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Chapter XXXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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By Act 6th and 7th Will. IV., cap. 71, a board of commissioners called the " tithe commissioners of England and Wales," was appointed, the object of which was to convert; the tithes into a rent-charge, payable in money, but varying in amount, according to the average price of corn for seven preceding years. The amount of the tithes was to be calculated on an average of the seven years preceding Christmas, 1835; and the quantity of grain thus ascertained was to remain for ever as the annual charge upon the parish. The annual money value was ascertained from the returns of the comptroller of corn, who publishes annually, in January, the average price of an imperial bushel of wheat, barley, and oats, computed from the weekly averages of the corn returns during the seven preceding years. The commissioners reported in 1851 that voluntary commutations had been commenced in 9,634 tithe districts; 7,070 agreements had been received, of which 6,778 had been confirmed; and 5,529 drafts of compulsory awards had been received, of which 5,260 had been confirmed. Thus, in 12,038 tithe districts, the rent charges had been finally established by confirmed agreements or confirmed awards. One of the most important measures of the session was the Marriage Act, by which dissenters were relieved from a galling and degrading grievance, one which, of all others, most painfully oppressed their consciences. Notwithstanding their strong objection to the ceremonies of the established church, they were obliged, in order to be legally married, to comply with its ritual in the marriage service, the phraseology of which they considered not the least objectionable part of the liturgy. By this act marriages were treated as a civil contract, to which the parties might add whatever religious ceremony they pleased, or they might be married without any religious ceremony at all, or without any other form, except that of making a declaration of the act before a public officer, in any registered place of religious worship,# or in the office of the superintendent registrar. This was a great step towards religious equality, and tended more than anything, since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, to promote social harmony and peace between different denominations.

In connection with this reform, an act was passed which supplied a great want - namely, the uniform registration of births, deaths, and marriages. The state of the law on these matters had been very unsatisfactory, notwithstanding a long series of enactments upon the subject. Although the law required the registration of births and deaths, it made no provision for recording the date at which either occurred, and so it was essentially defective. It only provided records of the performance of the religious ceremonies of baptism, marriage, and burial, according to the rites of the established church, affording, therefore, an insufficient register even for the members of that church; while for those who dissented from it, and consequently did not avail themselves of its services for baptism and burial, it afforded no register at all. Even this inadequate system was not fully and regularly carried out, and the loud and long-continued complaints on the subject led to an inquiry by a select committee of the house of commons in 1833. This committee received evidence from clergymen of the established church, parish clerks, members of the legal profession, and persons of all religious denominations, including gentlemen devoted to scientific investigations, and others whose wide-spread inquiries in foreign countries and peculiar facilities for information entitled them to respect. They unanimously agreed to a report in which they stated that they arrived at the following conclusions: - That the subject was urgently important, involving matters of great public and national interest, as well as individual satisfaction and rights and claims to property, and therefore deserving the attention of the humblest artisan, as well as of the most philosophical and statesmanlike inquirer; that the existing law, being imperfect and "unjust, required not merely amendment, but real and fundamental reform; that being founded on religious rites, it was partial and intolerant, excluding a very considerable portion of the reflecting, intelligent, and influential population of the country, protestant and catholic dissenters, with 1,100 Baptist congregations, thus practically punishing their conscientious convictions by leaving their rights of property insecure; that to many pious and worthy clergymen of the established church the system was productive of pain and regret, as it often produced compliance with an obnoxious religious ceremony from mere secular motives; that even for the members of the established church it supplied no adequate proof of pedigrees or means of tracing ancestral descent, because the date of birth was not given, and the registers were often falsified, stolen, burnt, or inaccurately inscribed; that, in fact, great trouble, vast expense, utter uncertainty, capricious charges, and other local and general evils existed, while no means were supplied to obtain the information which other countries possessed and justly valued, as to the state of disease, the operation of moral and physical causes on the health of the people, the progress of population, and other matters, on which accurate knowledge can scarcely be too highly appreciated.

In order, therefore, to secure a complete and reliable record of vital statistics, the committee recommended " a national civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths, including all ranks of society, and religionists of every class." In pursuance of these recommendations, a general registration bill was brought into parliament; and in August, 1836, the act for registering births, deaths, and marriages in England became law, as a companion to the Marriage Act, which passed at the same time. Their operation, however, was suspended for a limited time by the act of 7 Will. IV., c. 1, and they were amended by the act of 1 Vict., c. 22, and came into operation on the 1st of July, 1837. One of the most important and useful provisions of this measure is that which requires the cause of death to be recorded, together with the time, locality, sex, age, and occupation, thus affording data of the highest importance to medical science, and to all those who are charged with the preservation of the public health. In order that fatal diseases may be recorded in a uniform manner, the registrar-general furnishes all qualified medical practitioners, amounting to 13,000 or 14,000, with books of printed forms - "certificates of cause of death " - to be filled up and given to registrars of births and deaths; and he causes to be circulated a nosological table of diseases, for the purpose of securing, as far as possible, uniformity of nomenclature in the medical certificates. In order to carry out this measure, a central office was established at Somerset House, London, presided over by an officer named the registrar-general, appointed under the great seal, under whom is a chief clerk, who acts as his secretary and assistant registrar-general, six superintendents, and a staff of clerks, who are appointed by the lords of the treasury. From this office emanate instructions to all the local officers charged with the duties of registration under the act, namely - superintendent registrars, registrars of births and deaths, and registrars of marriages, any of whom may be dismissed by the registrar- general, on whom devolves the entire control and responsibility of the operations. The machinery is very extensive. There are 630 superintendent registrars, each of whom may appoint a deputy, with the approval of the registrar-general, to act for him in case of his illness or absence. Of these, 586 are clerks of boards of guardians. There are 2,197 registrars of births and deaths, and about half that number of registrars of marriages. There is a number of other persons by whom registration of marriage is effected; first, 12,332 officiating ministers of the established church, to whom register books have been furnished; second, 86 registering officers connected with the society of Friends, and 47 secretaries of synagogues. Two inspectors are constantly employed in visiting the districts into which England has been divided, for the purpose of instituting a searching inquiry as to the mode in which the responsible duties entrusted to the various registration officers are performed, personally visiting and instructing in each particular of their duties the district registrars, scrutinising the register books, pointing out any erroneous practices they may discover, and seeing that the regulations issued by the registrar-general are duly observed. At the end of each week, the inspectors report the result of their inquiries to the head office. Certified copies are deposited quarterly in the central register office, there to be arranged and indexed for facility of reference, by means of which a copy of an entry of any registered birth, death, or marriage, in any part of England or Wales, may be obtained at the cost of three shillings and sixpence, which includes the fee for search. The certified copies are all made on separate leaves of durable paper of a uniform size and peculiar texture, having a distinguishing watermark for the prevention of forgery. They are sent through the post-office to the central office, where, if found perfect, they are paged, and bound up in volumes for reference, which is facilitated by alphabetical indexes. In this way about a million and a quarter names are indexed each year; and at the end of 1858 these volumes contained no less than 26,600,392 names, viz.: - 6,083,906 of persons married, 12,209,383 of children born, and 8,307,103 of persons who died in the twenty years and six months from the 1st of July, 1837.

