The free churches and the Labour Party in England and Wales 1918-1939
This thesis has two principal objectives. Firstly it seeks to examine the response of the traditionally Liberal Free Churches to the inter-war decline of that party, the rise of Labour and the changing economic, social and political developments and issues which accompanied this process. This response is considered both in terms of the Free Church leadership and, with the aid of local case studies in Bolton, Bradford, Liverpool and Norfolk, of chapel society. It is therefore examined not only in terms of the changing theological and political attitudes of the Free Church leadership, that leadership's contribution to Christian Socialism in the period and its enthusiasm for particular issues like temperance. The financial problems, political witness and changing nature of the chapel community, its communication of ideals and distinctive way of looking at the world, has also been fully considered. Secondly the thesis seeks to establish the extent to which Free Churchmen were representative of a working class party in a country where the working class was not usually noted for its religiosity, how substantial the Free Church presence in the party was and why, and what contribution they made to it. This involves not only an examination of the relationship between the Free Churches and the working classes but also of the composition of the party, both at national level and in the local areas researched. Consideration has also been given to the extent to which Nonconformist Socialists have proved willing to take over from their Liberal counterparts as the bearers of the "Nonconformist Conscience" (involving close scrutiny of the development of and the labour party's response to typical Free Church concerns like temperance, gambling, Sabbatarianism, peace, education and disestablishment) and to the contribution their Christianity made to the objectives and ideals of the Labour party.