Vol. 75: The Religious Census of Sussex


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Editor: John A. Vickers
Volume: Volume 75
Published 1990
ISBN: 978 085445 036 7

This volume contains the returns made for Sussex in accordance with the Census of Religious Worship held in conjunction with the decennial Census of Population of 1851. It provides a unique body of statistical evidence on the religious condition of England and Wales in that auspicious year of the Great Exhibition.

The census has attracted great interest from historians and sociologists of religion who have used it as one means of assessing the `grassroots’ importance of religion in Victorian society. This unique source-for such a census has never been repeated-casts great light on patterns of denominational strengths and weaknesses across the country. It is an invaluable source to the local historian interested in patterns of religious observance in a given village or region.

Included in this volume are the returns for 602 places of worship. Just over two-fifths of them are for nonconformist congregations, notably Independents and Wesleyans, with the Baptists trailing in third place. Smaller congregations are noted of Roman Catholics, the Society of Friends, the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion and the Unitarians. One congregation in Brighton originated from the evangelical work of William Huntington, the coalheaver-turned-evangelist. The returns suggest that Anglican congregations were doing well in the fast-rising seaside towns, notably Brighton, while nonconformist chapels were proliferating in the villages of the Weald.

The returns offer a comprehensive statistical survey of the situation in 1851, detailing numbers of worshippers, accommodation, and the size of congregations on Census Sunday, 30 March 1851, in addition to a variety of other information. Statistical tables for county, diocese and Registration Districts are reprinted from the Census Report of 1853. Population figures for each parish are taken from the report of the Census of Population.

The editor has supplied a full introduction which considers the historical importance and value of the census material and discusses its accuracy and reliability, along with various problems of interpretation.

John Vickers, B.A., B.D., Ph.D., has an international reputation for his work on Methodist history. He was Principal Lecturer in Religious Studies at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education until his retirement in 1981 and is archivist for the Southampton Methodist District. He is the author of Thomas Coke, Apostle of Methodism, (1969) and editor of a collection of source material published as Volume Four of the History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, (1988).

Cover picture: Trinity Chapel, Brighton (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments)