Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



ON July 21, 1883, Lord Penzance gave his decision in the Mackonochie case--"I am ready to pronounce and sign formal sentence of deprivation, which I understand that the promoter has prepared and tendered to me for that purpose. I condemn Mr. Mackonochie in the costs of the suit." The sentence was accordingly signed, and Mr. Mackonochie deprived "of all his ecclesiastical promotions within the said province of Canterbury." On September 18 the Bishop of London (Jackson) gave formal notice to the patrons that the benefice was vacant, and on the following day his lordship sequestrated the income, the greater part of which was derived from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. On December 29, 1883, a short letter from Mr. Mackonochie appeared in the Standard, in which he stated--"I have been forced by the logic of facts to see that I ought not any longer to impoverish further a parish, far too impoverished already by its own circumstances, by keeping from it the income which is due to it from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; I have, therefore, asked the Bishop of London to allow me to withdraw from this benefice [viz., St. Peter's, London Docks]." The Bishop of London instituted the Rev. L. S. Wainright, who had been assistant-priest for ten years, on January 16, 1884. The following remarks from a leader in the Guardian of January 2, 1884, gave admirable expression to the general feeling of Churchmen:--"Mr. Mackonochie will carry into a retirement so cruelly, and, after the action of Archbishop Tait, so unexpectedly forced upon him, the respect that is due to a man who makes a very great sacrifice. Although in the long strife which this act of his closes he has been substantially the victor, he alone is to reap no fruit from his success. The Courts which condemned him find their occupation gone; the liberty denied him is enjoyed by the congregations he has served. The triumph of the Church Association is strictly personal. They have silenced one self-denying and hard-working clergyman. But as regards the wider ends for which the suit was instituted they have gained nothing."

The Prestbury case also came to an end about the same time. The appeal to the House of Lords from the judgment of the Lords Justices of Appeal was allowed to lapse; for it was felt that the heavy expense of further litigation could not justifiably be incurred in prosecuting an appeal as to which it was very improbable that the House of Lords would reverse the judgment of the two lower Courts on the technical points alleged. Accordingly, on January 2, 1884, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (Ellicott) sequestrated the income of the benefice, and gave notice to the patron that the benefice was vacant. His lordship, however, on April 15, declined, in answer to an application from the promoter of the suit, to interfere with the continued ministrations of Mr. Baghot de la Bere. Mr. Baghot de la Bere having resigned the cure of souls into the hands of the Bishop, from whom he originally received it, the Rev. F. Gurney, Vicar of St. James's, Plymouth, was instituted upon the nomination of the patron.

In consequence of the refusal of the Bishop of Manchester (Eraser) to institute Mr. Cowgill to the benefice of Miles Platting, the patron, Sir Percival Heywood, applied for a writ of Quare impedit, which was served on the Bishop on January 25, 1883. The case was heard before Baron Pollock on December 10 and 11, 1883. Judgment was delivered on January 23, 1884, in favour of the Bishop, with costs against the patron.

A case was subsequently submitted to Mr. Edward Clarke, Q.C., M.P., Mr. E. Vaughan Williams, and Mr. Leicester P. Beaufort. In their opinion counsel stated that in one point Baron Pollock was wrong. He had laid down that, inasmuch as Mr. Cowgill's alleged offences were matters which would warrant deprivation in the ecclesiastical court, they would warrant the Bishop in his refusal. Counsel, however, were of opinion that contumacious persistence is necessary to constitute a deprivable offence, and that it had been neither alleged nor proved that Mr. Cowgill ever contumaciously persisted in disobedience to the Act of Uniformity. On the other hand, counsel were of opinion that an appeal would be unsuccessful, because the Court would be bound in this case to intend (?) everything in favour of the judgment appealed from, Mr. Cowgill having stated his intention not to conform to the law if he were instituted. A Bishop, although he has no right to demand of a presentee a pledge as to his future conduct, would have a discretion to refuse to institute him if the presentee announces his intention not to conform to the law.

The Report of the Royal Commission on the Ecclesiastical Courts occupied the serious attention of the Union. The subject was taken into consideration at a special meeting held on January 23, 1884. Six resolutions were on the agenda paper to be proposed on behalf of the Council. The first was moved by the Rev. E. C. Kirkpatrick, and seconded by Major-General Drake, C.B., viz:--

Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Courts.

