The Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches: The Minute Books, 1711-27, A Calendar. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1986.

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'Introduction', The Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches: The Minute Books, 1711-27, A Calendar, (London, 1986), pp. ix-xxxiii. British History Online [accessed 25 June 2024].

. "Introduction", in The Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches: The Minute Books, 1711-27, A Calendar, (London, 1986) ix-xxxiii. British History Online, accessed June 25, 2024,

. "Introduction", The Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches: The Minute Books, 1711-27, A Calendar, (London, 1986). ix-xxxiii. British History Online. Web. 25 June 2024,

In this section


The Creation of the Commission

The spiritual flame burned brightly in the Church of England at the opening of the eighteenth century, and nowhere more brightly than in London. It was naturally there that the two great proselytizing societies, those for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, gathered their forces, not confined to any one church party, but embracing men of a wide range of opinion. (fn. 2) Controversy within the Church was keen, but that in itself served to raise the general consciousness of religious issues; and the battle was fought too against external enemies: Dissenters, Papists, Atheism and licentiousness. Associations of the faithful sought to inculcate a keener sense of Christian vocation in men's private lives. Charity schools were organised to teach Christianity to the poor; and to provide mental sustenance for the laity Dr Thomas Bray (fn. 1) organised a scheme to establish parochial libraries. (fn. 3)

Yet despite this exhilarating climate, the enormous growth of London since the Great Fire left the metropolitan area seriously lacking in provision for organised worship: the performance of divine service and the preaching of the Word. Thanks to the legal difficulties stemming from its being the State Church, the parochial arrangement of the Church of England was resistant to modification, and the necessary legislation could often be blocked by interested parties. For Dissenters, it was now an easy matter to open a meeting-house, and there was a prevalent, if unjustified, fear among churchmen that the Dissenters were spreading rapidly in the suburbs: a parliamentary committee estimated that 100,000 people, a quarter of the population of London's suburbs, were Dissenters (fn. 4) —and also that papists were proselytizing among the unshepherded masses. (fn. 5) The building of proprietary chapels for Anglican worship met only the needs of well-to-do pew renters. In an anonymous pamphlet of 1709 suggesting various ways of improving the moral condition of the nation without resort to legislation, Swift commented on the endless number of defects requiring legislative remedy, particularly noting as a scandal to Christianity that where towns had grown prodigiously 'so little care should be taken for the building of churches, that five parts in six of the people are absolutely hindered from hearing divine service. Particularly here in London, where a single minister, with one or two sorry curates, hath the care sometimes of above twenty thousand souls incumbent on him.' (fn. 6) Legislative attempts to suppress Dissent by outlawing occasional conformity and destroying the Nonconformist educational system sharpened the obligation to provide churches in the new centres of population.

The Church of England itself, however, was riven by quarrels. Meetings of Convocation at the start of the new century had been characterized by dissension between the Lower House, dominated by Tory parsons, and the largely Whig bench of bishops who formed the Upper House. (fn. 7) So sharp had their differences become that Convocation was not allowed to debate again for several years. The Tory victory in the general election of 1710 gave it new life. Royal letters issued on 29 January 1710/ 11 put at the head of the agenda 'The drawing up of a representation of the present state of religion among us, with regard to the late excessive growth of infidelity, heresy, and profaneness'. A joint committee of the two houses produced a draft, said to be mainly the work of Francis Atterbury,* the High Church prolocutor of the Lower House. (fn. 8)

Their representation, though drawing hope from the setting up of church societies and the development of the charity school movement, deplored the licentiousness and infidelity of the age; it called for a renewed censorship of press and stage, and, as soon as more church accommodation should have been provided, the enforcement of the law against those who 'abstain from all sorts of religious tendencies'. This call for the re-establishment of the Church of England was one aspect of a wide-ranging programme for church reform, which was aborted by disagreement between the two houses of Convocation. Any remaining hopes for major reforms were bogged down in Lord Treasurer Harley's* 'political calculating dilatoriness'. (fn. 9) Only the proposals for building new churches were to be implemented.

That anything at all was achieved was doubtless because the House of Commons was involved. Atterbury was a 'particular friend' of William Bromley,* Speaker in the 1710 Parliament. (fn. 10) On 14 February 1710/11 a petition was read to the Commons from the parish of Greenwich, praying that their church, ruined in a storm the previous November, might be rebuilt out of the surplus of the coal dues allocated for the rebuilding of St Paul's cathedral. It was doubtless Bromley who exploited the opportunity thus created by instructing the committee considering the petition not only to report on the finances of the rebuilding of St Paul's, but also the wider question of 'what Churches are wanting within the cities of London and Westminster, and the Suburbs thereof. (fn. 11)

Waves of petitions from metropolitan parishes then kept up the pressure: St Mary le Strand (demolished in 1549 for building Somerset House), Deptford (the steeple in danger of falling), St Botolph without Aldersgate (damaged in the Great Fire), on 27 February; Kingston on Thames (damaged in a storm, 1703), St George the Martyr Southwark (in a dangerous state), St Botolph Bishopsgate ('supported by props'), Gravesend (the steeple ruinous), on 2 April; and, as the ripples spread, West Tilbury (nave collapsed), St Leonard Shoreditch (ruinous), Malden (in danger of collapse), St Alphage Cripplegate (shored up). (fn. 12)

Meanwhile Atterbury and his High Church friends had been following up the Speaker's initiative. Convocation agreed on 28 February that the prolocutor, attended by Drs Stanhope,* Stanley,* Smalbridge* and Delaune, should formally convey to the Speaker a statement of the 'great satisfaction' with which they had noted the instruction given by the Commons that a committee should 'consider what Churches are wanting within the cities of London and Westminster, and the suburbs thereof'. 'It was in our thoughts', the message declared, 'to have done what in us lay towards setting forward so pious a design; but we are glad to find ourselves happily prevented by the zeal of the Honourable House'. (fn. 13) The next day, the deputation waited on the Speaker and offered Convocation's assistance in the work. The Commons then resolved that they would 'have particular regard to such applications as shall at any time be made to them from the clergy in convocation assembled'. Bromley announced on 10 March that Atterbury had on the previous evening presented him with a scheme showing the parishes most in need of additional churches, which also was referred to the committee. Petitioned by Convocation to support the scheme, the Queen commended it to the Commons on 29 March. (fn. 14)

The proposals for new churches were, of course, a means of overcoming the inherent difficulties that hindered the Established Church in any attempts to build new churches and divide parishes. The financial interest of patrons, incumbents and parishioners alike in preserving the status quo created an enormously strong vis inertiae which could only be overcome by means of parliamentary action, and not always even then. The interests of the individual often proved stronger than the common good. But the growth of London was so formidable a phenomenon that the need to enable the building of new churches was coming to be widely accepted. Defoe, in the early 1720s, could refer to London 'in the modern acceptation' as 'all that vast mass of buildings, reaching from Black-Wall in the east, to Tot-Hill Fields in the west . . . and all the new buildings by, and beyond, Hannover Square, by which the city of London . . . is extended to Hide Park Corner . . . and almost to Maribone in the Acton Road, and how much farther it may spread, who knows? . . . nothing in the world does, or ever did, equal it, except old Rome in Trajan's time'. 'The great and more eminent increase of buildings. . .and the vast extent of ground taken in' had been made, Defoe remarked, 'not only within our memory, but even within a few years'. (fn. 15)

This general impression is supported in detail by parochial returns made to the Fifty New Churches Commission. In the ring of parishes immediately outside the City walls, in 1711 the larger parishes were already too populous for the old structure: St Giles Cripplegate was reported to have 4,600 houses, St Andrew Holborn and its liberties 3,785 houses. (fn. 16) Beyond the City boundaries, St Clement Danes had 1,690 houses, Shoreditch 2,278, and in Stepney, Spitalfields claimed nearly 20,000 inhabitants by 1715, and Wapping 18,000. On the edge of the urban area, districts such as Limehouse with 910 houses in 1711 and St James Clerkenwell with 1,619 in 1720, were either without churches or quite inadequately supplied. (fn. 17)

In its report, on 6 April, the Commons' committee remarked on the care with which Convocation's scheme had been drawn up, and declared that fifty new churches were necessary in London and the vicinity, a recommendation adopted by the House. (fn. 18) Twenty six metropolitan parishes and the seven hamlets of Stepney were computed in Convocation's scheme to contain rather more than eighty thousand families. Allowing six per family for the most part, (fn. 19) the total population of these districts was estimated—probably overestimated—at some 513,000. The total provision for public worship was stated to be 46 Anglican churches, chapels and tabernacles, 61 Dissenting and 14 Quaker meeting-houses, and 13 French congregations. (fn. 20) Dr George, having compared the Convocation's population figures with those of the 1801 census, regards many of the former as 'clearly exaggerated'; (fn. 21) but it may well be that the inner suburb populations were not markedly larger in 1801, the main growth occurring in the outer ring. On the basis of these statistics, of 32 parishes and hamlets, by 1801 ten had grown more than 20 per cent; seven were significantly smaller; and fifteen much the same. Allowing 4,750 souls to each of the existing Anglican places of worship, the committee calculated that an additional 72 churches would be required. However, an allowance for the number of Dissenters and French Protestants reduced the estimated need to the conveniently round figure of 50 new churches: approximately as many as were rebuilt in the City after the Fire. (fn. 22)

