The Cathedral finances have always been a matter of concern for the Cathedral Board and clergy. As well as the collections taken at the various services, a system of regular contributions or subscriptions was in place – the Victorian equivalent to a standing order or direct debit mandate. In most cases a collector would visit parishioners to persuade them to subscribe to, and to collect for, one or more of several good causes, although there could be a separate collector for each good cause. The amounts collected were faithfully recorded in the collectors’ books and once a year the results of the various subscriptions were published in the Monthly Paper giving full details of how much each member of the congregation contributed in the previous year to each of the good causes, only a few seemed to have contributed anonymously.
The most important subscription was to the Clergy Fund and in 1890 there were 23 collectors who visited 381 subscribers and collected a total of £573 16s 1d which is roughly equivalent to £78,000 today. This was a reduction on the previous year which no doubt led to the following appeal in the February 1891 Monthly Paper. “The Cathedral congregation is not a wealthy one, but it is numerous. There are perhaps few who can give largely, but there are many who could give a little. The diminution in the total sum collected, points to a want of interest on the part of those who can give more than the smallest sums. We ought not to depend to such an extent as we now do, upon a few large subscriptions.”
Sadly this appeal was not that successful as only £542 13s 10d was collected in 1891. The level of subscription to this fund never really recovered throughout the rest of the Victorian period although by 1901 it had improved to £555 9s 1d.
The use of subscription books was not confined to the Cathedral; an article published in January 1887 tells us that in Edinburgh there were between 80 and 90 of these books. The article also gave the following advice. “As it is impossible to give to all, we would claim for the members of our own congregation their first care for the books sent out by authority from their own Church. The collecting books sent round from the Cathedral are for the following objects: – Clergy Fund, Home Missions, Education Fund, Foreign Missions, Cathedral Parochial Missions.”
The five funds mentioned above averaged annually £555 for the Clergy Fund, £155 for Home Missions, £58 for the Education Fund, £180 for Foreign Missions and £197 for the Cathedral Parochial Missions. In addition the Aged & Infirm Clergy Fund, which started in 1891, brought in £48 a year.
Within three years of opening, the Cathedral was in serious debt and an article printed in the June 1882 Monthly Paper reminded readers of a sermon preached by the Dean on 14th May in which he set out the stark realities of the financial situation. The figures printed in the magazine show that the Cathedral was £700 in debt [roughly £89,600 today] and that the weekly offerings, averaging £26, were well below the required amount of £40. It was made clear that if matters did not improve, there was a possibility that the choir would have to be reduced and daily services cease.
The offertory on the 14th May was almost £40 but it fell the following Sunday to £32.
Matters did improve and the November 1883 Monthly Paper reported that the debt had reduced to less than £200 and it was felt that this would soon be reduced altogether as this extract shows. “It is thought that by a liberal offertory on one Sunday, this small debt can be entirely cleared off. When we see how easily £30 is given on a Sunday (so few half-crowns and florins, etc.), we need not think it difficult to raise £150 or £200. The object is good, and if we only do what we can, we know we shall succeed, and then we shall be free from debt altogether.”
However, the good news did not last long, there was a further warning article in February 1887 and then by February 1890 the debt had grown to £320 [about £43,700 in today’s terms] which was blamed on a “falling off in the weekly offertories – or in other words to the congregation contributing less liberally than before to the ordinary appeal for defraying the expenses for maintaining the Cathedral and its services. This surely ought not to be – nor need not be. It cannot be said that the congregation is overtaxed. When two or three years ago the Cathedral funds were in a worse state than they now are, an appeal to the congregation cleared off the debt, and for a time raised the income to the necessary point. But it has fallen back again. What we ask for is not a spasmodic effort, but that each should consider how great must be the expenses of attending such a Church and such services, and should give steadily and systematically, according to their means, as an offering to God.”
There was a £51 deficit for the financial year ending 30th November 1901, which was covered by an anonymous donor. However, the February 1902 magazine made clear that the weekly offerings “should never fall below £35 if the services of the Cathedral are to be maintained free of debt.” The average weekly offerings for January were £25.