A Tithe, from the Old English teogoþa “tenth”) is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. Local peasants had to pay tithes to the Church in the form of money or goods. As most peasants were extremely poor, generally the tithes were paid as 10% of anything grown, made, husbanded (bred) or produced. Once collected, produce was stored in a tithe barn such as the one on the museum site.
The right to receive tithes was granted to the English churches by King Ethelwulf in 855, and farmers in England were still paying tithes in the 1930s. During this period the tithe system brought ruin to thousands of small farming families, already in the depths of agricultural depression, and opened a bitter and lasting gulf between rural parishes and their clergy. The resulting protest and revolt has become known as the Tithe Wars, and East Anglia became the centre of resistance to this medieval tax. The most famous incident took place in 1934 at Wortham, Norfolk, where a confrontation took place at the rectory between the police, fascist blackshirts and landowners who refused to pay their tithes. These events were dramatised by Ipswich-based theatre company Eastern Angles in the play “Tithe War”.