A bill was thereupon passed for imposing an additional duty on coals brought into the Port of London to finance building the new churches. This proposal would have seemed entirely reasonable to a Parliament dominated by High Churchmen. A generation or so earlier no one had questioned that after the Great Fire an adequate number of churches should be rebuilt at the public expense. Duties on coals brought into the Port of London had between 1667 and 1688 raised £265,000 for the churches. (fn. 23) By 1709 the consumption of coal in London was such that a tax of 3s. per chaldron or ton would yield more than £50,000. (fn. 24) This revenue, however, was up to 1716 committed to the completion of St Paul's and Greenwich Hospital, and the repair of Westminster Abbey. The duty was therefore renewed for a further eight years, out of which £10,000 p.a. were allotted to Westminster Abbey and Greenwich (Statute 9 Anne, c.22). The remaining sum, considerably larger than that for the rebuilding of the City churches, would have seemed ample for providing the fifty new churches stipulated, even allowing for having to buy sites for them. An invitation, however, to go for a more costly architectural character than that of the Wren churches, was provided by the requirement that the churches were to be built 'of stone and other proper materials . . . with towers or steeples to each of them'. The Act also provided for the appointment of commissioners to determine where the new churches should be sited, and to report to Queen and Parliament by 24 December 1711, 'to the end such further Directions may be given thereupon as may be pursuant to Her Majesties pious Intentions'.

This Commission, of which the Minute Books are calendared in this volume, first met accordingly at Lambeth on 28 September 1711. Unable to complete its labours in the allotted time, it duly reported to that effect, whereupon a further Act, 10 Anne, cap. 11, continued the Commission until its work should be completed. The Commissioners received powers to contract for sites for churches, churchyards and parsonage houses; to erect churches, and to make chapels into parish churches; to borrow on the credit of the future coal dues, paying interest up to six per cent; to treat with patrons of existing parishes; to appoint select vestries for the new churches; and make a perpetual division of parish rates. Intra-mural burials in the new churches were forbidden. One church was required to be in Greenwich (the immediate occasion of the 1711 act) and that of St Mary Woolnoth in the city was to be rebuilt, the Commissioners being reimbursed from the proceeds of a one shilling duty on coals levied under an Act of 1685.

Membership of the Commissions

Thus the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches came into existence, and such, broadly, were their powers. They were active from 1711 to 1734, meeting at first in the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, and then acquiring chambers in Lincoln's Inn. During the session of Parliament, however, they found it more convenient to meet in the house of their Treasurer, Henry Smith, in Old Palace Yard (79), and, their new Treasurer acquiring the lease in 1716 (147), it was there from October 1716 to August 1734 that they regularly met—usually weekly, but from 1728 generally monthly. They continued to meet occasionally until February 1749. In 1758, their remaining functions having been terminated by Act of Parliament, their papers were transferred to Lambeth Palace Library, to be lost from sight for nearly two hundred years. (fn. 25) Strictly, there were four Commissions: those of 1711, 1712, 1715 and 1727. Effectively, however, we may group these in two. The 1712 Commission was an augmentation of that of 1711; that of 1727 a toppingup of the 1715 body consequent upon the death of George I.

The Queen Anne Commissioners formed a relatively homogeneous body, characterised by Toryism, High Anglicanism, devotion to good works, and London associations. They were no random congregation, but a hand-picked body of supporters of Harley's ministry, with the exception of a few whose dignities made their inclusion obligatory: Archbishop Tenison,* the Whig Lord Mayor Sir Gilbert Heathcote,* John Vanbrugh,* Comptroller of the Queen's Works (whose ideas about the new churches were any way such as to be warmly welcomed by his High Church colleagues). Tenison attended only one meeting, and the lead in the first Commission was taken by Robinson,* Bishop of Bristol, who was soon to return to his earlier functions as a diplomatist, becoming plenipotentiary in the peace negotiations at Utrecht. His role was taken in the second Commission (from mid 1712) by Dawes,* Bishop of Chester (promoted to York in March 1714), a favourite of the Queen's, celebrated as a preacher, and Bisse* of St David's (translated to Hereford in February 1713), Harley's 'urbane and socially-minded cousin'. (fn. 26) The lesser clergy largely consisted of Atterbury's own circle—Smalridge* and Gastrell* from Christ Church, Stanley,* Stanhope* and Moss,* silver tongues of London pulpits, Freind* of Westminster School—but the irascible dean himself played strangely little part in the proceedings of the Commission that he had done so much to bring into being.

The Commissioners may be classed in five groups: lawyers, City magnates, philanthropists, men of business, and architects. Although outranked by law officers past and present (Powys,* Northey,* Raymond*), pre-eminent among the lawyers was Edward Jennings, Q.C. He was energetically assisted by his fellow Inner Templars, Annesley and Box (both Benchers in 1713) and Manlove. The two masters in Chancery, Hiccocks and Meller, were of the Middle Temple. The City men were those marked out by the electoral triumphs of 1710: the four MPs for the City of London (Withers, Newland, Cass* and Richard Hoare*) and two for Westminster (Crosse and Medlicott); the sheriffs (Stewart and Cass again). The lord mayor, Heathcote,* a survivor of the Whig ascendancy, rarely attended. The City Tories were closely connected with the philanthropists. Cass, a High Churchman, was treasurer of Bethlem and Bridewell Hospitals, Stewart president of St Bartholomew's, well known as Tory strongholds. (fn. 27) Henry Hoare and Jennings were trustees of the London Charity schools, and both were closely associated with the pious Robert Nelson* in the Society for the Promoting of Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Nelson was intimate also with Smalridge, Gastrell and Stanhope. (fn. 28) Whitlock Bulstrode* too was associated with the religious societies, though as a commissioner of excise and later a commissioner for St Paul's Cathedral and chairman of Middlesex Quarter Sessions he may perhaps be more appropriately classified as a man of business, along with John Isham, a former Tory under-secretary of state, Reginald Marriott, auditor for St Paul's and the City churches, and Wren's assistant Thomas Bateman. (fn. 29) The architects were inevitably the gentlemen of the Board of Works: Sir Christopher Wren* and his like-named son and John Vanbrugh;* to whom was added the Tory courtier Thomas Archer.*

Not all these men played a conspicuous role in the Commission's work. (fn. 30) The detailed planning was entrusted initially to a committee, chaired usually by Smalridge, Atterbury's successor as dean first of Carlisle and then of Christ Church. His most active clerical colleagues were Sherlock,* Master of the Temple, son of a late Dean of St Paul's, and a London pluralist, Robert Moss (Dean of Ely in 1713). But more numerous were the active laymen: Thomas Crosse, MP for Westminster, where his family were established as brewers, a power in St Margaret's vestry; the great banker Sir Richard Hoare, Lord Mayor in 1712, and his son Henry, zealous in the great church societies, and his colleague Robert Nelson; several lawyers—Jennings, Box and Annesley (a leading member of the October Club); Isham and Bulstrode; and the four architects. In addition to their attendance at committee or Board meetings, the lay members were much employed in inspecting sites, (e.g. 484, 488, 502, 507, 532).

When an enlarged Commission was appointed in 1712, taking up its labours in June, a committee was again appointed, but there was less consistency in attendance over the longer period of its labours. Smalridge attended less regularly, Moss but little, Sir Richard Hoare hardly at all, perhaps because of his mayoral duties, the aged Sir Christopher Wren only the first two meetings. Nelson, Jennings and Cross were the constant figures, closely followed by Annesley and Sherlock; but from October 1712 they were joined by three new clerical stalwarts, Bisse, Dawes,* and Dawes's friend John King,* rector of Chelsea. Attendance at the main Board was very similar, with two other new members scoring a considerable though irregular attendance: the Revd Lord Willoughby de Broke and Dr John Bettesworth, Dean of the Arches, a leading ecclesiastical lawyer. Others whose attendance was not negligible included Stanhope, Dean of Canterbury, Rector of Lewisham and Vicar of Deptford, the stentorian Stanley, Archdeacon of London and Dean of St Asaph, and the Hon. James Bertie, MP for Middlesex. An outer circle of members who came seldom to meetings nevertheless formed part of a valuable network of influence. Lord Rochester was a useful channel of communication with the Queen, whose cousin he was. The royal physician Dr John Arbuthnot* was well liked among the aristocracy. Alderman Robert Child was a power in the City, John Ward Q.C., MP, a Tory legal luminary frequently consulted, Viscount Weymouth and the Earl of Thanet conspicuous supporters of the SPG. (fn. 31)

This High Tory commission was doomed by the death of Queen Anne. It continued to meet for a year thereafter; but then a gap of four months elapsed before a new Commission of a much more Whiggish character began to function. Dawes, now Archbishop of York, could hardly be overlooked, but Bisse was dropped with Gastrell, by now Bishop of Chester. Robinson, whose diplomatic services had been rewarded with translation to London on Compton's death, and Smalridge, his successor at Bristol, had deserted Harley in good time and retained their seats, as did Sherlock, who 'reeking hot' from the Tory ranks had through Lord Nottingham's influence lately secured the deanery of Chichester. (fn. 32) Stanhope, always a moderate, and Stanley were, along with Moss, other clerical survivors. They were now joined by Archbishop Tenison's successor Wake,* the influential Whig bishops Trimnell* of Norwich and Willis* of Gloucester, and the 'unblushing Whig' propagandist John Wynne* (an Oxford divine lately promoted, again through Nottingham's influence, to the see of St Asaph), (fn. 33) supported by several metropolitan clergy: Canon Lynford* and Doctors Bradford* and Cannon, (fn. 34) Whig prebendaries of Westminster, and three City incumbents, Gooch,* Waddington* and White Kennett* (also Dean of Peterborough, Atterbury's chief opponent in the Convocation controversy of 1701, and friend of Trimnell). These made up the clerical workhorses of the new Commission.

