Religion and society in the parish of Halifax, c. 1740-1914
Most recent studies of religion and society have focussed on the period from c. 1880 to 1914, basing their investigations upon late-Victorian newspaper censuses of churchgoing. This thesis aims to study the development of religion in its economic and social context in a large northern industrial parish over a longer period of time from c. 1740 to 1914. In religious terms this period extends from the mid-eighteenth century Evangelical Revival to the decline of organised religion in the early twentieth century. In economic and social terms the period is characterised by the transformation of the parish from a semi-rural, proto-industrial society dominated by a relatively small but expanding market town, into a predominantly urban advanced industrial society dominated by a medium-sized textile manufacturing town and several smaller urban centres of textile production; supporting a wide diversity of associated industries and trades, but still containing within its boundaries sharply contrasting urban and semi-rural environments. The thesis aims to assess how religious expression within the parish of Halifax was affected by the changing economic and social environment, in particular the urban-industrial experience, and how religion helped shape the new urbanindustrial society during the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the outbreak of the First World War. It argues that whilst the pessimistic view of a moribund Georgian Church of England can no longer be sustained by the Halifax evidence, the Established Church nevertheless lacked the logistical resources to respond effectively to the new urbanindustrial society as it emerged within the parish in the lateeighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, providing an opportunity for the growth of Evangelical Nonconformity, especially Methodism. It maintains that Evangelical Nonconformity and an Anglican Church renewed by Evangelical incumbencies during the period 1790-1827 and reformed as a consequence of national legislation in the 1840s played a vital role within the expanding urban-industrial society, surviving the experience of industrialisation and urbanisation and displaying a remarkable vibrancy, despite underlying downward trends in churchgoing in the late-Victorian era. It suggests that the causes of the decline of organised religion during this period were complex, but related more to the onset of industrial-urban stagnation and decline than to the experience of industrial-urban expansion.