The Dissenters

Michael R. Watts

Published in print September 1995 | ISBN: 9780198229681
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191678905 | DOI:
The Dissenters

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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The expansion of Evangelical Nonconformity was one of the most important developments in English and Welsh history in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In eighty years the number of Nonconformist chapels increased ten-fold, and by 1851, nearly one person in five worshipped in such chapels. For millions of people the gospel preached and the religion practised in these chapels determined their choice of marriage partners, conditioned the upbringing of their children, and moulded their family life. Religion pervaded education, shaped morals, controlled leisure, provided music and literature, motivated philanthropy and decided political loyalties. This book argues that while the Quakers constituted an increasingly wealthy but numerically declining community of businessmen, farmers, and retailers, and that in many towns the Unitarians formed a vibrant, progressive, intellectual élite, the appeal of Nonconformity was primarily to the poor, the ill-educated, and the unsophisticated. The working-class adherents of Evangelical Nonconformity vastly outnumbered those of political radicalism, trade unionism, or Chartism, and Dissent was a major factor in making a section of the working class respectable, thus contributing to the social harmony of the 1850s and 1860s. The book argues that the history of late Georgian and Victorian England and Wales cannot be understood without a knowledge of Nonconformity.

Keywords: Evangelical Nonconformity; English history; Welsh history; Quakers; Unitarians; working-class followers; political radicalism; trade unionism; Chartism; Dissent; social harmony

Book.  934 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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Introduction in The Dissenters


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