HISTORY OF TITHES AND THE BARN
Of the Benedictine Priory, the Tithe Barn,the Dovecote, the former farmhouse, (now known as the Old Priory), and the Priory Gardens, (now called the Garden of Memory), still remain. It is not certain when the Tithe Barn was built but, in M J A Beacham's book "West Country Tithe Barns", we are told that the tithes of the De Mohun estates passed to the priory between 1090 and 1100.The Tithe Barn is referred to as being in existence in 1498 in Maxwell Lyte's " History of Dunster ", although on a 14th century map of Dunster, the priory buildings, the Dovecote and a large building on the site of the present Tithe Barn are shown.
The tithe, or payment in kind, of 10% of the annual produce in crops, livestock, orchards and gardens was an ancient custom in the Christian west following the Mosaic Law and is referred to in Deuteronomy:- "Set aside a tithe - a tenth of all that your fields produce each year being the tithe of all your crops and store it in your town". Tithes first came to England with St Augustine (d. 604) and by the end of the 10th century, tithe payments had become compulsory everywhere, and so, during the next four or five centuries, tithe barns were constructed to store the produce.
In the "Valor Ecclesiasticus" of 1535 the net annual income of the Dunster Tithe Barn is recorded as being £37.4.8d (£37 23p), with £6.13s7d ( £6.68p ) being passed on to the priory in Bath. This record of income must have been one of the last recorded as, in 1539 when the monasteries were dissolved, the Benedictine monks of Dunster were ejected having signed a Deed of Surrender along with the Prior, the Sub Prior and the other monks of the mother house at Bath.
A plan, circa 1775, of the priory buildings, above, clearly shows the Church, Dovecote, the Priory Gardens and the Tithe Barn which, at that time, incorporated three straw houses and a cart house.
By the end of the 18th century, tithes in some areas were paid by composition. Farmers would give their rector an agreed amount of land, or a straight cash payment in perpetual lieu of tithe. This led eventually to the Tithe Commutation Act 1836 which brought in a tithe rent charge based upon the price of grain. Anomalies and problems arose, particularly in times of depression and great inflation, until in 1996, the whole system finished, and over 1000 years of tithe payments came to an end.
Today, the Church, Dovecote and Priory Gardens are under the ownership and control of either the Church of England or the Parish of Dunster, whilst the Tithe Barn is owned by the Crown Estate Commissioners. Each is well maintained and open to the public with the exception of the Tithe Barn.