22nd May 1828. Decline and Fall of the ‘Church Brief’.
‘Church Briefs’ were originally Papal Bulls for funds to support The Crusades and church re-building, being printed and distributed to be read during the Mass.
After the Reformation ‘Briefs’ were authorized by the Privy Council, after 1660 by the Lord Chancellor, and consisted of letters from Civil or Ecclesiastical authorities, but now commending appeals for many causes.
In later centuries the growth in insurance and bodies such as The Incorporated Church Building Society, now provided other means of raising funds and ‘briefs’ ceased in 1828 after Mr Secretary [Robert] Peel begged leave Today to introduce a bill for their abolition.(1)
From now on churches and cathedrals such as York, which was the victim of fires and subsidence in the 19thc, relied on insurance or personal benefactions.
Briefs abounded up to the 17thc: in 200 years over 2,000 were issued to churches, resulting from application to the Monarch to authorise an appeal by Letters Patent, under the Great Seal.
Inevitably as now with appeals to our generosity, ‘compassion fatigue’ set in, so when in June 1661, fire-loss briefs had been read on fourteen successive Sundays in St. Olave’s, Hart Street, London, the diarist Samuel Pepys wrote: ‘We resolved to give no more to them’.(2)
Traditionally consent was read out in church and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) instructed when in the church service the Brief was to be read. Then the Wardens on collecting would shout, ‘please remember the brief’; sometimes house to house collections were authorized.
Apart from church repairs, in the 17thc Briefs were widened to include wives and families of those held captive by Turks and Barbary Pirates, storm and disaster damage and protection of French Protestants, collections to be given to the Bishop on his next inspection.(3)
However in the late 18thc amounts declined, there were complaints about Court of Chancery costs, high collection fees, fraud and delays in payment. Time for reform! (4)
(1) One of the instigators was Lord Shaftesbury.
Hansard date 22.5.1828. The Act of Anne, which had authorised collections, was to be repealed. (1828 Act 9 Geo IV c28).
(2) Diary 30th June 1661.
(3) Hard as it is to understand today British coastal areas were raided and the people carried off to slavery.
(4) Application for ‘Briefs’ was open to abuse, forgery of Letters Patent and corruption which an Act of Anne attempted to rectify (4 Anne C14) entituled(sic) ‘An Act for the better collecting charity money on briefs by Letters Patent and preventing abuses’.
Costs included Letters Patent, Salaries of District Inspector, one example discovered by Parliament found of £549 collected, £124 went to the church.
The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1777 reproduced a bill which quoted amounts such as Letters Patent 21/18/2d, King’s Printer & Paper £16, Undertaker’s (Collector) Salary, 9986 Briefs at 6d, £249/13s: total charges £336/16/6d.
The oldest collection of Briefs is to be found at Bunbury, Cheshire, of volumes of Church Warden Accounts 1655-1709, beginning on Aprill (sic) 16, 1665.
They show the regularity of the appeals and the wide range of beneficiaries throughout a wide area.
Ref: Gentleman’s Magazine.books.google.co.uk.