Notable Tory laymen also vanished from the new Commission. Robert Nelson had died in 1715. Now Jennings, Crosse, and Henry Hoare were swept away, and the City Tories replaced by Whigs. Meller and Hiccocks, masters in Chancery, were retained, as was Bettesworth with his significant role as an ecclesiastical lawyer, but the most active lay commissioners were new men: Sir John Philipps, Bt, (fn. 35) active in the church societies and the charity school movement, but of Whig tendencies—uncle by marriage of Robert Walpole; John Ellis,* a former under-secretary of state who had been deprived of the mastership of the Mint by Harley; a City man, Sir Harcourt Masters; and Edward Peck, probably a scion of a distinguished family of lawyers.

The political differences in the Queen Anne and King George Commissions were further evidenced in their officials. The Treasurer was nominated by the crown; the other officers elected by the Commissioners themselves. The first Treasurer was Henry Smith, Esq. of Old Palace Yard, Westminster, whose security was the Jacobite Robert Cotton (later 5th Bt of Connington), taken prisoner at Preston in 1715 (107). Thomas Rous was appointed Secretary, probably the same who acted as secretary of Convocation in 1710. Two Surveyors were elected, Dickinson and Hawksmoor,* both pupils of Wren, the one surveyor to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, the other a clerk of works in the Queen's Works. John Skeat was appointed Agent, to conduct business about sites: although he was a solicitor, it was soon found necessary to appoint Simon Beckley as Solicitor to inquire into estates and interests, and draw abstracts of title deeds (9). Dickinson resigned in 1713 on appointment as clerk of works for Whitehall, St James and Westminster in the Royal Works. John James, Hawksmoor's assistant at Greenwich Hospital and carpentry contractor for four of the new churches, sought the post, but after much deliberation the Commissioners elected James Gibbs* (54-8, 62), who had the advantages of study in Italy and Harley's patronage. (fn. 36) It need hardly be said that he was not re-elected in 1716, James securing the post in his stead. Hawksmoor was luckier, and held on to his Surveyorship. But Treasurer, Secretary and Solicitor went, being replaced by John Leacroft, Jenkin Thomas Philipps, and Vigerus Edwards respectively (130). Leacroft died in 1721 and was succeeded by Hawksmoor's son-inlaw, Nathaniel Blackerby (294, 296).

The Queen Anne Commission at work

How did the Commissioners set about their business? Bishop Robinson set out the Commission's business (1a), officers were appointed and the secretary ordered to send to twenty suburban parishes a letter drafted by the Dean of Canterbury and Dr Moss asking for information about their populations (1b). Where best to put even as many as fifty new churches was clearly a major problem, and the Dean of St Paul's suggested a means of deciding based on his observations of City parishes: 'For I find that in the biggest of them, of which some are very large and numerous (at least now since two or three parishes was laid to one church) there have never been buried 200 in one year. And yet the clergy find those parishes rather too large to looke after as they ought, though with the help of a Reader and other Assistant sometimes.' (fn. 37) He suggested that where of late years 350 or 400 had been buried annually, a new church should be built; allowing in the largest parishes one new church for every 250 or 300 burials. With one or two variations, it was to the parishes listed by Godolphin that the inquiry was sent.

A week later the Commissioners met again. They nominated Dickinson and Hawksmoor as their Surveyors, and appointed a committee to draft instructions for them and to consider proposals from parishes (2). Doubtless the choice of Surveyors was governed by the recommendations of Sir Christopher Wren and Vanbrugh, who both attended these early meetings. The committee instructed their new officers to supply them with a large up-dated map of London and its suburbs, and to consider possible sites, and how certain parishes might be divided (480). By 2 November the committee was able to propose a general allocation of 48 new churches to parishes, accepted by the Board at their next meeting with some modifications, for 38 churches (6,483). On 21 November, the Board accepted six more recommendations for churches in Westminster (8), at the same time laying down that sites were to be determined before any new district parishes were formed, and that churches were normally to lie east-west. They instructed the Secretary to buy as many maps as possible of parishes in which new churches were proposed (8). With the appointment of Beckley to investigate complexities of title (9), the work of fixing on sites could go on apace. The price the Commissioners were prepared to pay varied according to the location: in East London £400 was regarded as a reasonable price for two or three acres (10, 507); in Bloomsbury £1,000 was necessary (144); but £2,200 for the Three Cups Inn in Holborn was thought unreasonable (491). (fn. 38) At the first committee's last meeting, 4 December 1711, Hawksmoor's design for a church to be built in Lincoln's Inn Fields (but no bells or burials) was directed to be laid before the Board.

The selection of sites was, however, full of perils, only hinted at in the minute books: 'Upon a debate arising about the two sites for churches, churchyards and ministers' houses proposed by the inhabitants of . . . Limehouse the Commissioners came to the following resolutions, viz. That Rigby's Garden ground . . . ought to be preferred before West's Field (the proprietor undertaking to fill up the ditch between the ground and the Rope Walk to make convenient approaches thereto), provided the same can be had upon reasonable terms.' (9). The details of controversy lacking in the minutes can be supplied, however, from other papers of the Commission: (fn. 39) petitions and counter petitions from the inhabitants of Limehouse in November and December 1711 show that West's Field, offered at £400 for three acres, was recommended by the parish officers and 242 inhabitants, but was said by the opposition to lie at the edge of the hamlet, and five feet lower than Rigby's Garden (and this in a riverine hamlet); approached by a dangerous bridge 'where coaches have several times fell in'. The West-ites retorted that only a few persons lived beyond the bridge; that there was no coach-way at all to Rigby's Garden, which was near a powder-mill; and that 'a great number . . . who are Dissenters from the Established Church of England have declared they would constantly frequent' a new church built on West's field. The Commissioners were persuaded to change their minds, but the Rigby-ites fought on (11, 16, 501). Eighty-four plans of sites serve to elucidate such problems (MS 2750).

Of a similar character were the difficulties concerning proposals for the divisions of parishes, which often provoked sharp local dissensions. Unusually, the patronage of St James Clerkenwell belonged to the parish; the minister's stipend of £11 was augmented by fees and contributions. The parish petitioned in 1718 for the parish church to be rebuilt as one of the fifty; but the Commissioners' proposal to buy the proprietary St John's or Aylesbury Chapel—the choir of the ancient church of St John of Jerusalem—and divide the parish met with local resistance (332, 337). It was alleged that one-third of the ratepayers were Dissenters, and that St James's church was large enough to hold another thousand, besides the conveniency of very large aisles for the inferior sort to stand in; whereas ever since the conversion of St John's to be a chapel for the Aylesbury family, it had been used to store wine and tobacco, and also as a meeting house. Furthermore, an experienced surveyor had reported that it would soon need rebuilding. The minister, churchwardens and inhabitants of St James petitioned the Commission against the division, as did inhabitants of the district allocated to St John, who objected to the new church as a burden. The rector and churchwardens of St John, for their part, petitioned for the legal endowment of the new parish, some parishioners offering a capital sum of £1,500 to prevent endowment by a church rate raising opposition 'which there is too much reason to expect'. Again, it is the papers of the Commission that enable us to flesh out the bare record of the Minute Books. (fn. 40) The scheme for dividing the old parish gives the number of houses and the value of rents, distinguishing those of more than £20, those between £8 and £20, and those under £8, as well as how many actually paid poor rate; and shows how all these were to be apportioned between the two parishes. (fn. 41)


Having determined where to build, in general terms, the Commissioners had to determine how to build. The principal officers of the Royal Works, Sir Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh, both appointed to the Commission, were ready with their advice. (fn. 42) Wren recommended that the new churches should be built in main thoroughfares, where coaches might have easy access, and in the midst of the 'better Inhabitants' who would pay most of the expenses. An east-west orientation should not be strictly insisted upon, and 'plainness and Duration' should principally be studied for the exterior: porticoes for the fronts most in view and handsome spires 'rising in good Proportion above the neighbouring Houses' would afford sufficient ornament to the town, without incurring the great expense of lofty steeples. For materials he advised well-made brick with stone quoins and oak roofs covered with lead. Considering the number of inhabitants to be provided for, it was clear that the churches must be large; but they must not be larger, Wren pointed out, 'than that all present can both hear and see'. Even with galleries, it was not practicable to build for more than 2,000 persons. He therefore recommended a nave of 60 ft by 90 ft, and pointed to St James Piccadilly as an economic model. Pews, he acknowledged, were necessary for the financial support of the minister, but space should be provided for the poor, 'for to them equally is the Gospel preached'. Intramural burials should, he thought, be forbidden.

