Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



THE Rev. T. Pelham Dale, of St. Vedast's, Foster Lane, having disregarded an order from Lord Penzance, under the P. W. R. Act, to refrain from certain ritualistic practices, the Judge proceeded to suspend him for three months ab officio, with the warning that if, within that time, Mr. Dale did not signify in writing his intention to obey the monition, the inhibition would be continued. Great dissatisfaction was expressed at Mr. Dale's submission to the Bishop, when his lordship assumed the spiritual care of the parish during the term of suspension. Proceedings were also taken against the Rev. Arthur Tooth, of St. James's, Hatcham. Mr. Tooth having ignored a monition, dated July 29, 1876, his lordship proceeded to inhibit him for the term of three months' "and thereafter until the same shall have been duly relaxed, from performing any Service of the Church, or otherwise exercising the Cure of Souls within the said Diocese of Rochester." In the inhibition there was no mention, from beginning to end, of the Bishop of the Diocese. At the Ordinary Meeting on Dec. 7, 1876, Dr. Phillimore proposed, and Sir Thomas Dick-Lauder seconded:--Spiritual Invalidity of Sentences passed under the P. W. R. Act.

That this meeting declares that in its judgment any sentence of suspension or inhibition pronounced by any court sitting under the P. W. R. Act is spiritually null and void, and that, should any priest feel it to be his duty to continue to discharge his spiritual functions, notwithstanding such sentence, he is hereby assured of the sympathy of the meeting, and of such support and assistance as the circumstances of the case may allow.

As, however, it was doubtful whether a resolution passed at an Ordinary Meeting could be taken as a resolution of the Union, it was resolved:--

That the debate on this motion be now adjourned, and that the President be requested to call a Special Meeting for the further discussion of it between Christmas and Lent.

It was further resolved:--

Sympathy with, and support of, Mr. Tooth. Moved by Mr. Fifoot, and seconded by Mr. Layman--

That this meeting of the English Church Union hereby expresses its sympathy with the Rev. Arthur Tooth, Vicar of St. James's, Hatcham, in the course which he has taken in regard to his prosecution under the P. W. R. Act, and pledges itself to give him any support that may be in its power.

The Special Meeting was held at the Freemasons' Tavern on Jan. 16, 1877, when the three resolutions printed below were adopted, amidst much enthusiasm, by a meeting which consisted of over 1,200 men, and about 150 Women Associates, for whom the gallery was reserved. The first resolution was proposed by Canon Carter, seconded by W. P. Swain, Esq. (Vice-Chairman of the Plymouth Branch), and supported by Lord Kilcoursie; the second by Archdeacon Denison, seconded by Mr. Robert Fairclough (Secretary of the Sutherland Branch); and the third by Mr. Wilshere, seconded by the Rev. C. S. Grueber, and supported by Colonel Childers.

The resolutions were in the following terms:--

Encroachments by the State upon the Constitutional Independence of the Church.

Whereas, since the year 1849, the constitutional independence of the Church of England in things spiritual has been increasingly encroached upon by the proceedings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the ecclesiastical causes upon which that tribunal has adjudicated, and by the action of Parliament;


1. That the English Church Union, while it distinctly and expressly acknowledges the authority of all courts legally constituted in regard to all matters temporal, denies that the secular power has authority in matters purely spiritual.

2. That any court which is bound to frame its decisions in accordance with the judgments of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, or any other secular court, does not possess any spiritual authority with respect to such decision.

That suspension a sacris being a purely spiritual act, the English Church Union is prepared to support any priest, not guilty of a moral or canonical offence, who refuses to recognise a suspension issued by such a court.

3. That "the Church" (not the State) having "power to decree rites and ceremonies and authority in controversies of Faith," this Union submits itself to the duly constituted synods of the Church; and in regard to the legality of matters now under dispute, appeals to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and to the interpretation put upon those rubrics in 1875 by the resolutions of the Lower House of Convocation of Canterbury in regard to the Eucharistic vestments and the eastward position.

An overflow meeting was held in another room, presided over by Mr. F. Barchard, the President of the Sussex D. U.

This decided line, taken by the Union at a time of great crisis, created an immense sensation throughout the country, and resolutions in approval poured in from all parts of the Union. As Canon Carter said shortly afterwards: "The E. C. U. had never before taken so decided a stand in asserting before the world its determination to oppose, with all the fulness of the strength which its great numbers enabled it to command, the intrusion of the State into the innermost circle of the Church's spiritual rights and jurisdiction."

On Jan. 22, 1877, Mr. Tooth was imprisoned in Horsemonger Lane Gaol by Lord Penzance for contempt of court. A Petition of the President and Council, respecting the Bishopric of Truro Bill, was presented to both Houses of Convocation, and to the Houses of Lords and Commons in the following terms:--

Bishopric of Truro Bill.

That whereas in Clause 6 of a Bill entitled "A Bill to provide for the foundation of a now bishopric out of a part of the diocese of Exeter," now before your... House, it appears to be lad that Her Majesty may lawfully enforce the appointment to vacant sees of persons whom the Dean and Chapter decline to elect, your Petitioners pray your... House that such an alteration shall be made in the said clause as may secure the rights of the Church in this matter.

