Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



ON July 30, 1886, a further application was made to Lord Penzance at York to enforce the new Decree of Suspension by significavit to the Court of Chancery, with a view to Mr. Bell Cox's imprisonment. The writ was decreed accordingly. The President and Council at once decided to apply to the Court of Queen's Bench for a writ of prohibition against Lord Penzance and Mr. Hakes, on the ground that his Lordship had not himself heard the case at York, but had received the documents in London,, and had sent his Judgment to be read by a Surrogate in York. On August 5 a rule nisi was granted by the Lord Chief Justice (Coleridge) and Mr. Justice Denman. On March 11, 1887, the arguments on the rule were heard in the Queen's Bench by Justices Matthew, Cave, and Smith, and the rule was discharged with costs. An appeal from this decision was lodged the next day, and was argued in the Court of Appeal before the Master of the Rolls (Esher) and Lords Justices Fry and Lopes on April 28, when the appeal was dismissed with costs. Thereupon Mr. Hakes obtained a writ of arrest, and Mr. Bell Cox, having been seized by the sheriff's officers, was lodged in Walton Gaol on May 5. After careful consideration by the Legal Committee, an application was made to the Court of Queen's Bench on May 16 for a writ of Habeas Corpus. A rule nisi was granted, and on May 20 the case was argued before the Lord Chief Justice (Coleridge) and Mr. Justice A. L. Smith, who made the rule absolute, and ordered Mr. Bell Cox's release upon the ground, among others, that Lord Penzance's second sentence of six months' suspension having expired on December 13, 1886, and not having been renewed, there was no contempt of court on Mr. Bell Cox's part existent or possible at the date of his arrest and imprisonment on May 5, 1887. Mr. Bell Cox was accordingly released from prison on May 21, 1887. On June 7 the Council received a letter from the Proctor, enclosing a formal notice from Mr. Girdlestone, the solicitor of Mr. Hakes, intimating that an appeal would be prosecuted to the Appellate Court from the recent decision of the Court of Queen's Bench for Mr. Bell Cox's release on the writ of Habeas Corpus.

In March, 1887, the following Lay Memorial to the Lord Chancellor, in the matter of the Divorce Court, was circulated for signature:--

The Divorce Court.

MY LORD,--It cannot have escaped your Lordship's notice that for many months lately the pages of the public press were filled with particulars of proceedings in the Divorce Court, and that details of a character which it is unnecessary to describe were forced upon the public out of doors and upon the inmates of every household in this country.

Your Memorialists, while admitting that something may be said for the publication, under proper control, of the facts of such cases as we allude to, of the names of offenders, and of the consequences and penalties which vice entails, wish, at the same time, to express their deliberate opinion that the publication of the whole of the evidence, and of the minute details of each case, serves no useful purpose, but, on the contrary, is corrupting and pernicious in the highest degree.

It suggests to young and innocent minds the possibilities of vice, it leads to a familiarity with such offences, which, by blunting the moral sense, tends directly to immorality, and it does much, as we believe, to counteract those efforts in the cause of purity and morality which are now being made by the religious bodies in the country.

Your Memorialists, while feeling strongly on the subject, have not ventured to suggest a remedy, but they would gladly see Her Majesty's Judges, in all these cases, use such powers as they may possess to regulate the hearing, and the time and manner of the publication, of these proceedings, and they hope that Parliament may be induced to provide whatever additional powers are necessary.

This Memorial is submitted with the prayer that your Lordship will take such steps as in your wisdom you may deem necessary to check so fruitful a source of corruption and immorality as that of which we complain.

The Rev. E. F. Herring, Vicar of St. John the Baptist's, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, having been subjected to an organized persecution at the hands of a section of the parishioners, with the concurrence and assistance of the churchwardens, the President and Council gave such help as lay in their power, and the steps taken were successful in putting an end to the interruptions caused by the illegal action of the (late) Churchwarden in extinguishing the altar lights during Divine Service.

At the First Ordinary Meeting at the Freemasons' Tavern on March 8, 1887, the following resolution was adopted:--

Proposed "Church House."

Moved by Mr. John Trevarthen, seconded by Mr. E. Woodward:--

That the Archbishops and Bishops and many of the Clergy and Laity having decided that the provision of a "Church House" would be a suitable memorial of the present year of Jubilee, and of great advantage in promoting the work of the Church in England, the E. C. U. is of opinion that the scheme is deserving of the consideration and sympathy of Churchmen.

Place for Meeting of Convocation.

Moved by Mr. James Parker, seconded by Dr. Allen:--

That this Meeting of the E. C. U. is of opinion that St. Paul's Cathedral is the fit place for the meeting of the Convocation as the Synod of the Province of Canterbury.

