Guided tours of both Caergwrle Castle and the village recommenced during August. With the help of Sophie, our eldest granddaughter, aged 10, it has been possible to add an element of costumed drama to the event. One episode which we particularly enjoyed was an activity which we developed to represent the local protest which took place against the collection of tithes.
Tithes were a tax of one tenth of a person’s income which were payable to the Church. There are several Biblical references to support this tax but it became particularly controversial in the course of the nineteenth century.
Originally tithes were paid in kind which meant that crops collected had to be stored in a specially constructed tithe barn. In some places, such as Hawarden, the original tithe barns still exist. However, in the case of Caergwrle the three buildings of Florence Cottage (1895), May Cottage (1898) and Ty Llwydd (1899) in Castle Street are said to be on the approximate site of the old tithe barn. As a result of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 the system of payment in kind was replaced by one of monetary payment in England and Wales. This meant that Tithe Commissioners had to visit each village in order to draw up a Tithe Award and produce a Tithe Map to show land ownership so that the payments could be calculated. Locally this happened in 1843. Technically tithe barns were now redundant; however, the tithe officials would still take crops or cattle for auction if they were unable to receive the correct monetary payment.
The tithe was paid to the Anglican Church and was unpopular in Wales which was predominantly Nonconformist. The situation was aggravated by the period of agricultural depression which set in after the 1870s and there were outbreaks of violence in the 1880s, known as the ‘Tithe War.’
Clwyd Record Office publication (1978)
The ‘Tithe War’ came to Caergwrle in 1888 when a local resident, Mrs Braithwaite, a widow, who was said to have had eight children, one of whom was disabled, had difficulty in paying the full amount. The village saw a build up of tension in the weeks leading up to the collection of the tithe and Mrs Braithewaite’s sympathisers made preparations for a protest.The commotion was witnessed by local man William Roberts, who had been born in 1878 and was himself ten years old at the time. He later wrote:
One of those (who refused to pay the tithe) was Mrs Braithewaite, a widow, who rented a few acres from Mr Hughes of Ty Cerrig. She had a few cows and a horse. She refused to pay the tithe. Consequently the authorities distained on her. The bailiff came and took one of her black cows. Eventually they drove the cow to Rossett market to be sold under the hammer. I can remember seeing crowds booing and making a regular riotThe memoir of William Roberts is an important local source but we are also indebted to the report of 21st April, 1888, which appeared in the Wrexham Advertiser, for further details of what happened.
Local people constructed two effigies to make their point, one of a vicar and the other of a bespectacled auctioneer. A placard tied to the effigy of the vicar read:
Dearly beloved brethren –
It’s money I want
I must have it now
If I can’t get it
I’ll sell the black cow
The placard on the auctioneer had the words:
Your Lordships – I am authorised by dearly beloved brethren to sell widows and orphans in order to get my pound of flesh – a Cockney Lawyer
Sophie uses miniature models of the vicar, the auctioneer and the cow to help depict the story of Mrs Braithewaite’s cow
A crowd of local people hooted horns and beat tins in a bid to prevent the black cow from being seized. However, with the protection of soldiers, the authorities managed to seize the cow.
They drove it to Rossett market but were apparently unable to sell it there and it had to be taken to Chester.
The effigies, used in the protest, were later taken to the Assembly Room of the Derby Arms where an ‘indignation meeting’ was held. The Wrexham Advertiser gave quite a detailed account of the proceedings.
The Chair was taken by Mr Bowman, of Hope Hall who was supported by Messrs Bellis, Speed, Swetenham and the Rev Morgan Jones. Mrs Braithewaite also occupied a prominent position. The effigies were placed in the background of the platform
The account summarises some of the speeches made, which were largely in favour of disestablishment of the Church in Wales as a means of resolving the issue. It is apparent that there was considerable local sympathy and support for Mrs Braithewaite.
Mrs Braithewaite, the heroine of the meeting, expressed her thanks for the sympathy extended to her, and thought it was a pity that Wales was connected with England. She also complained of the cruelty of the emergency men on the cow on the road…
The Caergwrle episode was part of a much wider agitation that was taking place and it was clear that something had to be done. In 1891 an Act was passed which made landlords, rather than tenants, responsible for the payment of the tithe. The landlords could pass the charge on to tenants by increasing rents and the tenants could scarcely refuse to pay for fear of eviction. This has the effect of ending the protests but the resentment remained. The issue rumbled on until the Welsh Church Act of 1914 came into effect in 1920. This disestablished the Church in Wales and brought payment of tithes in Wales to an end. It was not until 1936 that an Act was passed that actually ended tithes completely in England.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.