1902 Encyclopedia > England > Religion and Education.

(Part 11)


Part 11. Religion and Education.

There is a singular want of authentic religious statistics in England. While in nearly all other European countries the number of the population adhering to various creeds is carefully ascertained at the periodical census takings, or at other times, this has never been done in England, except in a cursory manner. At the census of March 31,1851, an enumeration took place of the number of places of worship in England and Wales, and the attendance of persons therein on the preceding day, a Sunday; but the information thus obtained, though valuable in some respects, was not of the kind to allow accurate conclusions concerning the strength of the various religious bodies, it being well known that the attendance in churches and chapels comprises many persons outside the creed to which they adhere. The returns of the census of March 1851 were as follows:—


The total population of England and Wales at the census of March 31, 1851, was 17,927,609, so that the church attendance registered comprises little more than one-third of the population.

In the absence of other official reports, the best existing means of ascertaining the numbers of the various creeds are in the returns of the registrar-general of births, deaths, and marriages. Since the year 1836, when, during Lord Melbourne’s administration, an Act was passed granting all dissenters from the state church the right to go through the ceremony of marriage in their own churches and chapels—a right of which they had been deprived from 1754, for a period of 82 years—strict accounts were kept of the creeds of all persons marrying, and from these tolerably accurate conclusions may be drawn regarding the respective numbers, if not of all the sects and denominations, at least of the two great divisions of the population, churchmen and nonconformists. A careful analysis of the marriage returns for the forty years from 1837 to the end of 1876 makes it apparent that the number of nonconformists is steadily increasing, and that, although the great majority of the population still adhere to the Church of England, the probability seems that it will be otherwise in the course of one or two generations.

Dissenters.—From an enumeration made in the year 1699, and believed to be quite trustworthy, it appears that at that time the total number of Protestant dissenters from the Church of England was not more than 214,000, being 4·18 per cent. of the population. There are no returns for about a century and a half after this date form which an estimate can be drawn respecting the number of dissenters, the first new basis for them not offering itself till the passing of the Marriage Act of 1836. In 1845, when the Act had been well carried out, the number of Protestant dissenters in England and Wales was calculated at 1,351,000, being 8·08 per cent. of the population. This was no great increase form 1699, when the percentage was 4·18, but the rise of dissent became more marked henceforth. In 1851 the number of Protestant dissenters was estimated at 1,958,000, or 10·89 per cent of the population; and the years after, in 1861, the total number was calculated to have increased to 3,090,000, being 15·36 per cent. of the population. There was an estimated further increase to3,686,000, or dissenters at the end of 1866; while the last calculations going down to the end of 1876, make it probable that at this date the number had risen to 4,500,000 being not far from 20 per cent. of the population. According to the most reliable estimates, the dissenters did not constitute the majority of the population in the year 1876 in any part of England, but they possessed it in Wales. Next of Wales, the greatest number of dissenters were in Monmouthshire, Cumberland, Cornwall and Devon, Durham, and Yorkshire, in all which constituted more than a third of the population. On the other hand, the dissenters were in a small minority in nearly all the southern counties of England, notably in Middlesex, Kent, and Sussex. In the metropolis itself, the Protestant dissenters were estimated to from about 10 per cent. to the population.

Under the Act of 1836, the registrar-general has to keep a list of all the churches and chapels of the various dissenting religious denominations wishing to be "licensed" fro the celebration of marriages. The number so entered was , according to the "Thirty-Eight Annual Report of the Registrar-General" issued in 1877, no less than 122. The following was the reported list of denominations:—


The total number of "licensed" churches and chapels belonging to Protestant and other dissenters from the established church was 20,480 on the 31st December 1875. The number had fallen to 19,486 on the 31st October 1877.

The numerically most important body of Protestant dissenters is that of Wesleyan Methodists, founded in 1739 by the Rev. John Wesley, clergyman of the Church of England. Subsequently to his death, in 1791, the community split into various subdivisions, of which 13 are enumerated in the preceding list. The largest of these, known simply as Methodists, or Wesleyan Methodists, had on its roll 402,437 members at the end of 1876; and the next largest, the Primitive Methodists, 181,081 members. Of more or less importance, among the other bodies of Protestant dissenters, are the Baptists, split into nearly as many divisions as the Wesleyan Methodists; the Independents, also known as Congregationists; the Unitarians; and the Moravians. No authentic returns exist regarding the number of persons adhering to any of the minor Protestant creeds reported by the registrar-general as existing in England and Wales.

