Here is a term paper on the ‘Churches and Education in Britain’ during 1832-1850.
Between the First Reform Act and the Repeal of the Corn Law ecclesiastical matters were the most hotly-contested of all. In particular, the well-disciplined, nearly inclusive Parliamentary parties of 1835-45 aligned themselves on the question of the appropriation to secular purposes of the surplus revenues of the Established Church.
The Ministers who resigned from Grey’s Government in 1834 because they opposed such appropriation carried with them many of his former supporters, who after a period of uncertainty joined the Conservatives, while the narrow majority of Melbourne’s second Ministry depended on an alliance in favour of appropriation between Whigs, Liberals, Radicals and the Irish Roman Catholic M.P.s led by O’Connell, an alliance which lasted in a weakened form until 1850.
The Conservatives remained the party concerned to preserve so far as possible the privileges of the Established Church of England and Ireland; while the Liberals, though most of those in Parliament were members of the Church and supporters of its Establishment at least in England, sympathized with the demands of Dissenters for religious, political and social equality with Anglicans.
For many of its advocates Parliamentary reform had been desirable not so much for itself, but as the necessary first step to some other change; and prominent among these ulterior motives was the wish for drastic reform of the Church. Around 1830 the abuses of the Church were being laid bare, not without exaggeration, by radical, often secularist, critics, such as the author of the Extraordinary Black Book of 1831.
The Bishops, notorious as enemies of change in many spheres, feared, with most of their clergy, for the fate of the Church at the hands of a reformed Parliament, and made matters worse by voting against the Bill of 1832. The riots of that year were as much anti-episcopal as anti-aristocratic.
Within the Church, in this atmosphere of crisis, respected laymen put forward proposals for the redistribution of its wealth and other reforms. Dr. Thomas Arnold, for instance, Headmaster of Rugby School since 1828, ruined his prospects of an ecclesiastical career by advocating that a reformed Church Establishment should broaden its scope to embrace Nonconformity. To anticipate the expected spoliation, used some of their wealth to found in 1832 a small, poor, Anglican University in their Cathedral close.
Long before this time the claim of the Church of England to be the Church of all Englishmen had ceased to be even nearly realistic. But those who moved in landed and aristocratic circles and were educated at the great historic institutions might be pardoned if they had failed to appreciate the fact. The changes of 1828-36 rubbed it in.
It was made legally possible, and some thought it politically likely, that the Government should be dominated by non-Anglicans. In 1832 the final court of appeal in ecclesiastical causes, including matters of doctrine, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s High Court of Delegates, was replaced by a secular body, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The Irish Church Temporalities Act of 1833 might be read as a first essay in lay reorganization of the Church, perhaps in confiscation. The Municipal Corporations Act drew out the implications of the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, turning many towns over to the rule of Dissenters. In 1836 the establishment of civil marriage and the chartering of London University breached two more Anglican monopolies.
However, the lay ‘Establishment’ rallied to the clerical. Peel’s Ecclesiastical Commission was composed of friends to the Church, though reformers. By the Established Church Act of 1836 Parliament entrusted to an enlarged version of the same body the preparation of detailed schemes of reform.
The revenues of the Church were not confiscated, but redistributed internally. Cathedral establishments were much cut down, Bishops’ incomes equalized, diocesan boundaries redrawn, new parishes created for ill- provided areas, stipends of ill-paid clergy increased, tithe commuted into a money payment.
By the Pluralities Act of 1838 strict residence requirements were imposed on beneficed clergy, and they were forbidden, among other things, to engage in most forms of trade and to farm much land. The Bishops, safe after all in the House of Lords, presided over the process.
Progress was slow, as it was necessary to wait for existing beneficiaries to die off. Reform did not reach Trollope’s Barchester until the 1850s. But it was now certain to come in the end. By co-operating in its own reform, the Church warded off further attacks on its privileges.
The House of Lords rejected the Whigs’ Bills to abolish church rates in England, and ensured that Oxford and Cambridge remained Anglican preserves. It was Peel who had made the opportunity for the Establishment to save itself. The opportunity was used by the most influential of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
One who accomplished much in time of drought and desolation:
Blomfield Bishop of London
Builder of many Churches
One who was usually right
And never intimidated, never disheartened.
On the other hand, the Church received no more grants of public money, and it became impossible for the State to accord it new favours. While in 1839-40 it was strong enough to impose important modifications of the Whigs’ education proposals, in 1843-44 the Conservatives’ attempt to establish a national educational system staffed by Anglican school-masters had to be abandoned because of furious Nonconformist opposition.
The Church retained most of the privileges it had been granted in the past, but for the future it had to be regarded as one denomination among many, all to be treated alike. The historic trappings of Establishment remained attached to an effectively secularized State.
Outside the sphere of legislation the crisis of Reform provoked various reactions in the Churches. Within the Establishment, it strengthened the case of the Evangelicals and their friends, and the standard and standards of the clergy rose generally.