After debate, the discussion, in consequence of the lateness of the hour, and of the importance of the subject, was adjourned until April 28. It was not, however, resumed on that occasion.

It deserves record in this place that Archdeacon Denison suggested the idea of the Church House some years before it was adopted, and that the scheme was not carried out when first suggested, owing to the disfavour with which the Archdeacon, in consequence of his "opinions," was regarded in certain influential quarters.

At the Second Ordinary Meeting at the offices of the E. C. U. on April 28, the following resolution was adopted:--

The Increase of the Episcopate and Restoration of Diocesan Synods.

Moved by the Rev. G. Greenwood, seconded by Dr. Allen--That the Petition for the increase of the Episcopate and the Restoration of the Diocesan Synods, which has been prepared by the Council, and published in the C. U. G. for April, be adopted by the Union, and that copies be sent to the Officers of Local Branches of E. C. U., with a request that they will bring these two subjects before their Branches as soon as possible, and endeavour to get the Petition largely signed.

The Petition referred to was in the following terms:--

The humble Petition of the undersigned sheweth--That in the economy of the Church the diocese is the true parochia; all, clergy and laity alike, being under the Spiritual charge of the Bishop, to whom the care of every soul within his diocese is committed by God: and yet the fifteen Bishoprics which existed in England at the time of the Norman Conquest have only been increased to twenty-eight, although the population of this part of the United Kingdom has meanwhile risen from under two millions (as computed) to over twenty-four millions, as shown by the last census.

That the ignorance and indifference in regard to religion which have grown up in consequence among large numbers of our people, both in town and country, demand of the Church of England largely increased missionary effort at home, for which a corresponding increase in the number of her Bishops is necessary.

That Diocesan Synods, in which the Bishop took counsel with his Presbyters, and in concert with them provided for the spiritual needs of the diocese, are of most ancient use in the Church, and are enjoined by many Canons, and have been found to be an efficient means for the confirmation of the Faith, the correction of error, and the preservation of godly discipline among clergy and laity.

Your Petitioners, therefore, earnestly desire (1) such an increase in the number of dioceses and of the Episcopate as shall enable Confirmation and Episcopal Visitations to be held annually in all parishes throughout the Kingdom; and (2) the restoration of true Diocesan Synods.

Your Petitioners therefore pray your House to take such steps as in your wisdom may seem best to secure these blessings to the Church of England, that God's most Holy Name may thereby be glorified and the salvation of souls promoted.

At the same Meeting it was resolved:--Moved by the Rev. R. G. Kirkpatrick, seconded by the Rev. P. B. Simeon--

That the Memorial to the House of Laymen of the Province of Canterbury in regard to the increase of the Episcopate, copies of which are circulated in the room, be signed by the President on behalf of the Union.

This Memorial dealt at length with the history of the various dioceses from the time of the Conquest to the present day; pointed out how inadequate is the existing provision for the discharge of the Episcopal Office; urged the importance of additional provision being made; and concluded with the request "that, after such discussion as shall in your wisdom seem fit, you will be pleased to communicate the result of your deliberations to His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury."

The Third Ordinary Meeting--the first held out of London, under Rule 67--was held in the Pavilion, Brighton, on May 12, 1887, and was attended by a large and enthusiastic audience.

The following resolutions were adopted:--

I. The Claims of the E. C. U. on the support of Churchmen.

Moved by the Rev. Dr. Sanderson, of Lancing, seconded by the Hon. Mr. Justice Pinhey--

That the English Church Union--uniting as it does on a broad basis, in defence of the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church, and the rights and liberties of her members, clergy, and lay communicants, men and women, irrespective of differences of politics, rank, or station--has a strong claim on the support of Churchmen throughout the Kingdom by reason of its services in the past, its work at the present time, and the great need which there is for its continued existence.

II. The Imprisonment of Rev. J. Bell Cox.

Moved by Sir Walter Phillimore, seconded by Mr. Francis Barchard--

(1) That, as the efforts made by the Council of the Union to prevent, if possible, the imprisonment of Rev. J. Bell Cox for his conscientious refusal to obey the sentence of a secular court in Spiritual matters have now failed, this Meeting of the E. C. U. desires to convey to Mr. Bell Cox and to his congregation of St. Margaret's, Prince's Road, Liverpool, the expression of its warmest sympathy with them in the trials they have had to bear, and its admiration of the spirit in which they have borne them, and at the same time to assure both Mr. Bell Cox and his people that everything that the members of the Union, both in their corporate and their individual capacity, can do to help them in their present distress will certainly be done.

