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For 450 years, the Sheffield Church Burgesses Trust has served Sheffield. Adapting to social change down the centuries, it is now a multi-purpose charity supporting the ministry of the Church of England; promoting educational opportunity; and assisting organisations working for the needy and the deprived and for the benefit of the community. It has made, and continues to make, a significant impact upon the life of the City. In particular, it makes major contributions to the running costs and upkeep of Sheffield Cathedral, for the building and improvement of churches and for the maintenance and extension of the work of the Church of England in Sheffield. The story of the Trust begins in 1297, when Thomas de Furnival, Lord of the Manor, granted to the freeholders of the town a charter whereby, in return for payment of rent of £3 8s. 9¼d. per annum, they were afforded important rights and privileges. During the ensuing 200 years, the value of the land and properties held by the ‘free tenants’ of Sheffield increased, and income from rentals, over and above that paid to the Lord of the Manor, was devoted to community purposes, especially for the work of the Parish Church. By the time of Henry VIII, when Sheffield was a thriving town of 2000 inhabitants, the town’s income from the ‘town’s lands’ had been augmented by voluntary contributions and bequests. By that time there was in place a rudimentary organisation for financing, with this income, activities essential to the community. These included maintenance of the parish church; payments to the poor and needy; contributions towards the maintenance of public highways and bridges. Most of the money was allocated to payment of the stipends of three Assistant Priests who served from the Parish Church.

Henry VIII had plundered the monasteries and abbeys. His son, Edward VI, inspired no doubt by the Lord Protector Somerset, turned to plunder of the Cathedrals and parish churches. Under the Act for the Suppression of Chantries, all land, property and any other benefits given to maintain priests or chantries devoted to saying masses for the dead were confiscated to the Crown. A Chantries Commission, which visited Sheffield in 1548, ruled that most of the town’s lands and other bequests, the income from which was largely devoted to stipends of the three assistant priests at the Parish Church, were to be confiscated. Protests from the inhabitants were of no avail and Sheffield lost its source of income for maintaining essential community services. But Sheffielders, then as now, do not give in easily, especially when able to say, with some justification, ‘ we was robbed’. As soon as Mary Tudor came to the throne, a Petition was presented by Robert Swyft and William Taylor, in the name of all the inhabitants of the parish of Sheffield, requesting the restoration to the town of the lands and the income therefrom. The Petition was successful and on 8 June 1554 Queen Mary, in her Royal Charter, restored the confiscated lands, placing them in the trust of a Corporate body with perpetual succession known as The Twelve Capital Burgesses and Commonalty of the Town and Parish of Sheffield in the County of York. The income from the lands was to be used for charitable purposes specified as:

a. Payment of the stipends of three priests assisting the Vicar of the Parish Church and of the costs of divine worship there.

b.Whatever is left over and above these stipends and costs shall be used towards:

i.The repair of the Parish Church.

ii.For repair of highways and bridges in the parish.

iii.For relief of the poor and needy inhabitants of the parish.

An immediate, and lasting, effect of the grant of the Charter was to divide the ‘town’s property’ into two. Lands and income therefrom which had been confiscated under the Chantries’ Act were granted to the newly formed Trust. Lands not confiscated were not granted to the Capital Burgesses, but continued to be administered by the freeholders of the town. The earliest accounts we have show that the income of the Capital Burgesses in 1557 was £30 5s. 5d. and that for the ‘Town’s Burgesses’ was £7 11s. 4d. in 1566. It was not until 1681 that arrangements were formalised for the administration of the income of the ‘Town’s Burgesses’ by the incorporation of what is now known as the Sheffield Town Trust, which remains a significant and active charity.

For centuries, the town’s affairs were administered through two bodies – the Twelve Capital Burgesses (having its priorities, but by no means all of its concerns, in maintenance of the Parish Church and its many activities) and the ‘Town’s Burgesses’ (later the Town Trust), concerned with ‘civic’ matters such as maintenance of roads and bridges, street lighting and the building and upkeep of a Town Hall.

The Church Burgesses are not a ‘church body’. Their full title of ‘The Twelve Capital Burgesses and Commonalty of Sheffield’ properly represents their origin and interests, with Trustees drawn from the freeholders of the town, caring for the needs of all its inhabitants. But from earliest times, in recognition of the prime responsibilities laid upon them in their Charter, their meetings are described as ‘church meetings’ and their estates and property are often (but quite erroneously) called ‘Church lands’. The title and description ‘Church Burgesses’ became accepted from the seventeenth century, with the term ‘Capital Burgess’, from 1673, being applied to the Chairman, for the time being, of the Trust, who traditionally holds office for one year. The Commonalty – the generality of the citizens of Sheffield – has never played any significant part in the affairs of the Trust. Public meetings of the Trust ceased at the end of the seventeenth century and the public has never been involved in the appointment of Trustees.

