Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: chapter 1.2

Baseline characteristics of Preston about 1825

2. Religious denominations

The important distinction in Preston is between Protestant and Roman Catholic. Quantification is difficult, as the sources are not reliable.

In 1825 there were five Anglican places of worship. With the parish church of St. John was associated a chapel of ease, St. George’s, which together represented the 18th century church in Preston. Trinity Church, on a hill some way north of the Market Place, was built in 1815 apparently on the initiative of leading laymen, for reasons which are not clear, but may have been something to do with opposition to the patronage of the lay rector of the parish church, Sir Henry Philip Hoghton, whose orthodoxy may have been tarnished by earlier associations of his family with nonconformity. Two new churches, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, built in anticipation of further expansion of the town northwards, were obtained by the efforts of the vicar, the Reverend R. Carus Wilson, and paid for partly out of the parliamentary allocation of the French war indemnity and partly by one of the leading manufacturers, Thomas German. It is impossible to reckon the number of people who would have been actively identified with the Established Church, but lists of pew holders show that they included nearly all the leading citizens and manufacturers, some of whom were substantial benefactors.

When in 1829 Gorst and Birchall, Clerks of the Peace (6) tried to obtain figures for the nonconforming sects of the town, they found ten places of worship occupied variously by Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, Wesleyan Protestants, Primitive Methodists, Methodists of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection, Independents, Scotch Independents, Baptists, Particular Baptists, Quakers and Unitarians and were given figures (some of peculiar precision) which add up to a total of 3,160. The Countess of Huntingdon’s followers and the Wesleyans comprised 1,800 of these.

Quarrelsome and fissiparous though the dissenters were, they nevertheless tended to unite in sympathy with the Anglicans when confronted by the present and historical strength of the Roman Catholics, whose total given in the 1829 Return was 10,900 at Fishergate and Friargate chapels. Counting Catholics, a favourite traditional pastime in Preston’s Catholic community, is easier than counting any of the others because of the authority and records of the Catholic clergy, who in Preston in 1825 were exclusively Jesuits based at St. Wilfrid’s. Fr. Joseph Dunn’s censuses of 1810 and 1820, preserved by the Society at St. Wilfrid’s, make possible a fairly accurate minimal estimate of the number of Catholics at those dates. The census of 1820 contains about 5,100 names, which is just over one fifth (21%) of the 1821 population of the township of Preston. Gorst and Birchall’s estimate of 10,900 in 1829 would be one third of the 1851 population, which when compared with the 1851 census figure of 10,200 (or 15%) must have been a generous overestimate. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholics were quite obviously exceptionally well represented in Preston. Evidence suggests that their social integration with protestant society, especially at the turn of the century under the leadership of the remarkable Fr. Dunn (7), was accepted to a certain extent as a matter of course, at least until the emancipation agitation of 1829. They included some of the most respectable families in the town, and were noticeably well represented among the corn dealers. Their political role was increasingly distinct and important.

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Notes (cont.):
6.Lancs C.R.O. QDV/9/45, Clerk of the Peace’s Return of the Number of Places of Worship, not of the Church of England … 29 June 1829.
7. Leo Warren, A Short History of St. Wilfrid’s Church Preston (Preston 1972). See also Alison M. Winters, ‘The Irish in Preston in the mid-nineteenth century’, unpublished MA thesis, University of Leeds, 197[?]

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