More numerous than any single body of Protestant dissenters is that of Roman Catholics in England. It is stated by Hallam that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Roman Catholics numbered one-third of the entire population; but the effect of the many repressive laws enacted against them was that at the end of the 17th century, when the already referred to religious census of 1699 was taken, the total number was only 27,696, being barely one-half per cent. of the population. It was estimated that the number of Roman Catholic in England had increased to 68,000 in 1767, being about 1 per cent. of the population, and that it stood at 69,400 in 1780, being less than 1 per cent. On the basis of the marriage returns of the registrar-general, the estimated number of Roman catholic in England and Wales was 284,300 in 1845, or 1·70 per cent. of the population; but within the next six years, when there was a large immigration of Irish, the numbers rapidly rose, and at the end of 1851 the total number of Roman Catholics was calculated at 758,800, being 4·22 of the population. The numbers kept rising till 1854, when there were estimated to be 916,600 Roman Catholics in England and Wales, being there was a fall after this year, if not numbers yet in percentage. The calculated number was 927,500, or 4·61 per cent., in 1861, and 982,000, or 4·62 per cent., in 1866. It is estimated that in the middle of 1877 the number of Roman Catholics in England and Wales had barely reached one million, being a less percentage than in 1866, and that about one-half the number comprised natives of Ireland, with their families. It would thus seem that Roman Catholicism had not been progressive in England for about increased very greatly during this period, owing mainly to the secession of many rich persons, of both sexes, to the church, which led to a vast increase of Roman Catholic places of worship. They numbered 616 in 1853, had risen to 1095 at the end of 1877, with a clergy of 1892. The government of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is under 12 bishops ruling dioceses, and 1 archbishop, head of the "province of Westminster."

The Established Church of England, to which adhere the majority of the population—the estimated number of members being 13 _ millions in the middle of 1877, leaving about 11 millions to all other creeds—was governed at the end of 1877, by 2 archbishops and 28 bishops, the former at the head of two provinces, and the latter of as many Episcopal sees. There were as many as 21 bishoprics at the beginning of the 18th century, which number was thought insufficient at the time, for the Venerable Bede, some years before his death, in 735, exhorted King Egbert to increase the sees by converting many monasteries into cathedrals. However, the advice was not followed; and at the period of the Conquest the number of sees was still 21. During the centuries that elapsed till the Reformation, while the population increased from 1 _ to 4 millions of souls, only two new bishoprics were formed, namely, that of Ely in 1109, and that of Carlisle in 1133. In the reign of Henry VIII. It was proposed to establish 20 new dioceses, but only 6 came to be formed, one of which, that of Westminster, had no long existence. Three centuries again elapsed after the Reformation till any more sees were founded, the first new creation being that of Ripon, established in 1836. eleven years afterwards, in 1847, the bishopric of Manchester was founded; while the lapse of another twenty years saw the establishment of two more bishoprics in those of St Albans and Truro.

The following is a list of the thirty archiepiscopal and Episcopal sees of England and Wales—the latter arranged in alphabetical orders,—with date of their establishment, and fixed incomes attached to them:—


The formerly variable incomes of the archbishops were fixed by a number of statutes, arising out of the establishment, in 1832, of a parliamentary "Commission to inquire into the Revenues and Patronage of the Established Church in England and Wales." In 1836 the members of the commission, after having made a close investigation into all the sources of church revenue, were constituted, by Act 6 and 7 William IV. c. 77, a perpetual corporation, under the title of "Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England and Wales," with power to administer the financial affairs of the church, to pay fixed salaries to the principal church dignitaries, to re-arrange, under approval of the Queen in council, the boundaries of dioceses and incumbencies, and to take other measures "conducive to the efficiency of the established church, and the best mode of providing for the cure of souls."

