On 30th March 1851, a religious census was carried out in conjunction with the National population census. The aim was to give the Government detailed statistical information on overall attendance at worship. This was to provide answers to the questions, was Britain growing more godless and what was the extent of non-conformity (both in the forms of Protestant dissent and of Roman Catholicism) in comparison to the Established Church. The survey was conducted by church ministers and curates in the Church of England, counting the number attending services in the morning, afternoon and evening. They split these into the General Congregation and Sunday scholars.
The questions asked of non-Anglicans differed somewhat and Quakers had their own forms. The population of England was 17,927,609, and the religious survey wished to establish how many attended Church. Horace Mann, a barrister, was asked to organise the survey and he estimated that 10,398,013 of the population were at liberty to worship – a figure arrived at by excluding young children, the sick and those working on Sundays. In the Church of England, with 11,728 parishes, there were 13,854 churches. The next largest group were the Wesleyan Methodists, with 6,579 chapels, followed by the Congregationalists with 3,244 chapels.
The total Church of England attendances on that day were: morning service, 2,541,244, afternoon service, 1,890,764 and evening service, 860,543. The figures for these three periods in the Wesleyan Methodist chapels and meetings were 492,714, 383,964 and 667,850. There were 570 Roman Catholic places of worship and a total attendance of 383,630.
This type of survey was never repeated.
The Census in Badsey and Wickhamford
At the time of the religious census, the Rev’d Charles Phillott was Vicar of Badsey and Vicar of Wickhamford. He had other parishes, including Frome, in Somerset and he lived there. The services locally were conducted by his curate, Edmund Boggis, and it was he who counted the Church attendances in Badsey and Wickhamford on 30th March 1851 and supplied other information requested. The census required details as to the age of the Church if it had been built after 1800, the capacity in terms of seating and a breakdown of the people attending into the General Congregation and Sunday Scholars. The returns he made were as follows:
Badsey: population 521
Church of St James - Consecrated before 1800.
Sittings: Free 170, Other -, Total -.
On 20 March 1851:
Morning service. General Congregation 100, Sunday Scholars 50, Total 150.
Afternoon service. General Congregation 250, Sunday Scholars 50, Total 300.
Signed by Edmund Boggis, Curate of Badsey and Wickhamford
Also, in Badsey, details of the Wesleyan Methodists were supplied by Robert Taylor, who was a 43-year-old cordwainer at that time.
Badsey Wesleyan Methodist Preaching Room – part of a dwelling used exclusively for worship.
Sittings: 60 all free
On 30 March 1851:-
Afternoon General Congregation 40
Evening Congregation 42
Average over 12 months:- Afternoon General Congregation 35. Evening Congregation 45.
Signed by Robert Taylor, Society Steward, Badsey, Evesham
The Rev’d Hunt, in 1859, responding to a question from Christ Church, Oxford, about non-conformist worship in Badsey, referred to ‘a sort of meeting room opposite Badsey Church’. It seems to have been on the location of the present 28 High Street, but was pulled down in about 1869. (source: A Brief History of Badsey and Aldington by Terry Sparrow, 2002).
Wickhamford: population 129
Church of St Peter* (wrongly recorded. Should be St John the Baptist) – Consecrated before 1800.
Sittings: Free 250*, Apportioned 16 – Total 266*
On 20 March 1851:-
Morning service. General Congregation 20, Sunday Scholars 12
Afternoon congregation 200*
Signed by Edmund Boggis, Curate of Badsey and Wickhamford
*Apart from the incorrect dedication given for the church – St Peter instead of St John the Baptist - there seems to be other errors. There were likely to have been 16 Apportioned seats for the occupants of the adjacent Manor, but 250 free seats is far too high a number for the size of the church. A more reasonable number would in the region of 100. The reported attendance figure for the afternoon is also far too high, and was probably 20 rather than 200. The only way to discover where these mistakes occurred would be to examine the original forms completed by Edmund Boggis.
