Religious Census in Britain


A rather significant event in the Victorian era. It was the only attempt to assess the state of the Christian faith during the period. It was tabulated by Horace Mann and was published in 1854. It key aim was described at the time as being discovering:

"How far the means of Religious Instruction provided in Great Britain during the last fifty years have kept pace with the population during the same period, and to what extent these means are adequate to meet the spiritual wants of the increased population of 1851."
Many such as Samuel Wilberforce (the Bishop of Oxford) felt the information would be inaccurate and hence urged churches not to respond. Mann estimated 90% of the Anglican Clergy filled in the returns themselves. One should note that the returns from Scotland were not so useful since far more failed to respond. There was huge controversy when the figures were published. They showed that Dissenters (people of Protestant churches other than the Anglican Church) provided half of the church accomodation in England and Wales. Further it showed that the best attended Dissenter services had more worshippers than the best attended Anglican ones. This was a major shock to many and although many had suspected such it caused massive debate.

The Details

There were many problems with the census as it was taken on a single day and do those who attended once a month or week were not accounted for properly. So Mann doubled the figures for Anglicans and Roman Catholics and increased non-conformists by 2/3s. Yes it's not the most accurate way of doing things! Many things were revealed. The success of the Anglican Church in Lancashire for post 1831. Attendence in the countryside was higher than in towns. It revealed that in Scotland the Free Church which had been formed as a splinter group in 1843 had twice as many worshippers in their evening service than had the Established Church.


Mann said:

It must be apparent that a sadly formidable portion of the English people are habitual neglecters of the public ordinances of religion".
It showed that Industrialisation and Urbanisation were important factors which affected the Christian faith and which had not yet been properly addressed. Hence as a result missionary work within Britain was expanded although it had already been on the increase. It was also profoundly important in showing the failure of the Anglican faith to recover its position that it had lost in the 18th century. That is it being the dominant Church that had the vast majority of the country within its fold.

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