<< the CofE does not make any charges for a Baptism
----- Original Message -----
From: "Adrian Bruce" <>
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2012 7:23 PM
Subject: Re: [DEV] Baptism/Christening questions.
I suspect that may not always have been the case - I copied out a set
fees for my local church in Cheshire and in 1813-1840 register these are
the entries for baptisms ...
I've been curious about this question for some years and I have previously
raised it on one or two different mailing lists. My current understanding
(i) It is basically correct that no fees should be charged for conducting a
baptism or any other ecclesiastical sacrament. It had been prohibited under
canon law since mediaeval times (4th Lateran Council, 1215; reiterated at
Council of Oxford 1222). Much of this earlier legislation remained in force
in England even after the Henrician Reformation. Any clergyman who refused
to conduct a public baptism unless a fee was paid would have had no legal
means of enforcing his demands, and technically he would also have been in
breach of his canonical duties and hence be liable to suspension from office
by his ecclesiastical superiors (also by Canon Law 1604; and 68th and 70th
Canons of the Act of 52 George III., cap. 146).
(ii) Nevertheless in a relatively small number of places some clergy did
come to expect a fee in accordance with ancient local custom. Possibly this
might have evolved a bit like the later practice of tipping in a
restaurant - a small extra payment, originally intended as a gift, but which
gradually came by some to be expected as a matter of course - even though it
was not legally enforceable.
(iii) The Baptismal Fees Abolition Act was passed in 1872, under which no
fee can be charged for baptism notwithstanding any ancient custom to the
. Note that the
preamble to the act does not suggest that the custom was widespread, but
rather that it applied only to a relatively small number of parishes.
(iv) A telling anecdote relating to the late Bishop Wilberforce of
Winchester (died 1873; prominent in 19C debates on evolution, and often
nicknamed 'Soapy Sam') was published in 'The Times', 5 December 1885:
"Shortly before the death of the late Bishop Wilberforce, he was present in
our vestry on the occasion of a confirmation. He immediately glanced over
the table of fees, and on perceiving that a fee was charged for baptism, he
peremptorily ordered my vicar to erase it, and declared in stern tones that
to charge such a fee was 'downright and glaring simony'. I was present at
the time." Henry J West, Aldershot Vicarage, 2 December 1885."
(v) The register of Higham, Kent (to take just one possible example)
contains a list of parish fees (also known as "Surplice Fees"), inserted in
1787. It mentions a fee of 5s 0d for christenings taking place privately
"in houses". But (significantly?) there is no reference to any fee for
public baptisms in church - which would then have been the norm
So it seems to me that whilst baptismal fees were technically illegal, were
also unenforceable, and were not particularly widespread, one cannot
completely say that they were never ever charged. One should, however,
still make a definite distinction between this particular practice and the
provisions of the 1694 and 1783 Statutes, which concerned the registrations
If anyone can provide any corrections or further clarification I would be
interested to read additional comments.
I would agree that no attempt to draw a distinction between baptism and
christening (certainly during the last few centuries) has ever achieved any
very general recognition within the Church of England.