Evidence of Lay Religious Devotion and Public Practice
BRITAIX 17-18 welcomes you to its latest seminar on Lived Religion, which will be held via Zoom on Monday 17 April, from 16.30 to 18.30 (Paris time, or 15.30-17.30 BST).
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W. M. JACOB, Evidence for Lay Religious Devotion and Public Practice in Eighteenth Century England
There appears to be little evidence from even the comparatively recent past of the early twentieth, the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries of religious practice in the home, or in public or private spaces. Prior to a national census of attendance at places of worship in 1851 there is little usable evidence about British church attendance. In any case, censuses of church attendance provide little evidence of people’s religiosity. Diaries and letters, when carefully read, provide indications of routines of daily household prayers and private devotional life, but such evidence is largely restricted to the ‘better-off’. Printers’ and publishers’ lists suggest that theological and devotional books and collections of sermons dominated the English publishing and bookselling trade during the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth centuries. However, more oblique evidence can be gleaned from eighteenth century parish records showing the ‘middling sort’ played an active part in maintaining parish churches, levying rates to fund repairs and improving and beautifying their churches and building new churches. Much money was contributed for such purposes, and communal life in towns and villages centred on parish churches (see W.M. Jacob, Lay people and religion in the early eighteenth century, 1996). There is also much evidence of religiously-inspired philanthropic activities, one of the commonest of which was providing funds to teaching poor children the Catechism and to read and write, and perhaps arithmetic. Large numbers of laypeople of the better and middling sorts subscribed to or helped to endow such schools and teaching, and devoted time and care to managing them, including providing poor people’s children with Bibles and Prayer Books, and providing for daily family prayers at home, and also overseeing children’s apprenticeship in households of devout employers. Surviving records of these ‘charity schools’, provide a window on to grass-roots religious practice in private and public spaces in towns and villages in eighteenth century England.
W.M. Jacob is the author of Lay people and religion in the early eighteenth century (1996), The Making of the Anglican Church Worldwide (1997), The Clerical Profession in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1680-1840 (2007), and Religious Vitality in Victorian London (2021) and numerous articles on the social history of religion in eighteenth and nineteenth century England and Wales. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and was a Research Fellow of King’s College London. He is an independent scholar.
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