In the government of the Church of England, the archbishops and bishops are assisted by 30 deans and 74 archdeacons, the former having fixed incomes, paid by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but the latter dependent chiefly on preferments, held independent of their dignity. The more immediate supervision of the parochial clergy, estimated to number about 13,000, is in charge of 610 rural deans, who have no salaries as such, but are entirely dependent on that derived from their preferments, or "livings." The incomes of these vary extremely, being excessively low in many cases, while in others approaching the revenues of the dignitaries of the church. To raise the value of the smallest "living" has been among the chief labours of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and they have been aided in the task by the endeavours of various societies, both lay and clerical, among them that of the "Bishop of London’s Fund," established in 1864. Foremost among the older organization stands the "Queen Anne’s Bounty," founded in 1703, to increase the incomes of the poorer clergy. The commissioners under the Act of Queen Anne which established the "Bounty" found no less than 5597 livings under £50 per annum in England and Wales; but since that time the number greatly decreased, and although there are no official returns on the subject, it may be estimated that there were not 1000 preferments in the country in 1877 endowed with such small incomes.

Education.—The spirit of reform which made itself felt in the church by the institution of the Church Inquiry and Ecclesiastical Commissions exhibits itself to a far more vigorous degree during the same period by promoting the cause of education. The work of educational reform began with the upper and middle class schools, and gradually went downwards, till it reached the lowest classes of the population. Parliament began occupying itself with the condition and management of the public schools of England in 1818, when a commission made a report upon them, exposing many weevils. Though little action was taken at the tome the work of inquiry continued in various forms, leading to the close inspection of more than 2000 endowed schools. Many of these were completed to undergo extensive reforms in their mode of teaching, so as no longer to exclude science, art, and modern languages; while the revenues of nearly all of them were regulated, and made to serve larger objects than before. It was the leading aim of the educational reformers in parliament both to deepen and widen education, giving the largest possible number the best possible instruction, and a variety of measures were passed for this purpose. From 1834 direct annual grants were voted, the first of £20,000, for the promotion of education, and in 1839 the Committee of the Privy Council on Education was instituted for the distribution of the money. An Act for the establishment of industrial schools was passed in 1857; and in the same year the universities of Oxford and Cambridge consented to undertake "middleclass examination" in some of the chief towns of England. These local university examinations began in the summer of 1858 and proved most successful in promoting higher education. It was stimulated no less by an Act passed in 1869, 21 and 32 Vict. c. 118, reforming the government, teaching, and discipline of the seven great public schools of England—Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, Shrewsburry, the Charterhouse, and Westminster. This statute greatly widened their field of instruction.

While these efforts were made to improve the education of the middle and upper classes, the lower classes of the population were no altogether forgotten. Still the achievements in this direction, naturally vastly more difficult, were for a time inconsiderable. The first impulse given towards more determined exertion was by a great educational conference, under the presidency of the Prince Consort, which took place in London in June 1857, and passed resolutions that were soon echoed all over the land. The first result of the conference was the appointment, in the session of 1858, of a parliamentary commission to inquire into the state of popular education, the report of which was issued, rather tardily, in March 1861. Close upon the report followed a minute of the Committee of the privy Council on Education, establishing a revised code of regulations for elementary schools. The code, which was to come into operation on the 1st April 1862, decreed regular examination of the pupils, payment by results, evening schools for adults, and various others changes in elementary education, tending to make it more general. But so far from giving satisfaction, the new code raised a storm of opposition, chiefly from the clergy, and had to be altered in some of its most important provisions. In the session of 1870 a statute of the highest importance was passed, which effected little less than a revolution in the state of national education. By this statute, 33 and 34 Vict. c. 75, entitled "An Act to provide for Public Elementary Education in England and Wales," it was ordered that "there shall be provided for every school district a sufficient amount of accommodation in public elementary schools available for all the children resident in such district, for whose elementary education efficient and suitable provision is not otherwise made." It was further enacted that all children attending these "public elementary schools" whose parents were unable, from poverty, to pay anything towards their education, should be admitted free, the expenses so incurred, with all other necessary to carry out the provisions of the Act, to be defrayed out of local taxation. Finally, it was ordered that the whole administration of the new system of public education should be placed under "school boards," elected by the suffrages of all tax-payers, including women, and invested with the large powers, among them that of compelling all parents, under severe penalties, to give their children between the ages of five and thirteen the advantages of education. The statute of 1870, proving more beneficial even than expected at the outset, laid a firm basis for universal education.