His colleague Vanbrugh, however—perhaps influenced by Hawksmoor—had much grander notions: the new churches should not only enable the inhabitants to worship publicly, but also 'remain Monuments to posterity' of the Queen's piety and grandeur, 'ornaments to the Town, and a credit to the Nation'. Striking an historical note, he pointed out that all religions had placed their churches in the first rank of buildings, no expense being thought too much. 'Their magnificence had been esteemed a pious expression of the People's great and profound veneration towards their Deitys; and the contemplation of that magnificence has at the same time augmented that veneration'. He recommended a 'plain but just and noble style', adding a number of specific requirements: the new churches should stand free of other buildings, for both dignity and security against fire, and be so sited that they made features in the town; they should be adorned with porticoes (both useful and magnificent) and towers; built in the most durable manner; and possess a 'solemn and awfull appearance', not over-lighted by many windows. Vanbrugh, like Wren, condemned intra-mural burials and advocated cemeteries on the outskirts of the town.

The building committee appointed by the second Queen Anne Commission handled many of these detailed questions of both site and design. Not until June 1712 was the second Commission able to take up its work, the necessary legislation and formalities imposing a half-year's hiatus. One of the new committee's first tasks was to consider alternative plans for Greenwich church, those of the Commissioners' own Surveyor, Hawksmoor, being preferred to a design by John James, though Hawksmoor was told to amend his plan pursuant to the committee's verbal orders (494).

On 11 July the committee agreed that 'one general model be made and agreed upon for all the fifty new churches' (495), and laid down general rules; the churches to stand isolated where possible; to be built of stone (as required by the act), lined with brick; with handsome porticoes at the west, as well as a large room for parish business, and at the east two small rooms for vestments and consecrated vessels; the pews to be of equal height so that every one might be seen either kneeling or sitting—no doubt so that the beadle might rouse those sleeping during the sermon, or deal with graver offences against decorum—and so contrived that all might kneel towards the communion table. Chancels were to be raised three steps above the nave. And—in accordance with Wren's preferred practice—contracts were to be made with every artificer separately for his trade. (fn. 43) Though neither Wren nor Vanbrugh was then present, they had attended the previous meeting, and the character of these rules suggests very clearly that their observations were given due weight.

These recommendations were adopted by the Board, with some modifications; e.g. that the new churches should have different towers or steeples. Towards the end of the month they received some designs from an ambitious architect, Colen Campbell,* and agreed that a time be fixed for persons to lay designs before them (498-9). Hawksmoor's design for Greenwich, having been improved by Archer, was approved, and estimates called for (18). It was then decided, although no general design had yet been decided upon, to go ahead with Greenwich (21). In August the Board considered the matter further, and chose one of two designs then submitted by Hawksmoor (22), the committee ordering him to finish the 'modell' in detail, so that exact plans could be drawn for annexing to the building agreements with the tradesmen (502). This was not the end of discussion, however, for in February 1713, after construction had begun, there was further debate before a design was agreed upon, though a decision whether to continue the north and south arcades was left until Hawksmoor and the masons and bricklayers provided estimates of the cost with and without arcades. They were finally authorized in March 1713 (526, 528). Thus the Commissioners were intervening in the design process well into the construction of the building, tenders having been considered and adopted as early as 13 August 1712 (23).


The committee's principal concerns were questions of sites and artificers. Decisions about closing dates for the submission of designs were taken by the Board. When only Dickinson and Archer handed in designs by the due date, three weeks more were allowed (30). Hawksmoor then gave in four designs (31). There was however no general inflow from architects, which was perhaps why the Commissioners silently abandoned their decision to have one general model, though Gibbs in May 1713 presented several designs (41). In April 1713 the committee agreed to choose designs for churches at Westminster (Millbank) and Deptford at its next meeting (534); but no further meeting is recorded until more than a year later. It was the Board that chose Archer's four-towered proposal for Millbank (39). A week later, his designs for both sites were considered, and he was asked for estimates (40). At the same time the Board ordered notice to be given in the London Gazette that on 4 June they would receive proposals or tenders for these two churches from masons, carpenters and bricklayers; an advertisement that would, they hoped, encourage country workmen to compete. The masons' and carpenters' tenders on this occasion were tabulated by the Surveyors, whose report was referred to the four architect-commissioners (46, 47). Subsequently the Surveyors drew blank schedules or specifications for the submission of tenders (59, 83, 86), but the Board still found it necessary to refer them to the Surveyors, to report which were the lowest (98, 128, 329). It is unlikely that the tenderers had the benefit of seeing the plans, but as the system of measure and prices was the basis of the artificers' contracts (19), there would not have been the same need to see the plans as in the competitive lump-sum contracting of the nineteenth century. But Archer's new proposal of 2 July 1713 for the roof and foundations of Millbank church was copied for the tendering carpenters, so that they might 'set down their prices for the articles mentioned in the new design' (48). For his part, the appointed carpenter found 'several of the said articles exceedingly difficult to judge of, and the said roof in many respects very different from what hath been done in any other church'. (fn. 44)

From the selection of a site to the completion of a church, the Surveyors had an active role to play. In July 1714 the Board ordered that no site be approved before the Surveyors should furnish a section of the ground down to the lowest part of the foundation (93). In December 1713 they were ordered to make monthly written reports on all the works in progress (65). At Millbank and Deptford they were instructed to take Archer's directions in all matters relating to building the churches (50), and had to measure the work done and report on its quality (56). The question of foundations on the riverside site at Millbank was carefully considered, and Hawksmoor had to prepare estimates under headings of the various trades (57). A little later, he was called upon to estimate the cost of alternative designs for the west end of Deptford church: one steeple, two steeples, or two and a portico (60). Was this work above or below the gentleman architect? Hawksmoor's detailed estimates survive among the Commission's papers. (fn. 45)

The Commissioners' need for professional advice may be illustrated by the Surveyors' report on plasterers' proposals by Hands & Ellis and Wetherill & Wilkins. (fn. 46) In most particulars, the former firm was the cheaper, but the Surveyors thought that both might be induced to reduce their prices. But 'whether each proposer understands the several articles directly in the same way, and intends to perform equally well, is a doubt with us'. They therefore suggested that the two firms should be employed in distinct places 'by way of specimen . . . which will infallibly shew their skill and ingenuity in performance; and this emulation between the proposers will make them do their utmost to give the Commissioners satisfaction'.

That this sort of doubt, whether the lowest price would 'perform equally well', was justified, is shown by the sad tale of the mason for St George Hanover Square. Tenders by Cass (contractor for the balustrade crowning St Paul's Cathedral) and Dunn (employed by the Commissioners at Spitalfields and St Mary Woolnoth) were underbid by Joshua Fletcher, sometime William Kempster's foreman at St Paul's and subsequently employed at Blenheim. (fn. 47) Having agreed for the work at 'the lowest prices that any Church hath been yet built', he had, with the encouragement of some leading inhabitants, used part of Hanover Square for storing and working his stone. Although this speeded the work, it involved, Fletcher claimed, a double charge of loading and carriage, so that in April 1722 he petitioned for compensation (303). In the summer of the next year, the leading inhabitants were complaining that Fletcher was 'very negligent and unfaithful in the discharge of his duty, employing very few hands . . . and often applying those hands to other uses'. He alleged that contrary winds had held up shipments of stone (330). Further complaints came a year later (377). The upshot was that the Board ordered two other masons, Strong and Cass, to finish the church (391). Fletcher whined that he had 'laboured under unseen difficulties and extraordinary charge'; that he had been in 'a declining condition for a long time'; and thought it 'very hard that my business should be disposed of to other people before I am dead'. 'My Lords it is very Hard to Bury me before I am dead'. (fn. 48)

Once the work was firmly in their hands, it was not uncommon for building tradesmen to seek to alter their contracts. Thus Edward Tufnell and Edward Strong, masons, petitioned for double wharfage, cranage and lighterage for their work at Limehouse, the river being so shallow that not above one vessel in five could unload, and the crane had twice broken down, so that stone had to be delivered at Wapping. (fn. 49)

The Commissioners' counsel pointed out that when they accepted a tender, the agreement was entered in the Minute Book in some such form as that the proposal be accepted and the solicitor prepare a contract accordingly. 'The Workman', Mr Ward remarked, 'is not careful in what words . . . the Commissioners' secretary takes the minute for if he is permitted to do the work he is sure to be paid according to the proposal or perhaps better by a Jury [if the matter be taken to law]. And the solicitor's care is to make him explain his proposal fully and clearly and to take from him such agreement as may be a hold on the workman'. (fn. 50)

