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Welsh History Review


Vol. 18, nos. 1-4 1996-97

The nineteenth-century church and English society. Book review.

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seen, miraculously, at Llannerchaeron), thus dating the house exactly, and
confirming Nash definitely as the architect.
THE Nineteenth-Century CHURCH AND ENGUSH SOCIETY. By Frances
Knight. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995. Pp. xiii, 230. £ 32.50.
This important and very readable volume investigates the experience of
mainly rural clergy and laity in nineteenth-century England as the Church
of England gradually evolved from national church to denomination. The
author herself states that 'the aims of this study are broad and ambitious',
and there is no doubt that the aims are amply fulfilled, while she also
indicates areas for further research.
Frances Knight's book developed from her PhD thesis on the work of
the reforming Bishop Kaye of Lincoln between 1827 and 1853. She
concentrates on rural eastern and central England, although there is also
some useful material on the strongly Nonconformist city of Nottingham,
which was within Lincoln diocese between 1837 and 1884. There is much
of interest on every page, often challenging accepted viewpoints, and it is
possible here only to indicate a few especially interesting observations.
The first chapter contains a valuable historiographical essay on the
nineteenth-century Church of England. The author distinguishes four
approaches: a concentration on writing in party-Tractarian or
Evangelical-terms, analysis in 'institutional' revival, studies of clerical
revival, and investigations of the conflict between the Church of England
and Protestant nonconformity.
Knight's most fascinating contribution to an understanding of the
nineteenth-century Church is her discussion of lay religion in chapter two.
She acknowledges that there are limits to how far the thoughts of 'these
forgotten participants in the Anglican history of the modern period' can be
discovered-call that can be done is to strike a few matches in an otherwise
dark landscape, and to peer briefly at what is illuminated' — but she does
discover much about the double allegiance of Methodists, especially
Wesleyans, to church and chapel until about 1870 and about the
importance of private prayer at home. There are implications for clergymen
today in the finding that stress on the Eucharist can have a negative effect
on many 'fringe' parishioners. The fear of hell had been gradually replaced
by more optimistic views by the 1 860s,
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