Religious Census of 1851

A census of places of worship and attendances was held as part of the decennial population census in March 1851, despite objections and some boycotting, chiefly Anglican. The main questions related to the number of sittings and the actual or average attendances. A Report was published in 1854, containing many statistical tables at national, county and registration district levels. There was considerable disquiet that only around 50% of the population attended at least one service on Census day and, among Anglicans, that Protestant and Catholic nonconformists made up half of those attending. Methodism was seen to be the largest Nonconformist body, with Wesleyanism recording 6,575 places of worship, providing 1,447,580 sittings.

Interpretation of the original returns (now at the Public Record Office in Kew) is problematical, but considerable scholarly attention has been given to them in recent years and the returns for a number of counties have been published.

  • Clive D. Field, 'The 1851 Religious Census: A Select Bibliography', in WHS Proceedings, 41 pp.175-82
  • John D. Gay, The Geography of Religion in England (1971)
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol. 4 (1988), 499-505
  • John A. Vickers, The 1851 Religious Census (1996)
  • Keith D.M. Snell and Paul Spenser Ell, Rival Jerusalems: the geography of Victorian religion (Cambridge, 2000)

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Subject
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