One of the chief difficulties the Commissioners experienced in the execution of their work was to procure bricks of good enough quality. Several contractors were threatened with dismissal for providing poor bricks (114-16, 173); the problem was referred several times to the Surveyors (66, 155, 195); and on occasion the Commissioners decided to supply bricks themselves to the craftsmen (78, 207). Two practices were particularly objected to: the use of 'samel' bricks, i.e. those that being furthest from the fire in the clamp (or pile of bricks) had not received sufficient heat to burn them thoroughly, so that they were soft and uneven in texture; and the use of 'ashes' or 'Spanish', the character of which is revealed in a report obtained from the Company of Tylers and Bricklayers, which ascribed the practice to bricks having been made after the Great Fire from fields 'much dunged with Ashes'. 'It was observed the Brick made with Earth in those Fields would be sufficiently burned with one half of the Coles commonly used; since which Times the Coles being by the high duties on them of more value where the quantity of Spanish is increased; especially since the custom of strawing the houses with sand hath prevailed, the Dust Basket in every house being the common receptacle of sand as well as ashes, so that the Spanish have not the force as formerly; since the corrupt mixture of it; which excessive quantity so corruptly mixed we take to be a great occasion of the badness of the Bricks.' (fn. 51) At Greenwich, the Surveyors complained of the use of 'common place bricks [i.e. 'common worthless bricks', used for the foundation of the clamp, J. Gwilt, An Encyclopedia of Architecture, revised by Wyatt Papworth, 1899, para. 1817], mixt with seacole ashes after the infamous way of the City of London'. Most were burnt to a cinder, and the others were not burnt enough. They recommended the use only of bricks 'of pure virgin clay well and hard burnt, without any mixture of ashes or other distructive composition'. (fn. 52)

It was not only the artificers who tried to take advantage of looselydrawn contracts. Cleave, a smith, accused Hawksmoor of 'always [taking] such care as never to let slip through his hands any one article . . . that was not in contract without abatement', though other smiths had 'little or no abatement at all in what they charged'. (fn. 53)

One important aspect of the work of church-building on which neither the Minute Books nor the other papers of the Commission throw much light is the making of estimates. Hawksmoor was required to produce a 'particular' or detailed estimate for the Greenwich church design he submitted in June 1712 (493), and both he and James particular estimates for building their designs in brickwork or in ashlar, with various alternative features such as a stone cornice or a wooden one (for this was outside the range of the Building Act), and a roof of deal or of oak (18). But these estimates do not survive, and the actual cost of the churches greatly exceeded the Commissioners' expectations. (fn. 54)

As the Queen Anne Commission drew near to expiry, the Board called for a general report on the progress of their churches. The Surveyors reported to the House of Commons on 8 July 1715 that there were seven under way. Greenwich indeed was 'entirely finished, except some small matters'. At Deptford the roof was being put on; Millbank would shortly be ready for the roof; of the church in the Strand the lower storey was erected; and Spitalfields and Upper Wapping (St George in the East) were respectively 14 ft and 8 ft above ground level; Limehouse was raised above the ground and advancing with expedition. (fn. 55) Some £40,000 had already been paid to the workmen, and a further £23,000 was due. For sites, £7,000 had been paid, and others had been contracted for at a cost of £5,800. Officers' salaries and incidentals brought total expenditure up to about £80,000. (fn. 56) As yet, of course, nothing had been received from the coal dues, which were only appropriated to the fifty new churches from 14 May 1716 to the extent of 2s., and wholly (3s. per chalder or ton) from Michaelmas 1716. The Commissioners must have been disconcerted by this statement of their affairs: if each of the new churches was to cost something like £15,000 or £20,000, then fifty would cost at least twice as much as the total funding likely to be available. The Board after receiving their Surveyors' report ordered that no church was to be started without a plan, model and estimate; when approved, no alteration was to be made in the design without the Board's direction, and an agreement made for the charge of such alteration (119). The Surveyors were directed to make progress reports each month (123), as had already been ordered in December 1713 (65), and were again to be called for in 1718 (198). And a committee was appointed to consider rules for bringing in plans and estimates (119). It was of course too late to be effective: a few months later the Queen Anne Commission expired, though not before it had secured an Act providing for the maintenance of the ministers of the new churches and the appointment of a further commission (1 Geo. I, Stat. 2, c. 23).

The Commission of 1716

The King George Commission that met for the first time on 5 January 1715/16 must have been aware that there was now little hope of completing the fifty new churches. The search for sites was largely abandoned. Before Hawksmoor's design for a church on Lady Russell's ground in Bloomsbury was approved, an estimate was required (145, 148-9). At £9,791 it would have seemed the sort of price they could afford. It finally cost them £23,800. Cost control was an art yet to be acquired.

New methods of keeping the accounts were considered. Thriftiness became more essential as parliamentary alarms began to sound. A report to Parliament was one of their first considerations, and a watchful eye had to be kept on parliamentary proceedings. (fn. 57) In 1717 the Lord Mayor produced a bill for rebuilding ten City churches left ruinous after the Fire as part of the fifty: the Commissioners despatched delegations which successfully wooed the Speaker's support and persuaded the Lord Mayor to drop his project (174-5). But the next year, although the Speaker promised to do what he could, the Board was not able to stop a bill for rebuilding St Giles in the Fields parish church at their expense; and the rebuilding of the tower of St Michael Cornhill was similarly provided for. (fn. 58) In January 1717/18 they determined to consider the great expense incurred in building the new churches (195), perhaps in consequence of a Treasury decision to appoint a new Treasurer and 16 sub-commissioners (rescinded in February). (fn. 59) Meanwhile, they insisted that all the master workmen were to seal their contracts, and resolved that no parsonage house was to cost more than £1,000 (204), and the Surveyors were once again ordered to make monthly written progress reports (198). Thus they stood in better order when the House of Commons early in 1719 opened an inquiry into their expenditure, and proposals to rebuild St Martin in the Fields and a dozen other churches as part of the fifty were successfully combatted. (fn. 60)

The result of the Commons' investigation was a complex measure by which the Commission's funds were more strictly limited and the government turned the coal tax to its own purposes, thereby avoiding the need to impose new taxes. (fn. 61) To meet their debts and carry on their pious work the Commissioners were authorized to borrow up to £360,000, the estimated yield of the three shilling coal duty from Lady Day 1719 to Michaelmas 1725, when it was due to expire. The duty was now extended to 1751. However, instead of receiving the annual receipts from the duty, the Commissioners were allocated only a fund of £21,000 p.a., which included the payments they had to make under the acts of Anne to Greenwich Hospital (£40,000) and Westminster Abbey (£36,000). Of the remainder of the revenue, over £30,000 p.a. went to meet the expenses of the state lottery, which was the ministry's painless device for raising sufficient monies to meet current expenditure. Since, under the Act of 1715, the yield of the coal tax for its final year, from Michaelmas 1724, was to provide the fund for endowing the incumbents of the new churches, the total sum available for church-building was limited to about £230,000. The Commissioners were deprived of the incremental yield on the tax, which by 1724-5 was producing more than £65,000. (fn. 62)

The immediate result of this measure was to bring work on the churches almost to a halt. Against bills of £1,450 for Millbank church from 1 January 1718 to 25 March 1719, expenditure in the next twelve months fell to £32, and for 1720-1 was only £130. Similarly on St Mary le Strand, expenditure fell from £4,198 (1718-19) to £406 in 1719-20 and £107 in 1720-1. (fn. 63) The King George Commissioners had begun only two churches from the time of their appointment to 1719: St Mary Woolnoth, for which there was special financial provision out of the St Paul's monies, (fn. 64) and Bloomsbury, where the site had been lately purchased. (fn. 65) Yet by 1721 they were nearly £67,000 in debt to the workmen, and they took the drastic step of reducing their officers' salaries (279, 280). During 1718 their accounts had fallen further into arrears, as the Treasury refused to issue further funds until it had completed raising a loan (209, 210). An order for the Secretary to draw an abstract of the workmen's bills and enter it on the books was doubtless another attempt by the Board to control expenditure (213). By 1719 £148,000 had already been issued, but further large sums had been incurred by works not yet brought to account. (fn. 66) As the works were measured periodically, and payments generally made on the basis of works so measured and brought to account, there were always considerable sums outstanding due to the workmen. For example, the Millbank books of works for 1713-15 were not approved until May 1717. (fn. 67)

In consequence of this sorry state of affairs, plans to build in St Olave's parish, Southwark, and in St Giles Cripplegate were frozen in February 1719 until the churches already under construction could be paid for (223). Archer's supervision of St Paul Deptford was dispensed with, and the Board's own Surveyors told to direct the roofing and ceiling of the north portico, and do it as soon and cheaply as possible (226). At St Mary le Strand, Gibbs was not superseded, but ordered to supply the Board with design and estimate for any carving or painting, so that contracts might be made before the work was begun (227).

Meanwhile, the workmen were pressing for payment (229). Bills made up to Christmas 1717 were settled about twelve months later (218). In March 1719, the Surveyors were ordered to measure work executed and make up accounts to Christmas 1718 (226); and a month later, to bring them up to Lady Day 1719 (229), when the new financial regime commenced. In June, the Surveyors submitted their accounts, articles for which there were no contracts being referred to the Board's consideration (232-3); and application was made to the Treasury for the issue of tallies for £45,000. Legal problems about the issue of tallies to workmen however deferred settlement, the Treasury again delayed, and the Board took the view that to issue so large a sum in interest-bearing tallies would impose an excessive burden on their resources (234). Accordingly only £23,000 was issued in March 1720 (251). In April some £8,600 was paid to clear the accounts for 1717 (253) and in May arrangements were made for paying five shillings in the pound on the 1718 accounts (255). It was not until September that the second £23,000 was obtained. Thus the new churches were in part financed by delayed payment, and it is a tribute to the creditworthiness of the contractors (or to their success in charging high prices) that few collapsed under such exacting conditions. Presumably they could sell their orders or tallies as interest-bearing securities, though perhaps at a discount.

