Contrary to our perception of the centrality of the churches in English life in the nineteenth century, the disappointing results of the 1851 Religious Census led religious leaders to seek a variety of ways to increase religious allegiance as the century progressed. The apparent apathy and lack of interest in formal religion on the part of the working classes was particularly galling, and the various denominations tried hard to attract them through evangelical missions as well as social and charitable ventures which sometimes competed with religious concerns, to the latter’s detriment. This book traces the motivations, concerns and efforts of the churches, particularly in the period between 1870 and 1920, and the ambivalent responses of ordinary people. The Education Act of 1870 led to the churches losing their hold on the education of the young, a consequence foreseen by many church leaders, but unable to be prevented. By 1920 it was apparent that the churches’ optimism regarding an increased role with a war-weary population would not be fulfilled. The focus is on the city of Leeds, representative of the industrialised urban areas with burgeoning populations which proved to be such a challenge to the churches, at the same time stimulating them to ever-greater efforts.
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“The churches of Victorian England were deeply conscious of their failure to reach the working classes in London and the towns of industrial England. This important study of Leeds in the second half of the nineteenth century and later provides the first detailed analysis for over fifty years of the efforts made in a large northern town to remedy this defect. Dr Midgley assesses sympathetically the successes and failures of the different styles of mission attempted by the various churches, through education and youth work, leisure and evangelism, setting their efforts in the context of the rapidly expanding and changing city. Though the churches did not ultimately succeed, they did create a religious culture which extended beyond the lives of regular church-goers and which survived to shape the outlook and values of many ordinary people throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The insights developed in this study enhance our understanding of English society in the generation ending with the First World War and will appeal to students whose interests range far beyond Leeds and the concerns of merely institutional religion.”– Edward Royle, Emeritus Professor of History, University of York
Patricia Midgley retired early from her career as a prison governor in order to carry out historical research, first obtaining a master’s degree from the Open University, and then embarking on doctoral research with York University. The present volume is based on that research, and is her first publication.