The Charter specifies that appointment shall be made by existing Trustees of “discreet, reputable and honest” men who are inhabitants of Sheffield. In 2003, the Charter was amended to allow the appointment of women.

For three hundred years, the original Charter served to govern the administration of the business of the Burgesses. During that period, the income of the Trust grew steadily, through prudent management and wise investment and, as Sheffield grew into a thriving nineteenth century industrial city, so did the Trust’s activities across the whole range of its responsibilities. But by the mid-nineteenth century, it was clear that the original Charter was no longer adequate and in 1854 a new Scheme was approved by the High Court of Chancery which, whilst faithfully reflecting the original purposes of the Charter, clarified and regulated the Trust’s affairs in keeping with greatly changed needs. It is this Scheme which still governs the affairs of the Trust today, although significant amendments have been made from time to time.

The Chancery Scheme took account especially of:

i.Changes in the old parish of Sheffield, in which new Churches were being established to cater for a rapidly growing population.

ii.The need to remove the anomaly whereby the Burgesses not only paid the stipends of the three curates at the Parish Church, but also appointed and employed them.

iii.The growth of secular needs, especially in education.

The new Scheme provided for grants to be made for stipends of clergy serving in new parishes formed out of the old Parish of Sheffield (there are now some forty such parishes) and made specific allocations to secular charitable activities and to education. In addition, to clarify (and limit) responsibilities for maintenance of highways and bridges, the Scheme specified that an annual token sum, not exceeding £20 was to be paid for such purposes.

Proportions of disposable income to be allocated to categories of expenditure are specified as: 71% for ecclesiastical purposes; 11% for general charitable purposes; and 18% for educational purposes. These proportions are derived from the patterns of expenditure of the Trust in the sixteenth century. The income devoted to educational purposes is now administered by the Church Burgesses Educational Foundation, constituted as a separate, independent Trust. Under these broad headings, the Trust today provides significant financial support for a wide range of activities:

1. Sheffield Cathedral (as the successor to the ancient Parish Church) receives grants for a substantial proportion of its annual running costs and for regular maintenance of the fabric of the building.

2. Anglican Church buildings in Sheffield benefit from Burgesses’ grants for new buildings and for major repairs and improvements. Recent beneficiaries of major grants have included: Sheffield Cathedral; Christ Church, Pitsmoor; St John, Park; St Polycarp, Malin Bridge; St Mary, Bramall Lane; St Leonard, Norwood; St Aidan, Manor; All Saints’, Ecclesall; St Luke, Lodge Moor; St Margaret and St Thomas, Brightside with Wincobank; Christ Church, Wadsley; St Andrew, Psalter Lane; Christ Church, Hackenthorpe; St Gabriel, Greystones; St Matthew, Carver Street; St Hilda, Shiregreen; St Peter, Greenhill. The Trust serves as Patron (viz. they have the right to present a new Incumbent for appointment to a parish) in fourteen parishes in Sheffield. The Trust is also Patron (acting alternately with the Simeon’s Trustees) of the Cathedral benefice, and so have a direct involvement in the appointment of the Dean of Sheffield. For the Burgesses, patronage is a responsibility which goes well beyond participation in the appointment of a new Vicar; they maintain a supportive role for Vicar and parish which is appreciated and valued.

3. The Trust supports the ministry of the Church of England in the Deaneries of Attercliffe, Ecclesfield, Ecclesall and Hallam, covering over 60 parishes. Grants are made towards clergy stipends, salaries of parish workers, youth workers, support staff and others and for young people’s activities.

4. Whilst there is no longer any direct payment to ‘the poor of the Parish’, the Burgesses support other charitable organisation working directly with and for those in need. Almost a hundred such organisations receive regular or occasional grants.

5. The educational work of the Church Burgesses continues the tradition which goes back to the earliest years of the Trust. Before the advent of State education, the Burgesses were active in supporting the Grammar School, the Boys’ and Girls’ Charity Schools and the Free Writing School and they assisted the development of Sunday Schools. Regular annual grants 3 are now made to Church of England Schools in Sheffield and individual grants to many young people. The Church Burgesses Educational Foundation is especially active in supporting young people of promise in music and the arts, and through bursaries and instrumental grants have done much to encourage and enliven choral and orchestral initiatives. Youth organisations in the City also receive generous support.