Although local initiatives persuaded the Commissioners to approve the building of a church near Hanover Square, a wealthy district, late in 1720 (266), on a site given by General Steuart, a design by Gibbs commissioned by the inhabitants was rejected in favour of one by the Board's own Surveyor, James, which was not to cost more than £10,000 (268-9). The workmen were to be paid in tallies (272), but a further examination of the Commission's finances showed debts of some £66,700, as mentioned above, and the parish authorities were told that they would have to procure the tallies (274). Perhaps because of the lack of money for their operations, the Commissioners did not meet between May and October 1721.

Parishes and Endowments

In addition to building new churches, the Commissioners had to carry through the whole process of devising new parishes for them. This involved not only the carving out a district from the old parish, but also obtaining churchyards or cemeteries for burying the dead of the new districts, and establishing a scale of fees for burials, sometimes a contentious business, because the rights of the rector and parish officers had to be considered, as well as the interests of consumers. Burials in the upper ground of St George the Martyr cemetery were fixed at £1. 14s. 6d. for those aged over ten, of which sum the rector and churchwardens received 6s. 8d. each, the curate 3s. 4d., the clerk 2s. 6d., bell and knell 6s. (including 1s. for the sexton), and the gravedigger 2s. 6d. In the middle ground the fees totalled 18s.6d., in the lower, 9s. Strangers were charged double; burials after 10 in the summer or 8 o'clock in the winter surcharged one third. The poor receiving alms were buried free (415).

Furthermore, it was necessary to provide for the government of the new parishes. The Commissioners were empowered to set up select vestries, and they took considerable care over this work, employing Commissioners with local knowledge to draw up lists of persons suitable to be parish officers and vestrymen; each Commissioner present took a copy and brought to the next meeting a rolled-up paper with his own selection of names to the requisite number of vestrymen: in St George Hanover Square district parish with its large aristocratic population, as many as one hundred (all the great men had to be accommodated) including four plain 'Mr's (408, 414). St George the Martyr Queen Square was more mixed, with 4 knights, 15 esquires and 5 tradesmen among its 30 members (347); while St Mary le Strand was composed overwhelmingly of tradesmen, including the celebrated book seller Jacob Tonson (365).

In all this work it was necessary to bear in mind the rights or claims derived from the old parishes: the fees of which incumbents, curates and clerks might be deprived by marriages and burials in the new parishes, the property rights of the patron in the presentation to the living; the burden of poor rate on the inhabitants at large. (fn. 68) And perhaps the most difficult question of all—at least, so one would judge from the time the Commissioners devoted to it—was that of providing an endowment or maintenance for the ministers of the new parishes. Robert Moss had attempted in November 1713 to get the Board to adopt a plan, but the subject was constantly deferred to the next meeting—whether after incomplete discussion or undiscussed is not clear. A committee was appointed to examine the plan on 13 January 1713/14, but a week later it was dissolved, and not until 29 April was it determined to address the Queen on the subject, the address itself being agreed the following week. The question was then taken up again with the new King (118) and it may be claimed as one of the final achievements of the Queen Anne commission that an act early in George I's reign extended the three shilling coal duty for a further twelve months (to Michaelmas 1725) specifically to provide a fund to endow the ministers of the new churches, as well as providing for the appointment of a new Commission to carry out the work.

Endowment was one of the first problems considered by the new Commission (138) but as no church was finished, the issue was postponed. In March 1718 a committee recommended a plan by Dean Stanhope (224), and a representation to king and parliament was drawn up (226). A draft bill was referred to Farrer, chairman of the Committees of Supply and Ways & Means, and the Commission's masters in chancery in January 1720 (242), but by April it was clear there would be no bill that session (252). Attempts were renewed in subsequent years (271, 287, 312), and early in 1723 a bill secured Robert Walpole's promise of support (322). Objections however blocked further progress (327). Year after year, the Minute Books tell the same story: the bill considered, remodelled with the advice of leading MPs (359, 385, 392), parliamentary agents appointed (360). But even Bishop Gibson's discoursing with Sir Robert Walpole (359) failed to bring it into the House, let alone achieve its passage. One ground of objection was the amount of perquisites or surplice fees that the ministers might obtain (362), another the burden on the inhabitants, whether of the old or the new parish (373). In 1725 success at last looked within the Commission's grasp, but its hopes were dashed by strong local opposition to the principle of endowment chiefly by means of a rate levied on the parish: large, rich parishes (e.g. St George Hanover Square) were to be endowed entirely by rate; large parishes with many poor might receive £80 p.a. from the parliamentary fund, smaller or even poorer ones as much as £100 or £120; so establishing stipends ranging from £200 to £270 for rectors and £50-80 for curates (396). But in Hanover Square parish a ¾d. rate would raise as much as one of 16d. in Stratford Bow. (fn. 69) Petition after petition from threatened persons or interests protracted proceedings until Lord Chancellor Macclesfield's impeachment absorbed the Commons' energies. (fn. 70)

Faced with the impossibility of carrying a general endowment act (fn. 71) — even for parishes willing to submit to a pound rate (408-9) (fn. 72) —the Commission had to proceed by a separate measure for each parish, and the distribution of the parliamentary fund that eventuated was quite different from that described above. Sums of between £2,500 (for St Mary le Strand) and £3,500 (Limehouse) were invested in South Sea Annuities until lands could be purchased to provide the endowment. These annuities produced between £94 (St John Smith Square) and £145 (St John Horsley Down), according to the price of the stock at the time of investment, and, of course, the capital allocated. (fn. 73)

The last years

By the spring of 1726 the Commission's finances were on a sound footing and the building work was well forward. After a period from 1719 to 1722 when shortage of funds had brought building almost to a halt, as debts had been cleared off, work picked up again, and the officers' reduced salaries were restored (443). Several new churches were begun, and by the end of 1726, some £249,000 had been spent on twelve churches and St Michael Cornhill tower; (fn. 74) but only three had been completed and consecrated. It was obvious that, as the Board reported in opposing a bid from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for a larger share of the coal tax, 'the expense of building with stone and purchasing sites is so great, and so far exceeds calculations formerly made, that it will be utterly impracticable to build half the churches first purposed' (436). Yet several parishes still contained thirty or forty thousand souls, many at considerable distances from the parish church. To meet necessity so far as their very limited funds would now permit, the Commissioners considered their Surveyors' models for a new church, and ordered them jointly to prepare a design for a tower to be as cheap as possible (464-5). In June 1727 they approved plans for long-held sites in Old Street (Cripplegate) and Horsleydown (Southwark): churches that were to be built in a cheaper fashion than their predecessors (467). An act in 1728 tied up some loose financial ends, and in July 1729 it was calculated that some £37,000 was available in the building fund. (fn. 75) By 1732, there was only £10,000 left for building, (fn. 76) and the officers' salaries were cut by half. In May 1731 an act had allocated £5,000 from the Commission's funds to trustees for rebuilding Gravesend parish church, and in March 1732 a further £3,000 was similarly allocated for rebuilding Woolwich church. A year later St George the Martyr, Southwark, obtained a similar rebuilding act. (fn. 77) Their funds thus drained, the Commissioners began to shut shop: the Surveyors were discharged at Midsummer 1733, the Secretary in 1734. (fn. 78) The house in Old Palace Yard was given up, the models of churches moved across to the Abbey, the furniture sold. Only the Agent and the Treasurer remained, involved in the purchase of lands for endowing the livings and administering the incumbents' endowments. No meetings were held after February 1749. By 1757 all the original Commissioners of 1727 were dead, and the Treasurer wished to resign. An act in 1758 enabled the sale of the remaining sites and transfer of the endowments to the beneficiaries. (fn. 79) At a last meeting on 14 December 1758, the archbishop, lord chancellor, lord mayor and sheriffs appointed trustees, and ordered the papers of the Commission to be deposited in Lambeth Palace. (fn. 80)

Editorial Note

I am grateful to the Librarian, Lambeth Palace Library, for permission to publish this calendar of the Minutes of the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches.

The original Minutes (which are no longer extant) of the four commissions were contemporaneously copied into four vellum-bound volumes. MS 2690 contains the minutes of both Queen Anne Commissions and of the first Georgian Commission up to 20 March 1718 (numbered in ink, pp. 1-393). It also contains at the end (pp. 396-446) and written from the back, minutes of a standing committee, 10 October-21 December 1711. (These have also their own numeration, facing pages being given the same number in ink.) MS 2691, of 465 pages, continues the Commissioners' minutes from 3 April 1718 to the last meeting of the first Georgian Commission on 10 November 1727. It also contains the minutes of the second Georgian Commission from 5 December 1727 to 17 May 1728. MS 2692 contains the remaining minutes of this fourth Commission until its abolition in December 1758. The minutes of committees of the second Anne and first George commissions are in MS 2693. There are also indexes to the minute books (MSS 2694-6). It is the minutes of the first three Commissions and their committees that are calendared in the present volume (i.e. MSS 2690; 2691, pp. 1-434; 2693). The fourth Commission was almost entirely concerned with the endowment of the new churches begun by their predecessors, and its minutes are therefore not included here.

