Policemen at Brooker Farm in 1923. Why are they there?

For hundreds of years the English farmers paid tithes to the Church. They were imposed long before the days of Cromwell, when the clergy existed on voluntary gifts of the parishioners. Later the church claimed and established a right to a tenth part of the produce of lands.

The land owners or tenants paid in kind, giving rise to the buildings we now call "Tithe Barns" where animals and produce thus offered was stored. 

The sixteenth century feeling toward the tithe was reflected in a harvest song, whose refrain ran like this: 

 We’ve cheated the parson, 

 We’ll cheat him again, 

 For why should a blockhead 

 Have one in ten 

 For prating so long like a book-learned sot, 

 Till pudding and pumpling burn to pot? 

 But this system also was inconvenient and unprofitable to the church. So, in 1836 a commutation act was passed substituting a money payment charged upon the lands, fixed on the basis of the prices of corn, barley, and oats during the preceding seven years with the tithes assessed differently in different counties.

The rector was compelled to give a dinner to collect the tithes. The farmers came and gorged themselves with meat and drink and all at the expense of the church. 

 When farming became difficult during the depression in the 1920's, resentment to the tithe grew and a resistance movement grew particularly where tithes were high in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Essex and Cambridgeshire. 

At first farmers adopted an attitude of passive resistance by simply not paying but the Church had a right to send the bailiffs round to get the money. When that happened, farmers and workers from all around appeared on the scene, armed with sticks, pitchforks, and spades. In some cases barricades were thrown up, trenches were dug across approaches to the farms, gates were buttressed with tree trunks, and barbed wire fences put up. 

This is an extract from the paper of the time :

Scarcely a day passes without reports of fresh violence in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Kent counties, where the farmers appear to be particularly hard-pressed. As many as 100 farmers frequently band to attempt to aid a distressed comrade whose goods and chattels are being seized in lieu of tithe payments.

A huge sign was chalked on the side of a church at Newchurch: “Clergymen, be sporty and pay for your own religion.”

During a recent sale of cattle at the same village 30 constables were called out to prevent a disturbance. When 60 farmers went to the rectory to consult the vicar they were checked by police and only two were admitted to interview the cleric.

One of the favourite devices of the embattled farmers is to lie down in front of the loaded trucks of the police as they leave a “raided” farm. At auctions they have stoned auctioneers and thrown them in ponds.

At Brooker Farm in 1923, Charlie Stickels was making a stand. The church had forced a farm sale to recover an unpaid tithe. What the local farmers used to do was to conspire to bid only tiny amounts or not at all thus frustrating the sale. When "outsiders" would arrive to pick up a bargain, they would be prevented from bidding and violence would often break out. Hence the police presence that day to keep the peace. 

At that time, Charlie's brother Ray Stickels farmed at Honeywood Farm which encompassed land in the 4 parishes of Bilsington, Bonnington, Burmarsh & Newchurch all met.  Distraint orders for non payment of tithe had been raised on Bilsington, Burmarsh and Newchurch so a hasty movement of sheep through a gate to land in Bonnington rendered them safe on that occasion.

Tithes were finally abolished in 1936


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