Today, the catalogue of the papers of the Secretary to the Church Commissioners opens, and from it emerges a vivid picture of the Church adapting to the challenges of a post-War world. The papers cover the range of the Commissioners’ activities from their creation in 1948 to the 1980s: addressing the conditions of the clergy, interacting with other religious or government bodies and transforming the way the central Church worked. What pervades the material, however, is the Commissioners’ desire to go beyond the Church to contribute to building a better society after the destruction of the Second World War.
‘A Pair of Rural Cottages’, 1946 (CC/SEC/EST/AGR/2)
A key way to influence wider society was through the management of the Commissioners’ assets, and property development was a particularly useful tool in this respect. The Commissioners’ substantial South London estates feature heavily in this archive as the aftermath of the second world war offered an opportunity for major redevelopment: discussion of the location of the public house on new estates, accessibility of accommodation for the elderly and the rules governing Sunday play on sports fields owned by the Commissioners all reflect a desire to build lasting communities that would nurture the moral character of society.
Beyond the cities, the Commissioners wrestled with bringing agricultural estates back into profitability after energy was diverted to the war effort. The difficulties facing the sector posed by shortages of material are evident in the records but, undeterred, the Commissioners drew up plans to build 600 farm cottages on their northern estates in the late 1940s and an architectural plan for the model dwellings survives in the archive. The management of forestry in particular comes through very strongly in the records, down to listing the species of tree proposed for each estate and a reflection that “it was not desirable in Durham to attempt afforestation near colliery districts because of trespass and the fact that young trees disappeared in a wholesale way at Christmas. No suitable variety of tree was immune from this raiding.” (January 1944, CC/SEC/EST/AGR/1).
Any new ventures needed to be resourced and efficiently run. The Secretary’s papers reveal the Commissioners’ growing confidence in embracing the stock market as they controversially relinquished much of their traditional land assets in favour of stock exchange securities in the 1950s. Revenue generation was one way to resource the church, but establishment expenditure also needed to be scrutinised. The need to improve office efficiency reoccurs throughout the papers right from the creation of the Church Commissioners to the questions of computerisation in the 1980s.
The archive of the Secretary to the Church Commissioners continues the story of this central Church body from the work of its two predecessors who were amalgamated to create it: the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne’s Bounty. The archive is held at the Church of England Record Centre and the catalogue can be searched via Lambeth Palace Library’s website by entering CC/SEC in the OrderNo box. http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/CalmView/