In preparing this calendar I have attempted to stay as close to the original as the need for succinctness permitted. There is considerable variation in the original MSS in the spelling of proper names, and these I have standardised, giving variants in the index. The adopted spelling generally follows that of Dr Bill's The Queen Anne Churches, a calendar of and index to the general mass of the Commission's papers excluding the minute books, a work that has greatly lightened my labours. Capitalization follows modern practice except that offices under the Commission are distinguished by initial capitals. A list is given of the holders of these offices.

Each meeting of the Commission has been given a serial number in bold, and each meeting of the committees is similarly numbered in a continuing sequence. These numbers are used in the Introduction and as the only location references in the Indexes (Persons, Places, and Subjects). The number of the page of the MS minute book on which each meeting entry begins is also given. The place at which the meeting was held is stated only when there is a change of venue. The names of those attending have not been reproduced, but the Index of Persons gives abstracted details for those Commissioners who attended any meetings, with dates of first and last attendance, distinguishing the three Commissions and two successive committees, as well as showing any periods of prolonged absence (i.e. of approximately a year or more), and the number of meetings attended. The lengthy lists of men nominated to the new vestries have not been included in the Index of Persons.

My work on the Commissioners' papers was facilitated by a grant from the University of London Central Research Fund.

I should like to thank the staff of Lambeth Palace Library for their cooperation over a long period; Dr Bill for permission to reproduce the list of Commissioners from The Queen Anne Churches (Mansell, 1979); Mrs Jean Chapman and my daughters Helen and Elisabeth for help with the Indexes; my colleague Dr John Miller for reading the Introduction; Mr David Johnson for looking through the House of Lords papers; Mr Ralph Hyde, Mr J. Fisher, Mr D. J. Thomas, Mr D. A. Armstrong, and the Department of Geography, Queen Mary College, for help with the map of parishes; and the former general editors of the London Record Society, William Kellaway and Michael Collinge, for their forbearance over the too many years it has taken to prepare this calendar.


