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several Parishes and Townships in England and Wales,—and the Preamble recites the expedience of inquiring into Charitable Donations, at the time when “ the Legislature are directing inquiries “ into the state and condition of the Poor."
In pursuance of this Act, The Committee who were appointed to inspect and consider the Returns so made,-and to report, from time to time, their Observations thereon to The House of Commons, and how far the Directions of the Act had, or had not, been complied with,on the 10th of June, 1788, informed The House,
That it appeared by a former Report, made under this Act, on the 23d of May, 1787, pursuant to an Order of The House, that out of nearly 13,000 Parishes and Townships in England and Wales (from which, Returns of Charitable Donations had been required) there were only Fourteen Parishes, which had made no such Returns ;
That The Committee who made that Report, after arranging the Returns which had been so made under the heads of the several Counties and Parishes to which they belonged, directed an Abstract to be made thereof with the utmost care and expedition,—but finding, upon inspection of the Abstract, that a great number of the Parishes and Townships had made defective Returns,-some, by not naming the Persons who gave the Charities,-others, by not naming the Trustees,others, by not describing whether the Donations were in Land or Money,--and others, by not describing the produce of the Money, Lands, or Rent-charges so given,- The Committee directed their Chairman to write Circular Letters to the Ministers and Churchwardens of all the Parishes and Townships wherein such omissions appeared, requiring them to send more perfect Returns;
That there were about 4,065 of those Circular Letters sent into different parts of the Kingdom
That Answers had since been received from about 3,376 of them, many of which had given the explanation required,—and many others had stated, that they could give no further information ;
That The Committee, in order to lay before The House all the information which they had so procured, had caused the matter contained in those SUPPLEMENTARY RETURNS to be inserted in the ABSTRACT, with Red Ink, that the House might distinguish what was acquired under the original Returns, and what since, in consequence of those Letters - And that The House might be enabled to form an idea of the magnitude of this object, The Committee caused the produce of the Charities, in Land and Money respectively, as far as the same could be collected from the Returns, to be cast up in each County, the particulars whereof were
thereunto annexed, by way of APPENDIX,-- by which it was shown, that the annual amount of the produce of the Money amounted to £ 48,243..10..5, and the annual produce of the Land amounted to £210,467..8..10, making together the annual sum of £258,710..19..3,And, from a variety of circumstances and intimations which had occurred, and been given to The Committee in the pursuit of those inquiries, they had great reason to believe that very considerable further sums would appear to have been given for the like Charitable purposes, whenever proper means could be found for investigating and completing those discoveries, by extending the inquiries to Corporations, Companies, and Societies of Men, as well as to Feoffees, Trustees, and other Persons ;
And the Committee thought it necessary to observe to the House, that, upon the face of the Returns, many of the Charitable Donations appeared to have been lost,--and that many others of them, from neglect of payment, and the inattention of those Persons who ought to superintend them, were in danger of being lost, or rendered very difficult to be recovered and that the matter seemed to be of such magnitude, as to call for the serious and speedy attention of Parliament, to amend and explain the said Act, by specifying with certainty and precision the objects to which they might think fit to direct their inquiries, in order to procure full and satisfactory Returns, and the establishment of such measures as might be effectual for the relief
of the Poor Persons who were the objects of those Donations, and for carrying the charitable and benevolent purposes of the Donors into execution.
The Act from which this Abstract originated, is usually styled 66 GILBERT's Act," from the name of the patriotic Member for Lichfield, by whose perseverance and wisdom this Legislative inquiry was obtained. But, although The Committee appear to have called the serious and speedy attention of Parliament to this important subject, yet the Abstract seems to have slumbered in Manuscript for Twenty-eight years in the archives of The House of Commons, either wholly forgotten or disregarded, until it was ordered to be printed, on the 26th of June, 1816.
In all measures of Public welfare the first attempts to obtain the benefit which may be desired, are often incomplete, and although much merit is due to the Compilers of this important Abstract, yet it is by no means a sure guide, as many Parishes are therein stated to have no Charitable foundations, which future inquiries have found to be incorrect,--while the information which is supplied, is too frequently far from accurate, and occasionally altogether erroneous. But, indeed, when the annual changes which take place in Parochial Officers, are considered, it will appear far more remarkable that these Returns are as correct as they are generally found, than that occasional errors should occur. And, upon the whole, they have been eminently serviceable in the Investigation of The Commissioners.
In the discharge of his Parliamentary duty Mr. GILBERT appears to have been actuated by a desire to improve the Poor Laws generally, and to have been most strenuous in his endeavours to accomplish a wish which he had much at heart, and in which The House had, in a very
laudable manner, interested itself during two Sessions. In expressing his sentiments, in 1787, he observed, that having employed much of his thoughts for a series of years about the Poor and the Poor