That the English Church Union records its thankfulness that the report of the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission justifies the contention maintained by the Union against the authority of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Gourds subject to its jurisdiction in matters touching the doctrine and discipline) of the Church.

The resolution was carried, after the following amendment, proposed by Mr. Joseph Allen on behalf of the Norwich Branch, and seconded by the Rev. T. F. Boddington, had been rejected by a large majority, viz., to substitute for the last five words the following:--

Worship, and spiritual discipline of the Church, by showing that DO appellate jurisdiction in such matters was exercised by the Crown under the statute restraining appeals to Rome.

The second resolution, proposed by Archdeacon Denison, and seconded by the Rev. M. W. Mayow, was as follows:--

That the English Union views with satisfaction the recognition by the Commissioners of the inherent right of the Spiritualty to determine questions touching the doctrine and discipline of the Church; but desires to point out that if, as the Commissioners appear to recommend, such questions, contrary to ancient usage, are to be brought before the Provincial Courts, those Courts, for all such purposes, should represent the authority of the Metropolitan and Synod of the Province.

The motion was carried, after the following amendment, moved by Mr. Allen, and seconded by the Rev. T. P. Boddington, had been rejected:--

To leave out, after "but desires to point out," all the words to the end, and to substitute the following--

All such questions must be brought before and decided by the Bishop sitting with his Presbyters in Synod, with an appeal to the Metropolitan and Synod of the Province.

Upon the third resolution, proposed by the Rev. E. Berdmore Compton, and seconded by Mr. C. Browne--viz.:--

That the English Church Union is unable to accept the proposed Court of Final Appeal--the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts moved, and Mr. James Parker seconded, the following amendment--

That the English Church Union, while recognising the right of every subject to resort to the Crown for the redress of any temporal wrong which he believes to have been inflicted upon him, cannot accept the proposed Court of Final Appeal, composed of five laymen, if that Court is called upon to determine matters touching the doctrine and discipline of the Church.

After a prolonged debate further discussion was adjourned, upon the motion of Archdeacon Denison, to February 5.

At the adjourned meeting the President announced that Archdeacon Denison was willing to withdraw the original motion, and that Mr. Bayfield Roberts and Mr. Parker were willing to withdraw their amendment in order that the following might be proposed as a substantive motion:--

That the English Church Union, while accepting with great thankfulness the loyal recognition of the true relations between Church and State contained in the Report of the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission, and while recognizing the right of every subject to resort to the Crown for the redress of any temporal wrong which he believes to have been inflicted upon him by the decision of any ecclesiastical tribunal, is unable to accept the proposed Court of Final Appeal, or any other secular Court, which should claim to reverse on appeal, either directly or indirectly, any spiritual sentence of the Church.

This was agreed to as a substantive resolution.

The fourth resolution, proposed by the President, and seconded by Mr. Layman, was adopted in the following amended form:--

That this Union regrets that the opportunity was not taken by the Commissioners of considering the whole subject of Church discipline.

The fifth resolution, proposed by the Rev. G. Greenwood, and seconded by the Rev. H. M. Fletcher, was unanimously adopted:--

That no reconstruction or regulation of the ecclesiastical courts can acquire spiritual validity except from the authority of the Church herself in her Synods.

The President then put the sixth and last resolution from the chair, which was also unanimously adopted:--

That the President of the E. C. U. be requested to embody the five proceeding resolutions in a petition to be presented on behalf of the Union to the Convocations of Canterbury and York.

The subject of "The Free and Open Church Movement" was next considered.

The Free and Open Church Movement.

Moved by Mr. Wilmot, seconded by Mr. Henry Clark--

That, in view of the fact that the English Church Union exists for the purpose of aiding the branch of Christ's Catholic Church planted in these islands, and therefore necessarily sympathizes with it in its missionary work, and seeing that pews and pew-rents in churches are discouraging to attendance at public worship, this meeting hereby requests the Council to use its influence on behalf of the Free and Open Church Movement.

Archdeacon Denison moved, and Mr. E. H. Jones seconded, the following amendment, which was eventually carried:--

That this meeting requests the Council, as far as it legitimately may, and having due regard to the varying circumstances of different localities in town and country, to use its influence on behalf of the Free and Open Church Movement.