At the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 27, 1877, it was resolved, with reference to the mode of appointment to Bishoprics and to Mr. Monk's Bill for the Abolition of the Congé d'élire:--

Proposed Abolition of the Congé d'élire.

Moved by the Rev. A. H. Mackonochie, and seconded by the Rev. E. C. Kirkpatrick--

That the Bill "to abolish the Congé d'élire," brought into the House of Commons, should be strenuously resisted, on the ground that, instead of restoring to the Church her just rights in regard to the election of Bishops, it proposes to abolish the important witness to those rights which still remains in the issue of the Congé d'élire. And that this meeting is of opinion that an earnest effort should be made at the present time to obtain such an alteration of the Law as will give the clergy and laity of the diocese a real voice in the appointment of their Bishops, and that the Council be requested to take such steps as may be necessary to give effect to this resolution.

Petitions were also issued for signature against Mr. Osborne Morgan's Burials Bill, the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill, and the Union of Benefices Bill. The Ecclesiastical Pees and Offices Bill, embodying clauses for providing, at the expense of the ecclesiastical revenues, a salary and establishment for the Judge under the P. W. R. Act, was vigorously opposed by the Union. The Burials Bill introduced by the Government, so far as it contemplated the erection of public cemeteries and the consolidation of the Burial Laws, was recommended by the President and Council as deserving every support.

A Petition emanating from the C. E. W. M. S demanding the repeal of the P. W. R. Act, was largely circulated throughout the Onion, and was extensively signed.

The following Petition in regard to the appointment of Bishops was circulated for signature:--

The Appointment of Bishops.

To the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, &c. The humble Petition of the undersigned clergy and lay communicants of the Church of England SHEWETH--

That the Congé d'élire granted by your Majesty on the avoidance of a bishopric, in answer to the Petition of the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral Church, is rendered null and void by the Letters Missive, nominating a successor to the see, with which the said Congé d'élire is accompanied.

That the person so nominated, if not elected within twelve days, may be presented to the see, by virtue of your Majesty' Letters Patent, dispensing with his election.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray your Majesty to give license to the Convocations, under your Majesty's Broad Seal, to consider of the manner of electing to bishoprics, with the view to devise such alteration in the procedure as shall, without prejudice to the due rights of the Crown, secure the right of free election conceded by the Congé d'élire, and thereby accord to the clergy and laity of the diocese a real voice in the appointment of their Bishop. And your Petitioners will ever pray, &c.

In view of the pecuniary distress likely to fall upon many of the clergy in consequence of prosecutions under the P. W. R. Act, the President and Council decided on March 21, 1877, to establish a fund to be called "The E. C. U. Sustentation Fund" and resolved--

1. That this fund be applied for the support of such Bishops, priests, and deacons, and those dependent on them, as the President and Council may from time to time direct.

2. That the fund be administered by a Committee acting under the authority of the President and Council.

They commended this fund to the support of Churchmen in the following words of Mr. Keble:--"Let us protest," Mr. Keble says in a tract published by him after the Gorham Judgment, "that the Privy Council cannot represent the Church, and that we will not be bound by it; and let us be forward in offering our goods for the support of those whom our Master shall call out from among us, if so be, to suffer for the liberties of the Church."

On May 12, 1877, the judgment of the Privy Council in the Ridsdale case was pronounced. Three members of the Committee were conspicuous by their absence--the Lord Chief Baron (Fitzroy Kelly), Sir Robert Phillimore, and Sir Richard Amphlett. The four points affected by the decision were (1) the vestments; (2) the eastward position; (3) wafers; (4) the Crucifix on the screen. The decision was adverse to Mr. Ridsdale on points (1) and (4). With reference to the other points, their lordships stated: "They will advise her Majesty that, inasmuch as it is not established to their satisfaction that the appellant, while saying the Prayer of Consecration, so stood that the people could not see him break the bread or take the cup into his hands, as alleged in the representation; and inasmuch as it is not alleged or proved that what was used in the administration of the Holy Communion was other than bread such as is usual to be eaten, the decree of the Court of Arches should be in these respects reversed."

As to the former point, "their lordships were not satisfied that the evidence proved an intention to prevent the people seeing him break the bread." As to the latter, they ruled that wafers properly so-called were illegal, but that the charge was "consistent with the possibility that bread such as is usual to be eaten, but circular and very thin, was what was used."

The Union withdrew from this case some time before the appeal was heard.

