A Problem with Expenses in Birmingham in 1795

By law, the parish churches of the Church of England could impose an annual levy on the inhabitants of the parish for the recovery of their annual repair costs. Those having to pay would be householders with the house over a certain rateable value. St Martin’s was, and still is, the Parish Church of Birmingham and the levy was determined at the St Martin’s Annual Vestry Meeting.

This meeting was usually held on Easter Tuesday and any inhabitant of the Town could attend. The first item was to elect the churchwardens of St Martin’s for the ensuing year. One churchwarden was chosen by the rector and the other by the inhabitants of the Town, and this was followed by the election of the sidesmen of St Martin’s. After this church business there followed Town business. The people to be involved as Overseers of the Poor and those to look after the Highways were appointed, and this was followed by the determination of the levy for repairs. In 1795 it would be the outgoing churchwardens of St Martin’s and St Philips and the outgoing wardens of the three chapels of ease viz., St Bartholomew’s, St Mary’s and St Paul’s who submitted audited accounts showing their repair costs for the previous year, and it was from these figures that the magnitude of the levy was determined.

The minutes of the Vestry Meetings affecting the Town were written up in the Town Book of St Martin’s, which can be seen in Birmingham Archives and Heritage. At a special meeting held on November 2nd 1795 the following resolution was passed:-

“It appearing that in some instances the expenses incurred at the Warden’s dinner at Easter have been charged to the Public It is resolved that in future no such charges will be allowed, but they must be defrayed by the persons present on such occasions”.

Evidently the Churchwardens had a dinner coinciding with the Annual Vestry Meeting and they charged their expenses to the Levy. The dinner would probably begin at 2.00pm, but if it was anything like the Lunar Society it would stretch into the evening, in which case it could be said that they really did have a night out on the Town!

But that was not all. Another resolution revealed some curious goings on at St Paul’s Chapel. The resolution stated that:-

“Whereas it has been the practice at St Paul’s Chapel for the wardens to give certain sums of money to the Minister instead of the surplus of sacramental wine and which sums of money have been charged to the Town, it is the opinion of this meeting and therefore resolved that the said practice shall be absolutely totally and immediately discontinued”.

This was a very strong condemnation indeed of the behaviour at St Paul’s, where the minister was the Rev’d T W Young. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper took place at Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday and the fourth Sunday of the month immediately after Divine Service in the morning. It seems as though it was normal for any surplus wine to be given to the minister after the service. Perhaps the Revd Young did not like the wine, so the wardens gave him cash in lieu and then charged it to repairs. Do this 15 times a year and perhaps it was a significant sum being charged to the Town. The wardens were certainly out of order to class such payments as repairs, and were told so in no uncertain manner.

There is no mention in the record of St Paul’s Vestry Minutes of any resignations. As for the minister, his benefice was what was called a perpetual curacy, and with that not even the bishop could sack him. As for the reaction in the Town, it would need a search of Aris’s Gazette to determine if it could be called an expenses scandal!

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