  • 1. See entry in Dictionary of National Biography.
  • 2. W. O. B. Allen and E. McClure, Two Hundred Years, 1698–1898, the History of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (1898).
  • 3. M. G. Jones, The Charity School Movement (1938).
  • 4. The evidence we have suggests that such guesses were much exaggerated. The most recent calculation, based on contemporary returns, does not amount to half that figure. M. R. Watts, The Dissenters (1978), estimates the five main Protestant Dissenting sects in London and Middlesex at 33,220 persons, with a further 12,080 in Surrey, including Southwark—respectively 5.71 and 7.17 per cent of the estimated population of those districts (p. 509, table xii). Watts bases his calculations on the 'Evans list' (Dr Williams's Library, MS 38.4), compiled from a national survey of Dissenting congregations set on foot in 1715 by the 'Committee of the Three Denominations' (Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists both Particular and General), supplemented by recent studies of the Quakers. There seem to have been some 74 Dissenting congregations in the metropolis in 1715– 18, of which 27 were 'Within the Walls'. Probably many worshippers at this time attended church or meeting-houses indiscriminately, and Watts suggests this was particularly true of the Presbyterians, by far the largest of the sects in London and Middlesex with 38 congregations. The inhabitants of Deptford complained that 'the want of convenient reception in our parish church' had 'kept many . . . in Ignorance and Irreligion, and driven Others to the separate Congregations' (LPL, MS 2727, pp. 64–5). Similarly, many of the inhabitants of Limehouse were allegedly, for want of a church, 'seduced to resort to Meeting Houses' (LPL, MS 2712, p. 80). But particularly alarming to High Churchmen were the Dissenting Academies (see L. Timberland, Proceedings of the House of Lords, ii, 158 for a warning from Archbishop Sharp of York in 1705), and it was against these that the Schism Bills were directed.
  • 5. Several bishops complained of the diligence of papists in converting and seducing Anglicans and stirring up strife within the national church (e.g. Wm. Talbot, Bishop of Oxford, Charge to the Clergy of his Diocese . . . 1712 (1712); Edm. Gibson, Charge of . . . Lord Bishop of Lincoln . . . 1717 (1717)). Fears of the Jacobites also stimulated political attacks on papists (cp. Bishop Fleetwood, A Charge delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese of Ely . . . 1716 (Cambridge, 1716)). But a return of papists ordered by the Privy Council in 1706 in response to an Address from the House of Lords showed derisorily little evidence from London, only four parishes discovering more than two dozen individuals, headed by St Clement Danes with 146 and St Giles in the Fields with 136 housekeepers and 25 lodgers (Guildhall MS 9800). Nevertheless, ungrounded fears may have been a potent stimulus to action.
  • 6. [J. Swift], A Project for the Advancement of Religion and the Reformation of Manners (1709).
  • 7. G. Every, The High Church Party 1688–1718 (1956), chap. 5.
  • 8. T. Lathbury, History of the Convocation of the Church of England (2nd edn, 1853), 409–10; G. V. Bennett, 'The Convocation of 1710: An Anglican Attempt at CounterReformation', Studies in Church History, vii, ed. G. J. Cuming and D. Baker (Cam bridge, 1971), 322 ff.
  • 9. Bennett, op. cit., and The Tory Crisis in Church and State 1688–1730 (Oxford, 1975), 131–2.
  • 10. J. Nichols, ed., The Epistolary Correspondence . . . of the Rt. Rev. Francis Atterbury D.D . . . (1783), i, 26; ii, 311.
  • 11. Commons Journals [CJ], XVI, 495.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Atterbury, ii, 312.
  • 14. CJ XVI, 567.
  • 15. D. Defoe, A Tour through England and Wales (1724–6), Everyman edn. i. 314, 324.
  • 16. Lambeth Palace Library [LPL], MS 2714, f.252; 2712, f.4.
  • 17. LPL MS 2712, f. 78; 2713, f.98.
  • 18. CJ XVI, 580–3. A somewhat cynical view of the Commons' proceedings was taken by Bishop Gilbert Burnet, History of his own Time (2nd edn, Oxford, 1833), vi, 48.
  • 19. St Martin in the Fields and St James Westminster parishes were computed at ten persons per family, and St Margaret Westminster at seven.
  • 20. CJ XVI, 542.
  • 21. M. D. George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (1925), 415.
  • 22. CJ XVI, 542.
  • 23. T. F. Reddaway, The Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire (1940), 186–7.
  • 24. See M. D. George, London Life, 330, n.6, for consumption of coals in years 1709 to 1716.
  • 25. The papers of the Commissioners, with the exception of the minute books, are catalogued in E. G. W. Bill, compiler, The Queen Anne Churches, with an introduction by Howard Colvin (1979).
  • 26. G. V. Bennett, Tory Crisis, 141.
  • 27. A. B. Beaven, The Aldermen of the City of London, ii (1912), 195; N.J.M. Kerling, 'The Relations between St Bartholomew's Hospital and the City of London, 1546– 1948', Guildhall Miscellany, iv (1971), 16, 18.
  • 28. C. F. Secretan, Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Pious Robert Nelson (1860), 118, 125, 129–30, 132, 136–7, 211.
  • 29. Wren Soc. xvi (1939), 116; 68; 86, 99, 100, 142.
  • 30. A list of Commissioners present heads the record of each meeting. These have not been reproduced, for economy's sake, but information about attendance is included in the Index, which lists all Commissioners who are recorded as attending a meeting.
  • 31. Secretan, Nelson, 144. Cp. G.E.C., Complete Peerage.
  • 32. N. Sykes, William Wake (1957), ii, 100, quoting Bishop Gibson.
  • 33. Ibid. 99.
  • 34. G. V. Bennett, White Kennet 1660–1728 (1957), 83, 123.
  • 35. T. Shankland, 'Sir John Philipps; the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; and the Charity-School Movement in Wales, 1699–1737', Transactions of Hon. Society of Cymmrodorion 1904–5, 74 ff.
  • 36. See T. Friedman, James Gibbs (1984), 9–10, citing HMC Portland V and X. Gibbs' belief that Vanbrugh was plotting against him receives little support from the Minute Books, Vanbrugh being absent from the meetings on 7 October (when the date for electing a new Surveyor was fixed) and 21 October (when the election was postponed) as well as 18 November when balloting resulted in Gibbs' election. The date of Gibbs' letter to Harley, HMC Portland V, 331–2, given as 13 September 1713, must be queried, as the Commissioners did not meet between 19 August and 7 October. It may perhaps be 13 August, the date of the Board's meeting at which Dickinson submitted his resignation, and the decision about the date for a new election was put on the agenda for the next meeting.
  • 37. LPL, MS 2727, ff. 3–4, 3 Oct. 1711.
  • 38. The Secretary's 'Account of Sites Purchased', 8 July 1715, is printed in CJ XVIII, 216–17. Sites already purchased for churches were in Deptford, £710; St Margaret Westminster, £700; St George's Chapel (Ormond Street), £1,100; Limehouse, £400; Spitalfields, £1,260; Upper Wapping (St George in the East), £400; St Paul Shadwell, £1,000. Prices are also there given of sites of which the purchase had not yet been completed or that were still under treaty.
  • 39. LPL, MS 2712, ff. 60–70. For the difficulties of choosing and purchasing a suitable site in nearby Spitalfields, see Survey of London XXVII, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town (1957), 151–3.
  • 40. LPL, MS 2713, ff. 77–105. See also CJ XX, 785, 801, 813; XXI, 669, 706, 720.
  • 41. LPL, MS 2713, f. 98.
  • 42. C. Wren, compiler, Parentalia (1750), 318–21. Vanbrugh's proposals survive in two MS copies in the Bodleian Library. That in MS Eng. Hist. C2, printed in Arch. Rev. 107 (1950), 209, is by a contemporary copyist. The other, in Bishop Robinson's papers, MS Rawl, B 376, ff. 351–2 (printed in K. Downes, Vanbrugh (1977), 257–8), is in Vanbrugh's hand but may, Professor Downes suggests, be the work of Hawksmoor (ibid. 84).
  • 43. The architectural aspects of the Commissioners' operations were studied in a notable article by Mr H. M. Colvin, 'Fifty New Churches', Arch. Rev. (Mar. 1950), 18996; as well as in Professor K. Downes's monographs, Hawksmoor (1969) and Vanbrugh (1977) and Dr T. Friedman's James Gibbs (1984); and are therefore not further pursued here. See also F. H. W. Sheppard, ed., Survey of London XXVII, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town (1957), chap. xii.
  • 44. LPL, MS 2715, f. 196.
  • 45. LPL, MS 2717, f. 85, 10 Dec. 1713.
  • 46. LPL, MS 2724, f. 51.
  • 47. Wren Soc. xvi, 165-8.
  • 48. LPL, MS 2714, ff. 20-2, 25, 50, 65, 67, 69, 73.
  • 49. LPL, MS 2715, f. 109v.
  • 50. LPL, MS 2728, f. 164.
  • 51. LPL, MS 2723, ff. 21v-22.
  • 52. LPL, MS 2717, f. 83.
  • 53. LPL, MS 2723, f. 91.
  • 54. An 'Abstract of charge of the churches built', dated 31 Dec. 1726, gives the following totals (to nearest £): Bloomsbury £23,792, Cornhill (St Michael, tower) £6,440, Deptford £22,088, St George the Martyr (Ormond Street) £2,033, St George Hanover Square £19,079, Greenwich £18,260, Limehouse £31,251, Spitalfields £34,140, Wapping (St George in the East) £25,885, Westminster (St John) £35,243, Woolnoth (St Mary) £16,234 (LPL MS 2711, f. 55). Further sums were spent subsequently on most of these, e.g. the total for St John Westminster to the end of 1733 was £38, 311 (LPL, MSS 2697–2702). St Luke Old Street, supposed (like St George Hanover Square) to cost no more than £10,000, actually cost £15,579 (LPL, MSS 2701, 2702).
  • 55. LPL, MS 2711, p. 6.
  • 56. Ibid. pp. 4–5, expenditure to 8 July 1715, reported to King and Parliament, 24 Mar. 1716.
  • 57. CJ XVIII, 216–18. The Commissioners' report, laid before the House of Lords on 23 Mar. 1716, is printed in summary, with a full transcript of the accounts, in The Manuscripts of the House of Lords, XII, 264–7.
  • 58. CJ XVIII, 698, 704, 715, 731-2; statutes 4 Geo. I, c.5 and c. 14. See MSS of the House of Lords, XII, 523.
  • 59. W. A. Shaw, ed., Calendar of Treasury Books, XXXII, pt. II (1957), 18, 162, 164.
  • 60. CJ XIX, 27, 67-70. Samuel Tufnell, an Essex M.P. born into the City aristocracy, led an attack on the Commissioners' 'unthrifty management', especially criticising the expense of Millbank church, Historical Register, XIII (1719), 73, cited Colvin, Arch. Rev. (Mar. 1950), 190n. For petitions to include St Martin in the Fields and other old churches in the Fifty see CJ XIX, 21–2, 28–9, 31–2, 40–1, 45 and 49. St Martin was rebuilt under a special act by means of a parish rate, ibid. 234, 336, 353.
  • 61. Statute 5 Geo. I, c. 9.
  • 62. LPL, MS 2711, pp. 49, 51. The Commissioners were not relieved of the onerous obligation to build in stone, as they had requested (222).
  • 63. LPL, MS 2697, pp. 204, 208, 213, 481, 488, 495.
  • 64. Statutes 10 Anne, c. 11; 1 Geo. I, Stat. 2, c. 23.
  • 65. LPL, MS 2711, pp. 20–1.
  • 66. According to the preamble of the act 5 Geo. I, c. 9, the Commissioners had received £161,175. 16s. 7d., presumably by the end of 1718, and incurred further large sums, but the ledgers show issues from the Exchequer of only some £148,600 up to October 1718. Another £23,000 was issued on 24 Mar. 1720 under the new act (LPL, MS 2710, f. 1).
  • 67. LPL, MS 2697, pp. 155, 165, 175.
  • 68. LPL, MS 2714 contains a petition dated 18 Jan. 1724/5 from the parish clerks of three Westminster parishes praying that their rights be secured in any division of the parishes, (ff. 71–2); MS 2725, legal opinions on the rights of bishops and patrons in the new parishes (f. 3).
  • 69. LPL, MS 2724, f. 135. On 12 Apr. 1725, the Commissioners reported to the House of Commons that the new parishes would be of at least 6,000 souls in each. Considering the great number of births and burials, requiring the minister's personal attendance, and 'often times at unseasonable hours to baptise children in danger of death and to bury the deceased late in the night', the number of sick to be visited, applications by persons of all sorts, the daily duty of public prayers and 'the time necessary to prepare seasonable and well digested discourses for the pulpit', as well as time for their unavoidable private avocations, it was necessary to have at least two ministers. Parishes in and about London requiring 'men of the best education, learning and experience, whose service besides their constant attendance upon their ordinary duties, may be wanting for the public defence of Religion'; and considering the very great expense of maintaining a family in London, and the decline in the value of coin since 1660, they thought that at least £200 p.a. was necessary, with a maximum of £350—not more than would support a family in 'a modest decent manner'. LPL, MS 2727, ff. 65 et seq.
  • 70. CJ XX, 451–2, 460, 467–8, 471, 473, 476. The Commissioners' report to the House of Commons, 12 Apr. 1725, attacked 'printed papers' that had been 'handed about' claiming that no provision was necessary for the clergy of the new churches because of the great amount of dues and perquisites; the real income from such sources was much lower. LPL, MS 2727, ff. 65–70; for surplice fees, see MS 2713, f. 234.
  • 71. The fate of this proposal was not reported in the Minute Books, but one item appears to have been omitted from the minutes for 23 Apr. 1725. On the next day, Dean Stanhope wrote:'. . . We are all surprised at being told, the business of the Church Bill stands still from any Delay on our part; after so many particulars sent to the Lord Bishop of London five months ago'. LPL, MS 2727, f. 30.
  • 72. Attempts to pass a single measure for the whole parish of Stepney failed in 1727 and 1728, partly because the rectors of the old parish resisted anything that might diminish their income, and partly because of hostility to select vestries, as well as the dislike of a church rate (CJ XX, 772, 814, 847; XXI, 94, 134, 156–7); but separate acts were later passed for Spitalfields and Wapping (royal assent 14 May 1729), Stratford Bow (24 Mar. 1730), and Deptford, Bloomsbury and Limehouse (15 May 1730). Millbank had secured its act in 1728 (royal assent 28 May), having failed in 1727 (CJ XX, 798, 514, 831; XXI 182); but St John Clerkennwell never succeeded because of the opposition of the mother parish (p. xx above).
  • 73. LPL, MS 2711, pp. 65, 98; MS 2725, ff. 26, 130, 132.
  • 74. LPL, MS 2711, p. 55.
  • 75. Statute 1 Geo. II, Stat. 2, c. 8; LPL, MS 2711, pp. 59–60.
  • 76. LPL, MS 2711, p. 80.
  • 77. Statutes 4 Geo. II, c. 20 (see CJ XXI, 667, 698–9, 755), 5 Geo. II, c. 14 (CJ XXI, 791–2, 855), and 6 Geo. II, c. 8 (see CJ XXII, 43–4, 99). £8,000 had already been allocated for rebuilding St Giles in the Fields (4 Geo. I, c. 14 and 3 Geo. II, c. 3); and in 1733 the Dean and Chapter of Westminster obtained from the Commission's funds another £4,000 for the repair of the abbey church and £1,200 for finishing the dormitory (6 Geo. II, c. 25)—though another £4,000 in 1734 came from the national revenue (CJ XXII, 260, 273; 7 Geo. II, c. 12).
  • 78. LPL, MS 2692.
  • 79. Private Act, 31 Geo. II, 2.
  • 80. LPL, MS 2692.