Moved by the Rev. Dr. Belcher, seconded by the Rev. C. Parnell--

(2) That this Meeting of the E. C. U., recognising the principle for which Mr. Bell Cox has been contending, and for his loyalty to which he is now suffering imprisonment, sees in that imprisonment a call to renewed and more vigorous efforts on the part of Churchmen to regain for the Church the free exercise of her right to decide finally for herself in all Spiritual causes.

The replies of Branches to the suggestions made by the Evangelization Committee were practically unanimous on all the following points, only three Branches dissenting from the last suggestion. The suggestions, thus approved, were as follows:--

1. That greater interest would be felt in the Union if it were generally understood that the objects of the E. C. U. included active work, and endeavours to promote the knowledge of the Faith as well as resistance to attacks thereon; and efforts to regain the free exercise of the Church's liberties where that has been lost, as well as to maintain it where it still remains.

With this view the Committee would suggest that an authoritative statement be put out by the President and Council for circulation, and preserved in some permanent form, explaining in detail some of the ways in which, from past experience, it has been found that the E. C. U. can actively "maintain the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England," and "promote the interests of Religion," and suggesting any further action of the like nature.

2. That, while it should be clearly understood that no one by belonging to the E. C. U. is under any obligation to undertake anything of the nature of parochial or mission work, in many cases individual members and associates might do much to assist the parochial clergy in their own neighbourhood, and in some case Local Branches, especially when they are practically confined to one parish, might help corporately by offering to support certain parochial institutions.

3. That it would be a great help to evangelization if the Council of E. C. U. would appoint a staff of thoroughly qualified lecturers, both clerical and lay, and arrange courses of lectures in the various Branches, whether for the setting forth of Catholic Doctrine, Discipline, and Ritual, or for the purpose of meeting infidelity and scepticism.

4. That the Council be requested to make it an instruction to the Publications Committee to extend the area at present covered by their publications, so as to include doctrinal and controversial tracts suitable for parochial distribution, and pamphlets relating to the Free and Open Church question.

5. That the Council of the E. C. U. might afford considerable assistance to the cause of evangelization by the creation of a "Home Mission Fund," with the object of making grants therefrom in support of mission churches and priests in poor places, and of other good works undertaken and promoted by the several Branches.

The Annual Meeting was held at Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, on June 16, 1887. In his address the President dealt with the allegation, freely made, that the Archbishop "only requested Mr. Mackonochie to resign." He said--

Mr. Mackonochie's resignation and the exchange with Mr. Suckling were not separate events, but parts of one whole, conceived in the interests of peace, approved as such by the Archbishop and the Bishop of London, and carried out with their concurrence.

The following address was adopted by acclamation, with three cheers for the Queen:--

To the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.

We, your Majesty's loyal and dutiful subjects, Members and Associates of the English Church Union, humbly desire to offer our hearty congratulations to your Majesty on the completion of the fiftieth year of your Majesty's reign. We desire to express our sense of the debt which the nation owes your Majesty for the example of a life devoted to duty, and for a period of good Government and prosperity unequalled in the history of the Empire.

In sorrow and in joy, your Majesty has had one great concern--the honour and welfare of your people, and on this happy occasion we, in common with the rest of your Majesty's subjects, can only endeavour to repay that care by this expression of our loyalty and affection for your Majesty's person and throne.

In times of trouble and danger the clergy and laity of the Church have known how to show their devotion to the Royal House of England, and to-day they rejoice to think that the fifty years of your Majesty's prosperous reign nearly coincide with that great revival of religion which has done so much to strengthen and transform this Church and nation, and which will always be accounted among the chief glories of your Majesty's reign.

The following resolutions were adopted:--

The Imprisonment of the Rev. J. Bell Cox.

Moved by Mr. C. H. Glascodiue, seconded by the Rev. B. W. Hoare, and supported by Mr. George A. Spottiswoode--


That, in view of the proceedings taken against the Rev. J. Bell Cox before Courts which have 110 spiritual authority, for his refusal to celebrate Holy Communion in accordance with the decisions of such Courts, contrary to the orders of the Book of Common Prayer, as received by Church and State alike, a Memorial be drawn up and circulated for presentation to the Archbishops and Bishops, assuring them of the determination of the Members of the Union to support the Spiritualty in maintaining the ancient ritual of the Church of England, and in vindicating the Church's inherent and constitutional right to decide freely on all matters affecting her spiritual interests.

Moved by the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Madagascar (Kestell-Cornish), seconded by Sir Walter Phillimore--


That the best thanks of the Union be accorded to the Rev. J. Bell Cox and the congregation of St. Margaret's, Liverpool, for their defence of the liberties and ritual of the Church of England.

During the year 1,755 persons joined the Union, bringing up the total to 22,017. Two new District Unions and ten Local Branches were formed. Total: District Unions, 53; Branches, 318.

Project Canterbury