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The Religious Census of Bristol & Gloucestershire 1851

Dr Alan Munden

(Volume 29, 2015)

Uniquely in 1851, the decennial civil census of England and Wales was accompanied by a census of religious worship. Ostensibly carried out to ascertain whether there were enough sittings in each place of worship to meet current needs, the census furnished a fascinating detailed picture of religious life across the country, and resulted in a substantial printed report, full of statistics. About 900 places of worship were identified in Bristol and Gloucestershire; all the surviving returns are included in this edition. Gaps in the Bristol returns have been made good by reference to other contemporary or near-contemporary sources. Numerically dominant was the Church of England, followed by the Methodists, Baptists and Independents. Two synagogues were recorded. A high proportion of the population attended a place of worship, but the census disproves the popular notion that ‘the churches were always full’.

Within the united diocese of Gloucester and Bristol much church-building and restoration was in progress. At the same time the nonconformists were enlarging or replacing their chapels. While most Anglican churches have survived many of the nonconformist chapels active in 1851 have since been closed or put to secular use.

Thanks to George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers and Rowland Hill, Bristol and Gloucestershire had played a key part in the early years of the 18th century religious revival. By the mid-19th century Clifton and Cheltenham were Evangelical strongholds and the ‘Bisley-Fairford school’ provided the model for those captivated by the Oxford Movement. Alongside these, smaller groups followed narrower paths such as Swedenborgianism and Mormonism, or the belief that Christian worship should take place on a Saturday (the Seventh Day Baptists).

Dr Munden has wide experience of the Religious Census in Gloucestershire and other counties, and his knowledge of the period and its sources is reflected in numerous notes complementing the official returns edited here. This publication should be of interest to local historians and those following the progress of denominational history. The volume is completed by full indexes and summary tabulations, by area and denomination, of the material contained in the returns.

c. 480 pages, ISBN 9780900197888

Price: £30 (free postage)

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