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Chancel Repair

The history of chancel repair is ancient, dating back prior to 1189 and is linked with the old right to collect tithes. Although tithe liability has ceased and much of the land previously owned by the church has been acquired by private individuals, the liability for repair to the parish church can remain attached to land.

Chancel Repairs: an introduction

Chancel repair liability is an ancient interest benefiting some 5,200 pre-Reformation churches in England and Wales.It allows the Parochial Church Council to require owners of former rectorial land to meet the cost of repairing the church chancel.Under the Land Registration Act 1925, chancel repair liability is classified as an overriding interest in registered land.This means it has been protected even without being registered.

Because the chancel of a church was the area where the rector (the parish priest) officiated, the nave being the area where the congregation assembled for worship, the duty of repairing the chancel of an ancient parish church fell on the owner of property attached to the rectory.Such rectorial land was and is not necessarily situated in close proximity to a church building.Over time, that duty became more particularly associated with the rectorial tithes.

Such tithes as had not previously been commuted to corn-rents or allotments of land under the Enclosure Acts and other legislation, were either merged in the land or commuted to tithe rentcharge under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. The Digest of Tithes Commuted 1757-1835, a copy of which is on the open shelves in the Map and Large Document Reading Room, is a useful means of establishing whether tithes had been commuted before the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. It gives an indication of the overall effect of any relevant enclosure award and refers to corn rents as well as tithes.

In cases where rectorial tithes and tithe rentcharge were merged, liability continued to attach to the ownership of the land: deeds of merger are in TITH 3 . Some records relating to the apportionment of liability for chancel repairs from 1847 until 1920 are in IR 97.

Where rectorial tithes were commuted to tithe rentcharge, liability for chancel repairs attached to the tithe rentcharge. As far as spiritual rectors were concerned, their liability was for the most part transferred to parochial church councils by the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Measure 1923. Until the Chancel Repairs Act 1932 transferred jurisdiction to County Courts, legal proceedings to enforce liability for repairs could be brought in ecclesiastical courts.

Following the Tithe Act 1936, which extinguished all tithe rentcharge, it was necessary to establish liability for chancel repairs that had previously attached to the ownership of rectorial tithe rentcharge and to any vicarial tithe rentcharge that exceptionally fell into the same category.There still existed in 1936 a substantial amount of rectorial tithe rentcharge in the ownership of ecclesiastical corporations, universities and colleges and other corporate bodies as well as private persons (commonly known as lay rectors). The liability continues in the case of ecclesiastical corporations, certain universities and colleges, the owners of merged land and the owners of land in which tithe rentcharge was constructively merged by the operation of the Tithe Act 1936, section 2l. In all other cases where there was liability in respect of the ownership of tithe rentcharge, the liability was extinguished and compensation was paid by the tithe-owner to the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities. This compensation took the form of an issue of stock, which was deducted from the amount which otherwise would have been issued to the tithe-owner.

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