. The creation is made purely on a consideration of the spiritual interests of a par-ticular district, and not for any purposes of civil administration. By the Education Act of 1872, however, the quoad sacra parish has been adopted as a separate school district. There are three hun-dred and twenty-five such parishes in Scotland. (3) Extra-Burghal Parishes.—For sanitary purposes, highways, and some others, cer-tain classes of burghs have been made separate areas from the parishes in which they lie. This fact creates a set of incomplete parishes, which are called extra-burghal. (4) Burghal, Land-icard, and Burghal-Landward (or Mixed) Parishes. —This division of parishes depends, as the names imply, upon local character and situation of the parochial districts. The importance of the dis-tinction arises in connexion with the rule of assessment which is to be adopted for various parochial burdens, and the nature of the rights of the minister and corresponding obligations of the parishioners. (5) Combined Parishes.—Under the Poor-Law, Education, and Registration Acts power is given to the centra] authority to combine parishes for purposes of local administration.

The Parish in the United States.—The term "parish" is not in use as a territorial designation except in Louisiana, the fifty-eight parishes of which correspond to the counties of the other States of the Union.

The principal records from which information may he gained as to the oldest parochial system in England are the records called Nomina Villarum, the Taxatio Papx Nicholai made in 1291, the Nonarum Inquisitiones relating to assessments made upon the clergy, the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII., the lay subsidies from the reign of Edward III. to that of Charles II., the hearth-tax assessments, and the land-tax accounts. On the subject of the parish generally the reader should consult Stubbs's Constitutional History, Glen's Parish Law, Toulmin Smith's work on the Parish, Holdsworth's Handy Book of Parish Law, and M. D. Chalmers's work on Local Government, published in the English Citizen Series. For fuller information regarding the Scottish parish the following works may be consulted :— Connell on Teinds ; Duncan's Parochial Ecclesiastical Law; the Cobden Club essays on Local Government and Taxation in the United Kingdom, published in 1882; Goudy and Smith's Local Government in Scotland.

The above article was written by: Charles I. Elton, M.P.

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