The gradual progress of public elementary education during the course of a quarter of a century is shown in the following table, which hives the total number of schools under Government inspection, the total number of children for whom accommodation was provided, and the average number of children attending the schools, in every fifth scholastic year, ended August 31, from 1850 and 1870, and each year thereafter to 1876.


While the charge for elementary education, under the Act of 1870, chiefly falls upon local rates, there are at the same time large and continually increasing parliamentary grants made, out of imperial funds, for promoting the education of the masses. In 1863 the annual grants for examination and attendance of pupils in elementary schools, under inspection in England and Wales, amounted to only £205; but they rose to £180,303 in 1864, to £376,367 in 1865, to £388,006 in 1866, to £429,885 in 1867, and £431,594 in 1868. Thus regularly advancing, the grants came to over half a million in 1869, amounting then to £504,286, and over a million in 1875, when they stood at £1,093,378. In 1876 the annual grants for examination and attendance increased to £1,272,495, and in 1877 to £1,415,333.

Denominational Schools.—It appears from parliamentary returns issued in the session of 1874 that at that time, when the school-board system had just begun to take root, the great mass of the pupils of elementary schools under inspection were in institutions belonging to and under the control of the Church of England . The following tabular statement gives the number of pupils present at examination in the elementary schools of England and Wales controlled respectively by the Church of England, the Roman Catholics, the school; boards, and the British Wesleyan, and all other schools, in the years 1871 to 1873:—


Board Schools.—It will be seen that on the 31st of August 1872, the total number of schools under school boards was not more than 82, with 11,388 pupils present at inspection; and that a year later the number of schools had risen to 520, and that of pupils to 92,262. After this time, with the machinery established by the Act of 1870 getting more and more into working order, and its chief feature, that of compulsion, being gradually applied, the progress of elementary education became very rapid. At the end of August 1876, there were 1604 schools under school boards in England and Wales, affording accommodation of 556,150 pupils. The total number of school boards at the end of August 1876 was 1790, of which 123 were in boroughs and 1667 in rural of extra-municipal parishes. There were at the same date 99 boroughs, out of 223, in England and Wales as yet without schools boards; still these exceptions included no place with over 50,000 inhabitants. On the population drawn within the clauses of the Act enforcing the attendance of children at school, so that compulsory education had become the law for about one-half of the population, and it might be calculated that only a few more years would be required to include the whole.

The total amount received by the school boards of England and Wales in the year ended August 31, 1876, was £2,695,644, of which £1,178,946 came from local rates, and £1,516,698 from loans, the latter raised for the erection of school buildings, and other works of a permanent character. The total amount thus borrowed amounted to £5,466,106 at the end of August 1876, the sum being raised at 3 _ per cent. annual interest by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, to be repaid in the course of fifty years from local rates, the pressure upon which is expected to become gradually less as the great work of compulsory education advanced towards its completion. The average school board taxation in the whole of England and Wales was 1·87d. per pound sterling in the year 1874-75, and rose to 3·43d. per pound in the year 1875-76.

Adult Education—Though as yet unaffected by the introduction of the system of compulsory education, there is, nevertheless, a vast progress of general instruction visible among the adult generation, as is proved by the constantly growing numbers of persons able to sign their names to the marriage registers. The annual numbers, carefully collected by the registrar of births, deaths, and marriages, as among the most noteworthy tokens of the educational condition of the people, show that while in the quinquennial period 1841-45 there were in England and Wales 32·6 per cent. Of men and 48·9 per cent. of women who signed the marriage registered with "marks" being unable to write, the proportion very steadily decreased from period to period, and from year to year, till it had fallen in 1871-75 to 18·5 per cent. in the case of men, and to 25·2 per cent. in the case of women. Thus there was in the thirty-five years from 1841 to 1875 a decrease of 15·5 per cent. in illiterate men and of 25·6 per cent. in illiterate women.

The proportion of males and females unable to write varies greatly in the several counties of England and in Wales, as ill be seen from the following table, which gives the percentage of both sexes who signed the marriage registers with "marks" in the year 1875, according to the 38th annual report of the registrar-general, issued in 1877:—


Large as seems the proportion of male and female adults still unable to write in England, the registrar-general, in his 38th annual report, published in 1877, arrived at the hopeful calculation that "if instruction increases in future years at the same arithmetical rate as it has done in the years from 1841 top 1875, then all the men will be able to write in 38 years, and all the women in 31 years."

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