The income of the Trust is still derived, to a considerable extent, from land and property. Urban development in the nineteenth century was the key to the growth of the Burgesses’ assets, and they made a not inconsiderable mark upon the growth of the City. They were pioneers in imposing good order and high standards in the town’s development; they were forerunners of sensible, regulated town planning.

The story of the Church Burgesses Trust down the centuries is one of active involvement in the affairs of Sheffield. They had their origin in meeting the social and spiritual needs of the whole town. Four hundred and fifty years ago their resources could hardly be said to match the task; today, whatever the resources, the task would be impossible. Yet the Church Burgesses have made, and continue to make, an impact that is significant and lasting. Their contribution to the Established Church is a major resource for maintenance and development of the Church’s ministry; their charitable and educational work encourages new developments and initiatives which enrich and bring hope to individuals and communities.

The records of the Trust provide fascinating glimpses of growth and change as a Tudor town of two thousand inhabitants grew to a modern industrial City of half a million. The original Charter and Account Books of the Trust (which are complete from 1557) are kept in the Sheffield City Archives. Minute Books and proceedings of the Trust start in 1798 and are also in the City Archives. The Election Book, kept by the Law Clerk to the Trust, has been in use since 1653. It records the election of each Burgess and is still used for that purpose. It served as a Minute Book until 1798 and also records the appointment of Assistant Ministers of the Parish Church. Some brief extracts from these records indicate aspects of the work of the Burgesses.

The first set of Accounts, for 1557, shows income from rents was £30 5s. 5d. The pattern of expenditure for that year reflects the major responsibility of the Burgesses for the upkeep of the Parish Church. The stipends of the three Assistant Ministers are listed:

Alexander Booth, for his whole year’s wages ended on Whit Sunday last: £6 13s. 4d. Richard Bewecke: £5 0s. 0d. William Hanbe: £5 0s. 0d. Wages of the Parish Clerk, Edward Pavie: 13s. 4d.

There are a number of maintenance items: Delivered to Thomas Clayton and others his fellow Churchwardens for the Church needs for iron to make a Church Gate withall: 15s. 9d. To Churchwardens for Church Roods: 7s. 6d. Richard Carr for great bell clapper: 1s. 0d. Bells – four days work: 4s. 0d. Clock Repair: 1s. 6d. Painted cloth: 8d. (this would be for draping the Easter Sepulchre) To Churchwardens on account: 18s. 0d. (For requisites for worship, notably the bread and wine for Communion)

1559: For setting up the Resurrection: 1s. 10d. For nails they had at the Resurrection: 3d. For ale at the mending of the Bells and for the resurrection: 11d.

In 1565, we have: Payment for pointing the Church Steeple and Battlements: £10 0s. 0d. For felling and hewing 3 loads of timber that was gotten in Our Lady’s Spring, to make ladders for the Church and for leading the same, with ale: 3s. 1d. For eggs and gathering blood for mortar: 12d. Paid to William Goodroyd of Derby for his pains for coming to look on our Church, to have whitelimed it, and to have set on the Scripture; towards his charges for money 16d. and for his dinner: 4d. Paid to Robert Hobson and his man for 3 days for working and making the forms for the children to sit on: 6s. 9d.

Payments for books for worship and instruction frequently appear in the Accounts:

1564: For the second part of the Homilies: 5s. 0d. To Robert Spooner for his costs to Doncaster for the Book of Homilies: 10d.

1570: For carrying the Communion Book from London: 4d. For 4 Song Books of Genevan Psalms 3s. 0d. We first read of supplies for Communion in 1574, when 4d. was paid for ‘A Quart of Wine for Communion on Whit Sunday’.

In the eighteenth century supplies of wine were regularly given to clergy:

1709: Ordered that The Vicar have a bottle of sack at Easter and Whitsuntide and Christmas and a bottle of wine every Sacrament Day.

1711: Paid Mrs. Pegg for wine when the Bishop was here, viz. 3 gallons red wine £1; 6 quarts of Canary 15s.; 3 gallons of sherry £1 8s.; 3 gallons of white wine £1 The first entry of payments to the poor and needy appears in 1568 when £1 6s. was given to the poor inhabitants of Sheffield, with the names of 59 recipients being listed.