Theological colleges date from this period, neatly illustrating several points: that there was genuine concern within the Church for improvement; that people would subscribe money generously in the cause of reform; that the old Universities, even with the assistance of Durham and the Anglican King’s College of London University, founded in 1831, could not be counted on to produce sufficient or satisfactory clergy unaided; and that even the most respected and ancient of all corporations, thought by some to be properly the First Estate of the realm, saw advantages in assimilating itself to the middle-class professions. It should not be supposed that the Church lost its aristocratic associations during this period, or that clergymen ceased to be prominent in local government.
In the 1860s over a thousand clergy were county magistrates, half the total. But the mass of the nearly 20,000 clergy of the time were now much more fully occupied than their predecessors in what seem to the twentieth century tasks appropriate to their calling. Nearly all incumbents helped to run and pay for local schools.
Anglican clergy became known for their concern about factory and slum conditions. ‘We believe the Anglican clergy to be the most pernicious men of all within the compass of the Church;’ wrote a Dissenter in 1851, ‘but also the most sincere, the most learned, the most self-denying.’ As the State became more secular, the Church became more religious.
The most famous reaction was the Oxford movement. It is dated from the sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ preached by John Keble in the University Church at Oxford on Bastille Day, 1833. What roused him was the Irish Church Temporalities Act in particular; in general, not the irreligion of the masses, but the treason of their rulers.
In the Oxford of the late 1830s the Vicar of the University Church, J. H. Newman, became a magnet for able undergraduates; and he and E. B. Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew, came to be regarded by them and by many of the clergy as the leaders of a great religious movement.
In a series of Tracts for the Times they and others combated the idea that the Church is a mere utility with the assertion that it is a divinely-inspired repository of doctrine and wisdom, authenticated by the Apostolic Succession from Christ by way of St. Peter through the episcopate down the ages. The clergy are set over the laity in matters of faith.
Material ‘progress’ is worthless. Narrow rationalism is wholly insufficient. It is necessary both to salvation and in order to know the truth that one should accept the doctrines of the Church, however improbable they may seem. And the confession of faith of the Church of England, the 39 Articles of 1571, is reconcilable with much Roman Catholic doctrine.
Associated with the movement were other important tendencies. One was the Gothic Revival. Another was a glorification of the potentialities of Establishment, which was expressed in its most extreme and unrealistic form by Gladstone, then ‘the rising hope of those stern unbending Tories’, in The State in its Relations with the Church (1838).
The State and the Church ought to be co-extensive, the Church hallowing the State, the State supporting the Church. Yet another—and this no doubt is a large part of the explanation for the appeal of Newman to the Oxford undergraduates of the day—was the movement, in which he was also prominent, for the reform of the University and its education.
He had won his Fellowship by merit and examination at one of the few Colleges, Oriel, where this was yet possible. He resigned his Tutorship because he took more seriously than the Head of his College the phrase ‘in loco parentis’. It was not that he wanted to reform the system as liberals proposed, by including modern subjects and laicizing the teachers Precisely the opposite.
He had a vision of the glories of the old methods, if duly renovated. The learning of facts, or explicit preparation for a specific career, especially part-time and on one’s own was not education.
A body of gentlemen teaching each other by example and conversation under the personal guidance of clergy and the spiritual sway of theology, Queen of the Sciences: this was the ideal of education presented in his Idea of a University, to which Oxford, even half- reformed, corresponded better than any other place of learning.
Few people swallowed Newman’s views whole. His conversion to Rome in 1845, followed by others’ among the more devoted of his followers, reduced the influence of the movement. But many people with widely-varying careers acknowledged that it had made a great impact on them as undergraduates.
Though most laymen and many clergy were hostile, others who did not abandon the Church of England accepted some of the movement’s insights. It’s most obvious result was, by reviving interest in theological questions, to provoke doctrinal quarrels within the Establishment.
However, although ‘High Churchmen’, those who avowed the influence of the movement, became contrasted with ‘Evangelicals’ who rejected it (a debasement of the latter term), the assertion of Catholic values in fact worked together with the older campaign for moral reformation in imposing stricter codes of behaviour on both clergy and laity.
In general history perhaps the chief importance of the movement is as the most extreme of the protests against what was usually regarded as the spirit of the age, contributing to the counter-attack on a broad front which older values, suitably redefined, and older institutions, temperately reformed, launched immediately after the apparent triumph of the proponents of radical change in 1832.
As between Anglicans and Nonconformists, sectarian disputes were embittered not only by the Romanizing tendencies of the Oxford movement but also by the Dissenters’ and their Deputies’ adoption, at the moment of what seemed to be victory, in 1833, of the cry of Dis-establishment.
From this time onwards a good proportion of Nonconformists, though not necessarily of Methodists, worked to disrupt the union between Church and State. The Liberation Society, with this aim, though not at first under that title, dates from the education affair of 1844. Many Dissenters became militant opponents of the ‘Establishment’ in all its aspects.