Mr. Ridsdale at first disregarded the judgment so far as vestments, lights, and the mixed chalice were concerned, but subsequently accepted a (so-called) dispensation on these points, offered him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some interesting information was published shortly afterwards by the Vicar of Folkestone (Woodward) as to how the prosecution was got up. One of the nominal prosecutors, Clifton by name, a baker by profession, admitted, in the presence of unimpeachable witnesses, that he had been asked by the Mayor of Folkestone (Wightwick) to attend one of the services. He had never been in St. Peter's before, and subsequently signed a paper, without knowing its contents, by which action he became one of the promoters of the suit. On being subsequently urged to withdraw from the suit, he admitted that he was "a man of the world, and made no profession of religion," and was prepared to withdraw for the sum of £200. Another of the promoters, Harris, a publican, expressed himself in similar terms. A paper was eventually signed by the prosecutors stating that the presentation had been made by them "without any persuasion by Mr. Wightwick," but no attempt was made to deny the offer to withdraw for the consideration of £200. Upon the expiration of his sentence of suspension, M Pelham Dale failed to make his submission, and the benefice was consequently sequestrated.

On Feb. 17, 1877, the prosecutors of Mr. Tooth made an application for his release, on the ground that the services were now legally conducted by the Bishop's Curate-in-charge. Mr. Tooth was accordingly released by Lord Penzance. By the advice of his medical advisors, Mr. Tooth, whose health for some months had been most unsatisfactory, and who was now suffering from very great nervous exhaustion, went to the South of Italy for some weeks. On the first Sunday after his return--viz., on May 13--Mr. Tooth celebrated the Holy Communion in his church. His health, however, shortly afterwards necessitated a second withdrawal from the parish.

At the Annual Meeting on June 14, 1877, the following resolutions were adopted:--

Divergence between the Law of the Land and the Law of the Church

Moved by the Rev. R. Rhodes Bristow, and seconded by the Rev. Dr. West--

That the law of the land and the law of the Church arc not necessarily identical at any time: and that, under existing circumstances, they are in many particulars divergent.

The Church's Authority and Power over Her Formularies.

Moved by the Rev. Berdmore Compton, and seconded by the Rev. H. E. Chapman--

That it is the plain duty of Churchmen to affirm and earnestly contend for, on behalf of the Church, the exclusive power of altering and interpreting her own formularies by her own synods as the necessity of such alteration or interpretation may arise.

Lay Assemblies for the Adequate Expression of Lay Opinion.

Moved by Mr. W. Inglis (President of the Church of England Working Men's Society), and seconded by Mr. G. E. Street--That whereas it is right that the laity should have their due influence in Church matters, and whereas under the present conditions of Parliament it is impossible for that body adequately to represent the opinions of Churchmen, it is desirable, in order to ascertain those opinions, that recourse should be had to assemblies composed of the communicant laity of the Church of England.

The Government Burials Bill.

Moved by the Rev. A. Lendrum, and seconded by the Rev. H. E. Baker--

That the churchyards not having been given by the State, and being the property of the Church of England, the English Church Union--(1) Protests against any legislation which shall permit persons who are not members of that Church to officiate in her churchyards; and (2) Calls upon the members of the Union to resist the motion introduced by the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, in direct contradiction to the voice of the Lower House of the Convocation of his Province, in regard to services for the unbaptized.

That a deputation wait upon the Prime Minister in support of the Government "Burial Acts Consolidation Bill," omitting the 74th Clause; and to represent at the same time the grievance under which the Church labours in consequence of the legal difficulties which hinder the exercise of her discipline in regard to the use of her Burial Service."

At the Evening Meeting it was resolved:--Unconstitutional Attempts to enforce the Royal Supremacy.

Moved by the Rev. Canon Carter, and seconded by Colonel Childers--

That this Union, in regard to all unconstitutional attempts to enforce the supremacy of the Crown in spiritual causes other than through the Church's Courts and synods, will support to the utmost of its power those priests who, having, with the consent of their congregations, revived the lawful ceremonial of the Church of England, are prepared to suffer on behalf of her rights and liberties, rather than accept the ruling of the Privy Council in recent cases as A true exposition of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Sustentation Fund.

Moved by Mr. Frederic Villiers, and seconded by Rear-Admiral Robertson-Macdonald--

That, having regard to the action of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in recent ecclesiastical cases, this meeting calls upon the members of the E. C. U., and all other loyal Churchmen, to assist by liberal contributions the "Sustentation Fund" which is intended to support such of the clergy as may be deprived of their benefices by the action of the civil power.

During the year 3,416 persons joined the Union, bringing up the total to 16,498--an unprecedented advance, due mainly to the very decided line adopted by the Union at the Meeting held at Freemasons' Tavern on Jan. 16 in support of the Rev. A. Tooth. Four new District Unions, 18 Branches, and 10 Parochial Associations were formed. Total--District Unions, 32; Branches, 221; Parochial Associations, 76.

It was announced in the Annual Report this year (June? 1877) that the circulation of the Church Union Gazette, which in 1872 was only 1,400 copies, amounted now to upwards of 7,000 copies, and that instead of costing the Society £139 a year, as formerly, it had now begun to bring in a small profit.

It was announced in the C.U.G. for March that 1,210 persons (723 being men) had joined since the beginning of the year, and that only 48, most of whom owed two or three years' subscriptions, had withdrawn from the Union in consequence of the resolutions passed at Freemasons' Tavern.

Project Canterbury