And in 1570: For poor Robert Crook and Margt. Bright being poor people: 3s. 4d. For cloth to set poor Lancelot daughter to service in London: 5s. Given to the poor of the Town and Parish of Sheffield: £3 10s. 0d. For the charge of Anthony Hibbert and his wife, keeping in their home for one month for fear of the plague: £1 7s. 11d. Paid for keeping of Hoole wife suspected of the plague: 4s.

1573: To Robert Crosby daughter at her setting forth into the Country: 2s. To Harry Steel when he laid sick at sundry times: 2s. 4d. To the setting forth of two children to London: 5s.

Community needs have been met:

1740: Last Winter the Accountant gave to the poor and indigent persons of the town and parish of Sheffield by order of the Burgesses on account of the Badness of trade and extreme severity of the season: £30 0s. 0d.

1795: Paid the poor of several districts in consideration of the inclemency of the season: £99 10s. 0d.

From 1824 until 1854, payments were made annually for outfits for 36 poor people, each person receiving in addition a cash gift of £1.

From the late eighteenth century until 1953 regular annual payments were made to hospitals.

From earliest times the Burgesses supported education, the first references appearing in the Accounts for 1567:

Paid to Mr. Yonge the schoolmaster for his wages at Christmas: 11s. 8d. Paid also to the said schoolmaster at Our Lady’s Day: 13s. 1d. Paid also to the schoolmaster for making up his wages: 13s. 4d.

1568: Given to Mr. Yonge for the obtaining of a Licence to keep the School: 10s. To poor scholars: 3d.

And in 1573 there is evidence of a grant for University education: Given to William Lee a poor scholar in Sheffield towards setting him to the University of Cambridge and buying him books and other furniture: 13s. 4d.

After the foundation of the King James Grammar School in 1604 the Burgesses continued to make payments for maintenance of the building:

1604: For repairing of the Church House wherein the Scholars are taught: 5s. 8d.

1605: To John Belfield for repairing of the schoolhouse: 12d. Paid towards the charges of the free school until such time as it can be collected in the town and parish and be repaid again: £3

1606: Paid for making a seat for the schoolmaster and for nails: 4d.

When a new Grammar School building was erected in 1648, the Burgesses gave the land at a nominal rent of 1s. 0d.

Joseph Hunter, in his History of Hallamshire, writing in 1819, gives a measured tribute to the Church Burgesses: ‘To the credit of the body, and to the honour of the individuals in whose hands this trust, so important to the best interests of the inhabitants of Sheffield, has been placed, let it be observed, that it has been uniformly administered with a due regard to the benefit of those for whom they were placed in trust. Unlike other small corporate bodies, at whose disposal church-preferment has been placed, here no private inclination, no personal or family interest, has intruded to divert them from paying an honourable and Christian-like regard to the interest of that part of the Church of Christ for which they are intrusted. They seem to have resisted the temptation before which many might have fallen of regarding trustee property in the light of private property, and of administering it not so much for the benefit of those for whom they are placed in trust as for their own.’

The Future

The Trust sees itself, not only as a significant supporter of services for Church and people in Sheffield, but as a catalyst and stimulus for new initiatives to meet change. Within the Church of England, there is a need to maintain and strengthen existing patterns of ministry, but new patterns and new provision is needed, not least in inner-city areas and to meet the needs of the young and mobile. The welfare state is dependent, increasingly, upon a vigorous voluntary sector and the Trust will continue to encourage new initiatives that bring hope and new opportunities for individuals and communities. In education, individuals and families in need do not lessen and resources are needed to improve provision for the under-privileged and for individuals and groups who find themselves poorly served by existing provision.

To enable needs to be met the Trust must maintain and enhance the value of its assets so that future generations can continue to benefit from its work.

The Church Burgesses are conscious of the weight of tradition inevitable in an ancient institution, but have been ready to respond to changing circumstances and social needs. Their prayer (written by Canon Christopher Smith and used at all Trust meetings) acknowledges the strength of past tradition, but demonstrate an acceptance of the need to respond, with God’s help, to current and future needs: ‘Almighty God, whose kindness and mercy provided for those who have gone before us, accept our thanksgiving for the historic trust given by Mary Tudor, Queen of this realm, to the Church Burgesses of Sheffield; Grant to us, who inherit these responsibilities, wisdom and dedication in carrying out our duties, so that all may be done to the glory of God and for the benefit of your Church and Kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen’.

For a fuller account of the history of the Trust reference should be made to ‘We, Of Our Bounty’, (A History of the Sheffield Church Burgesses Trust), By George Tolley, 1999.

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