19th Century Finance Records

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This month’s choice is a selection of finance reports from the 19th century. They are largely finance committee reports from the early days of our organisation in South Place, Finsbury (1824-1929), and when the society went under a few different names, such as  Finsbury Unitarian Chapel, South Place Chapel  as well as South Place Institute.  The different reports here were created during the period when William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) was Minister of the congregation (1817-1852)

Although some may consider finance reports not that sexy, they are a fascinating historical resource because they can provide insight into the salaries of employees, what the society spent money on, such as candles, gas and wine, as well as the financial state of the chapel. Reports like this can occasionally hint at concurrent historical events that may have had an impact on the society, whether large or small, as is hinted at in these records. They are also fascinating as they include names and signatures of people from over a century ago who were involved in the society. Lastly, these reports are also wonderful documents to examine because of their beautiful cursive handwriting which sadly seems to have disappeared by the 21st century.

SPES/2/1/3/12 - Current expenses account for Finsbury Unitarian Chapel from January 1 to December 31, 1830
SPES/2/1/3/12 – Current expenses account for Finsbury Unitarian Chapel from January 1 to December 31, 1830

The document above lists expenses for Finsbury Unitarian Chapel. Some of the expenses detailed include the costs of repairing the clock, for buying candles and coal, the salary paid to the clerk, as well as the purchase of wine for the sacrament, thus reminding us that back in 1830 the society was still a Christian organisation. Interestingly, one of the costs for the year was that for “mourning for [King] George the fourth” who died that year, but it is unknown what this entailed, or even why it was crossed out on the document.

SPES/2/1/3/8 - Auditor's Report for Finsbury Unitarian Chapel, 1833
SPES/2/1/3/8 – Auditor’s Report for Finsbury Unitarian Chapel, 1833

These somewhat dry finance reports can sometimes give us glimpses into what was occurring in the outside world. In this document from 1832, an unexpected expense for that year was the cost of repairing the chapel after the chimney blew down during a bad storm “and which seriously injured the roof”.

The following document is a  Sub-Committee report from South Place Chapel presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Congregation in 1837.

SPES/1/2/45/6 - Report of the Sub-Committee of South Place Chapel, Finsbury, 1837
SPES/1/2/45/6 – Report of the Sub-Committee of South Place Chapel, Finsbury, 1837

The report lists a few objections that have been raised by the Congregation, including that of the pew openers [ushers] performing their duties “in an inefficient manner”. Another complaint is that of strangers occupying the pews during a service without paying for them resulting in some “incivilities”. [Up until the 1880’s the pews in the chapel were rented out by subscription and was one of the chapel’s main sources of income]

The final document continues with the theme of seat rents and is a draft of a seat plan chart listing differing amounts for the rental of seats according to where they were located in the chapel.

SPES/2/1/3/31 - Scale of proposed charges for seat rents, c.1831
SPES/2/1/3/31 – Scale of proposed charges for seat rents, c.1831

 

 

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