Great attention was drawn at this time to the operation of the new Poor Law Act, which seemed, in some respects, repugnant to humane and Christian feeling, and wa3 strongly denounced by a portion of the press. An attempt was made by Mr. Walter to get the stringency of the law in some measure relaxed, and on the 1st of August he moved for a select committee 'to inquire into its operation, particularly in regard to out-door relief, and the separation of husbands from their wives, and children from their parents. But it seemed to be the opinion of the house that the workhouse test would lose its effect in a great measure if the separation in question did not take place. The operation of the act was certainly successful in saving the pockets of the ratepayers, for, on a comparison between the years 1834 and 1836, there was a saving to the amount of 1,794,990. The question did not seem to excite much interest, for the attendance was thin, as appears by the numbers on the division, which were - for the motion, 46; against it, 82.

On the 15th of September the reduction of the newspaper stamp duties came into operation, the consequence of which was, that the price of the principal daily papers was reduced from sevenpence to fivepence, the latter sum being the price of several of the weekly papers, which were only reduced a penny, and some of them underwent enlargement. The provincial papers were generally published at the same price, but a few were sold at fourpence. Previous to the reduction, there was not a single provincial paper in England issued oftener than once a week. The old duty was fourpence, with a discount of twenty per cent. There was no discount on the new duty, which was a penny, so that the actual reduction was 2 1/5d. It was calculated that under this new arrangement the proprietor of a London morning paper had twopence profit on the sale of every copy, after the allowance to the newsvendor. He had this, in addition to income from advertisements, to defray the expenses of printing, editorial and literary aid, reporters, foreign correspondence, and the other charges of his establishment.

The winter of 1836-7 was marked by great commercial activity, and a strong tendency to over-trading, chiefly on the part of the banks. The result was a reaction, and considerable monetary embarrassment. In the reckless spirit of enterprise which led to these consequences, the American houses took the lead. The American speculators indulged an inordinate thirst for gain by land jobs, and over-trading in British produce. The most remarkable examples of this were afforded by three great American houses in London, called "the three W's." From an account of these firms, published in June, 1837, it appeared that the amount of bills payable by them from June to December, was as follows: Wilson and Co., 936,300; Wigan and Co., 674,700; Wildes and Co., 505,000; total acceptances, 2,116,000. This was upwards of one-sixth of the aggregate circulation of the private and joint-sto^k banks of England and Wales, and about one-eighth of the average circulation of the bank of England. The shipments to America by Wigan and Co. amounted to 1,118,900. The number of joint-stock banks that started into existence at this time was remarkable. From 1825 to 1833 only thirty joint-stock banks had been established. In that year the charter of the bank of England being renewed, without many of the exclusive privileges it formerly enjoyed, and the spirit of commercial enterprise being active, joint-stock banks began to increase rapidly. There was an average of ten new companies annually, till 1836, when forty-five of these establishments came into existence in the course of ten months. In Ireland there were ten started in the course of two years. The consequence of this greatly increased banking accommodation produced a wild spirit of commercial adventure, which collapsed first in America, where the monetary confusion was unexampled - bankers, importers, merchants, traders, and the government having been all flung into a chaos of bankruptcy and insolvency. This state of things in America had an immediate effect in England. Discounts were abruptly refused to the largest and hitherto most respectable houses of Liverpool and London. Trade, in consequence, became paralysed; prices suddenly dropped from thirty to forty per cent.; and the numerous share bubbles - the railway projects, the insurance companies, the distillery companies, the cemetery companies, the sperm oil, the cotton twist, Zoological Gardens, and other speculations - which had floated on the pecuniary tide, all suddenly collapsed, and there was an end to the career of unprincipled adventurers. It is satisfactory, however, to observe that the sound commerce of the country soon recovered the shock thus given; and in less than two years the pecuniary difficulties had passed away,, Commerce had resumed its wonted activity, and flowed steadily in legitimate channels. The American banks resumed payment, and the three great American houses, which had involved themselves to such an enormous extent, were enabled to meet all their liabilities.

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