The Memorial to Convocation embodying the five resolutions passed with reference to the Royal Commission on the ecclesiastical courts was presented on February 12, 1884, by the Bishop of Ely in the Upper House, and by Archdeacon Denison in the Lower House.

During the Parliamentary recess the President and Council, in conjunction with the Marriage Law Defence Union, exerted themselves strenuously to influence public opinion against the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill, and the following Petition was extensively signed and forwarded from many parishes to the various Bishops for transmission to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York:--

To the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of----

We, the undersigned (Rector or Vicar, and Churchwardens ----; Vicar, Churchwardens, and Communicants ----; Vicar, on behalf of a meeting of Communicants of the parish of----), believe that the Bill to Legalise Marriage with a Wife's Sister is contrary to the spirit and law of the Christian Church from early times, violates the foundation upon which the marriage law of England is based, endangers the purity and happiness of families, and cannot fail to bring about disastrous conflicts between conscience and the civil law.

We therefore very urgently request your Lordship to transmit to the Lord Archbishop of [] Your Motion that his Grace, together with his Suffragans, will represent to Her Majesty's Government the great distress and anxiety which such proposed legislation causes to us and to many others of the Queen's most loyal subjects, together with our earnest prayer chat every effort may be made by those in authority to discourage and resist every such attempt to alter the marriage law of England.

At the Annual Meeting on June 19, 1884, the subject of Elementary Church Schools was first discussed, and the following resolutions, proposed by the Rev. E. Rhodes Bristow and Stanley Leighton, Esq., M.P., and seconded by the Rev. Alfred Grurney and Sir John Conroy, respectively, were adopted:--

Elementary Church Schools.


That, in seeking to promote the cause of religious education, it should be the aim of all Churchmen to maintain the system carried out in the Elementary schools of the Church where liberty of religious teaching is secured.


That, whereas, under the recent administration of the Education Acts, schools throughout the country have been subjected to a greatly-increased expenditure, it is only just that they should be assisted by an increased annual Grant; and it is also most reasonable that, in the application of the Grant, especial regard should be had to exceptionally necessitous schools, whether in town or country.

The following resolution on the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, proposed by the Rev. T. P. Ring, and seconded by Dr. Phillimore, was also unanimously adopted:--

Deceased Wife's Sister Bill.

That, having regard to the persistent endeavours in and out of Parliament to procure the legalization of Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, this meeting of the English Church Union hereby renews the former pledges of the Union to oppose by all means in its power the proposed measure, believing that it would inflict painful and unnecessary hardships upon the very class whom it purports to relieve, and would also undermine the foundations of the whole marriage law of this Church and Realm.

At the Evening Meeting Mr. George Spottiswoode proposed, and the Rev. R. J. Ives seconded, the following resolution, which was adopted:--

Evangelization of the Masses.

That, having regard to the third object of the Union--viz., "In general so to promote the interests of Religion as to be, by God's help, a lasting witness in the land for the advancement of His Glory and the good of His Church"--it is most important that the attention of all Churchmen, and especially of the members of this Union, should be directed to the pressing question of the evangelization and recovery of those who have drifted away from the worship and teaching of the Church, or, who, either from apathy or estrangement, are not healthfully affected by her ministrations.

It was announced in the Annual Report that £28,000 had been collected for the Pusey Memorial, and that the Pusey Memorial House, 61, St. Giles', Oxford, would be opened at the commencement of the academical year with the Rev. Charles Gore as the first Librarian Residentiary, and the Rev. V. S. Stuckey Coles as the second Librarian. A special Mackonochie Fund was also raised in order to provide Mr. Mackonochie with an income of not less than £'300 a year until he should receive suitable preferment.

In order to carry out the recommendation adopted by the Conference of Northern Officers of the E. C. U. at Leeds on October 10, 1882, two more Assistant-Organizing Secretaries were temporarily appointed--viz., the Rev. A. J. Micklethwaite, Chaplain of the House of Mercy, Horbury, for Yorkshire; Mr. W. N. B. Vance Packman, for Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire. Mr. Packman, however, had to give up his work at the end of the six months' probation in consequence of an appointment which he received in Wales.

During the year 1,189 persons joined the Union, bringing up the total to 21,164. One new District Union and nine Local Branches were formed. Total--District Unions, 48; Branches, 292.

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