Later, in 1868, in response to a series of questions sent by Christ Church, Oxford, to the Vicar, Rev’d Thomas Hunt, he reported that, "Population is 132. Population compact; agricultural; moral condition stagnant and indifferent from sluggishness. Feeling to Church torpid - the poor are bad churchgoers. A cottage holds an evening service for Wesleyans."
The Census details in some nearby Parishes
Bretforton: population 575
St Leonard’s Church had a total of 236 sittings, of which 130 were free. The morning General Congregation was 143, including 70 Sunday Scholars; in the afternoon there were 170, including 70 Sunday Scholars. G.S. Morris was the Vicar.
Church Honeybourne: population 112
296 sittings of which 166 were free. The afternoon Congregation was 25. The churchwarden, Joseph Coldicott made the return. His comments included - ‘Parish Church of Church Honeyborn, consecrated before the memory of man’.
Cow Honeybourne; population 343
The derelict Church was ‘a squalid dwelling for the poor’. The people worshiped at Church Honeybourne.
There was a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Cow Honeybourne (erected about 1813), for which returns were made by Edward Leadbetter, Wesleyan Local Preacher. The afternoon General Congregation was 50 and there were 46 Sunday Scholars. In the evening, there were 66, of which 6 were Sunday Scholars. It was also stated that the average morning Congregation consisted of 40 Sunday Scholars.
Childswickham: population 466
Wickham Church, ‘an ancient parish church’, Childs Wickham, was consecrated before 1800 and had 240 sittings, all free. The morning General Congregation was 28 plus 40 Sunday scholars. The afternoon Congregation was 100, including 40 Sunday Scholars. The average attendances were given as – mornings 75, including 50 Sunday Scholars; afternoons 120, including 50 Sunday Scholars. Thomas Marsden, the Minister supplied the details.
Ebenezer Independent Chapel was erected in 1842 as a separate building used exclusively for worship, with sittings for 100, all free. On census morning, 28 Sunday Scholars attended and in the afternoon 29 Sunday Scholars. In the evening there was a General Congregation of 70. Services were held on the afternoon of one Sabbath and in the evening of the next. Joseph Hooper, Minister, of Broadway, gave the information.
Childswickham also had a Wesleyan Methodist Preaching Place, part of a dwelling place, not used exclusively for worship. There was free sitting for 65 and 45 attended the General Congregation on census day. The average attendances for morning and afternoon services were 50. Thomas Saunders, occupier of the meeting place, supplied the details.
Broadway: population 337
St Michael’s Parish Church was consecrated in 1840 in lieu of an old church. There were 870 sittings, 450 of which were free. On 30th March, the morning Congregation numbered 284, including 84 Sunday Scholars. In the afternoon there were 484, of which were 84 Sunday scholars. The information was supplied by Rev’d Samuel Franklin.
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Broadway had been erected in 1811, ‘as a separate building used entirely for worship’. There were 130 free sittings and 86 others. The Congregations on census day were – morning, 111, including 61 Sunday Scholars; afternoon, 57 Sunday Scholars and evening, 106 in the General Congregation. John Eden, Chapel Steward of Silk Mills, Broadway, signed the document.
St Saviour’s, Broadway, was a Roman Catholic church, erected in 1825. All 100 sittings were free. On census day the morning Congregation was 53 and, in the afternoon, 95. No Sunday School children were present. In some general remarks, it was stated that the mission was neglected for many years up until the previous October. Since then, it has undergone considerable repair. The Rev’d Father Bernard, Catholic Parish Priest gave the information.
Congregational Chapel, Broadway was erected in 1843, with 190 free sittings and 180 others. On census day, the morning service was attended by a General Congregation of 102 and 36 Sunday Scholars. The evening service had a General Congregation of 203. It was noted that associated with this chapel were Village Preaching Stations in Childs Wickham and Laverton, Gloucestershire. Details were given by the Minister, Joseph Hooper.
Most of the details in this article are contained in the Worcestershire Historical Society publication, Census of Religious Worship, 1851, The Returns for Worcestershire. Copies of the pages concerning the parishes described here were kindly supplied by Richard Ball.
Tom Locke- September 2022