Elmsett, Suffolk

Opposite the parish church is a prominent lettered memorial:
‘1935
TITHE
MEMORIAL


1934
TO COMMERATE [sic] THE TITHE
SEIZURE AT ELMSETT HALL
– : –
OF FURNITURE INCLUDING
BABY’S BED & BLANKETS
HERD OF DAIRY COWS
EIGHT CORN & SEED STACKS
VALUED AT 1200 FOR
TITHE VALUED AT 385.’
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Elmsett tithe memorialImage courtesy Simon Farr
Simon Knott (see Links for 'Simon's Suffolk churches'):
'The Elmsett tithe memorial is one of several reminders in Suffolk of the battle fought by small farmers against the demands from the Church for payment of tithes. It also recalls a now largely forgotten but rather murky period in East Anglian local politics.
'In the 1930s, agriculture in England experienced a deep depression, and it was very hard to make the land pay. The Church of England had undergone much modernisation over the previous century, but even so, there were still parishes where the tithe system meant that even small landowners were legally obliged to contribute a proportion of their income to the church for the upkeep of its incumbent. This was the case even if they were not Anglicans, which in Suffolk many were not. In addition, many of the smaller landowners were supporters of the Liberal Party, but the governing Conservative Party, which many of the larger landowners supported, stood foursquare behind the Church in the matter.
'If the landowners refused to pay, the courts could enforce tithe seizures by bailiffs, who in many cases would take goods valued at far more than the unpaid tithes.
'The Elmsett Tithe Memorial recalls such an incident, just one of many, in which possessions were seized from the home of a land owner in lieu of payments to the Church...
'Charles Westren, the farmer in question, had refused to pay his tithes to the church. After the seizure, he set up this monolithic concrete memorial on the edge of his land facing into the gateway of Elmsett church, so that anyone leaving a service would be reminded of the injustice of the system. Westren eventually emigrated to America during the Second World War. The legal abolition of the tithes system in England and Wales was set in motion after the war, the system coming to a final end in the 1970s, by which time very few tithes were still collected because of the cost of doing so.'


The dating is confusing. The seizure of goods at Elmsett Hall took place in May 1932. The inset tablet is dated 1934 and the biggest lettering has '1935'. The memorial was erected by Mr Westren, before he emigrated in 1943 (by which time perhaps he had forgotten when it had taken place).

The Church of St Peter opposite this eccentric political statement stands in open countryside and is Listed Grade I.



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