Roman Catholicism gained in Newman one of its great thinkers, though it was some time before he was fully accepted in the Church he had joined, especially in England. The conversion in 1850 of the Archdeacon of Chichester, H. E. Manning, unable to accept a doctrinal decision of the Judicial Committee, was more quickly appreciated, because he was a man of great pastoral and administrative ability.
But the immediate effect of these accessions on English opinion generally was to increase the traditional animus against Rome, especially as the large increase in the number of Roman Catholics in Britain was mainly due to Irish immigration.
In 1850 the Pope thought it opportune to establish a normal hierarchy of bishops in England, hitherto treated as a schismatic country requiring special arrangements. This step was taken in Britain as a declaration of war on Protestantism.
In revenge, the Government promoted an Act to limit the range of titles that Roman Catholic dignitaries might use. While this Ecclesiastical Titles Act, like most of the remaining provisions on the Statute Book directed against the spread of Roman Catholicism, soon became inoperative, the bitter feeling persisted.
No Church in the British Isles failed to reappraise its relationship with the State in this period. But the most radical attitude of all was taken up by the Church of Scotland. This other Established Church was Calvinist in origin; though English Low Churchmen were prepared to worship in its churches, the theology of the Oxford movement was quite alien to it.
Most of its members thought that each of its congregations should elect a minister to serve it. However, the law gave to landlords the right of patronage to livings in the English manner. The claim of a congregation to elect their minister, or at least to veto a ‘presentation’, was revived in the 1830s in the midst of a movement of general reform analogous in some respects to the Evangelical Movement.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a representative body which no English Church could match and which was the nearest thing to a Scottish Parliament, supported the claim for a veto in 1834. Successive Governments refused to alter the law, and in 1843 the majority of the Church seceded, leaving the whole endowment in the hands of the minority.
To maintain the new Church, of course, required a great outlay of money on the part of the seceders, and that sufficient money was forthcoming is remarkable evidence of the strength of feeling involved. This example commended itself to some English High Churchmen, who wondered whether the spiritual advantages which the Church of England could hope to derive from independence of the State might not outweigh the material and other benefits of Establishment.
But this question troubled few Anglicans. A more important outcome of the new situation in Scotland was to create a political opportunity for opponents of the Church of England and of Conservatism. Here was another country like Ireland, in which the Established Church in possession of the endowments was the Church of a minority.
For nearly all denominations, finally, this was a period of expansion. As well as fighting the State and each other, all were increasing their provision of churches. In particular, they were becoming ever more conscious that new urban areas were especially short of places of worship and that a large part of the working classes had no contact with any sect.
Dissenters might have the edge over Anglicans in industrial areas, but ‘a sadly formidable portion of the English people are habitual neglecters of the public ordinances of religion’. As the following table shows, the situation was improving overall.
But it is probable that most of the new churches were used mainly by middle-class persons, since they were generally built by local public subscription and therefore were rarely in poor districts, and since they generally contained a good proportion of pews reserved for people who could afford to pay rent for them.
Education was inseparable in this period from the Churches. True, a State grant of £ 20,000 was made annually from 1833 to assist in the building of schools. In 1839 it was raised to £ 30,000 a year, a Committee of the Privy Council was established to administer it, with Dr. Kay as its Secretary, and inspectors were appointed to inspect schools which had received grants.
The annual grant had reached £ 125,000 by 1850, because by the Education Minutes of 1846 grants might be used to increase the salaries of teachers in schools pronounced efficient by the inspectors, and to support training colleges for teachers.
But as yet there was little sympathy with the idea of secular education; it was generally accepted that most of the provision for education must be made by Churches, and with their own financial resources; and the State grants were mostly administered by the two ‘approved’ Societies, the National, and the British and Foreign, both religious.
The State seemed to Nonconformists too bound up with the Church of England to deal impartially with them, especially after the inept proposals of 1843, and they espoused as a matter of principle ‘voluntaryism’, which the Congregationalists carried to the extreme of refusing all State aid. So in this period the history of education is primarily a history of ‘voluntary’ effort.
The amounts of money subscribed to the various denominational societies for promoting primary education are moderately impressive: by 1859, for example, £ 750,000 to the National Society, £ 175,000 to the Congregational Board of Education, £ 157,000 to the British and Foreign Society.
By the same date illiteracy was declining fast. In 1839 a third of males and a half of females marrying put their mark to the register, not their signature; in 1861 only a quarter of males and a third of females.
In the Report of the Newcastle Commission on Popular Education of 1861 it was claimed that, of 2,600,000 children who ought to have been receiving education, all but 120,000 were doing so. This was optimistic, and the education in question was often very primitive in these cheap schools. But there is no doubt that a great deal had been achieved, though much of it only in the fifties.