Selected Subjects: Religious Worship

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4.8 Religious Worship in Great Britain

The state of religion in Great Britain was a subject of great interest to the general public in the mid-nineteenth century and it was felt that the occasion of the census of 1851 offered a valuable opportunity to obtain information which would enable the facts to be put on record. Plans were laid accordingly. Objections to the penalties which could be imposed on persons withholding particulars were raised, however, in the House of Lords and later upheld by the legal advisers of the Crown. Unwilling to forego the enquiry, the Registrar General decided that his plans might be fulfilled on a voluntary basis, care having been taken to ensure that every person to whom a schedule was delivered clearly understood that its completion was not compulsory in law. In the event there were few refusals. The returns made in Scotland were not so complete as those for England and Wales, largely because in the absence of an organized body of Registrars there was less inclination for enumerators to undertake the additional burden of pursuing an enquiry which was not required under the Census Act.

A full account of the survey made in England and Wales was published in 1853 in a special report, entitled Religious Worship, England and Wales, which did not form part of the official series of reports and, probably for this reason, was printed in a different format. The report summarised the history of religion from the earliest times and included a brief review of the teaching of various religious bodies. A commentary oil conclusions to be drawn from the returns was followed by an extensive series of tables in which analyses were given of such returns as the comparative strength of various religious bodies in each county, the extent of available accommo┬┐dation (free sittings being distinguished from reserved), attendance at the most frequented services and the number of services held by each religious body at different times on census Sunday.

The corresponding special report for Scotland was included with that on the enquiry into education in a single volume, Religious Worship and Education in Scotland, published in 1854.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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