Apr 9, 2017

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By Ray Jones

On March 30, 1851 an official survey and count of capacity and atten­dance at places of worship in Great Britain was held. This religious Census was controversial and heavily criticised both before and after it was held but remains ‘ . . . unrivalled as a nationwide source of religious practice in the mid-nineteenth century.’1 The Returns from this Religious Census are held in the Public Record Office but a definitive book – The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of Returns Relating to Wales, Volume 1 South Wales, by Ieuan Gwynedd Jones and David Williams 2 (hereinafter referred to and referenced as the ‘Calendar’) provides invalu­able collated and tabulated Religious Census data for south Wales together with related information from the Incorporated Church Building Society (Grants Made to Welsh Parishes Between 1818 and 1851i), Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1848 edn.), Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Ecclesiastical Revenues of England and Wales [PP 1850 XLII (4)] and Returns of the Names and Residencies of Curates and the Stipends of Each [PP 1850 XLII (226)]. The volume also incorporates parish populations, original spellings from the Returns and several ‘Remarks.’

The Whig Government of Lord John Russell had scheduled a decennial ensus in Britain for March 31, 1851. The Census Act empowered the Secretary of State to issue questions about any further particulars that might seem advisable and George Lewis, MP for Herefordshire and an Under-secretary at the Home Office, using this clause, decided it would be desirable to discover some religious statistics.3   Hence, questions on religion were put in the Census form, thus allowing for a penalty for fail­ing to answer.

This caused something of a furore in both Houses of Parliament particu­larly from Anglican bishops although no interventions from the Welsh dioceses could be traced (Welsh dioceses were part of the Church of England at this time). The legality and value of these religious questions was doubted and there were complaints that the questions were vague and impossible to answer and unwarranted because they sought information on people’s income. ie endowments.

In the event, the questions about endowments were withdrawn and the religious questions separated from the Decennial Census forms. The Registrar General senl a letter to clergy requesting them to co-operate 4 and very few Anglican clergy failed to respond. interestingly this letter was dated March 13, 1851, before the exchanges in Parliament. It can only be described as sycophantic in tone.

The criticisms in Parliament did not receive much publicity and none of the Welsh language newspapers and magazines referred to them. The exchanges in the House of Lords were principally objections from the Bishops. However it is possible to interpret these complaints as a pre­ emptive move. Should the returns be unfavourable to the Church of England, this would have been pointed out as fallacious prior to the data being known, rather than as post-event justification.

As an official part of the decennial Census, the Religious Census was the responsibility of the Registrar General. The topography of the Religious Census was exactly that of the ‘ordinary’ Census. The country was divided into Registration Divisions and some cut across county boundaries. Thus, some Pembrokeshire parishes are in Carmarthen Registration Districts. However, the Calendar records their geographical county. Three of the parishes under review [Kilrhedin (sic), Clydey (sic) and Llanfallteg] are partly in Pembrokeshire and partly in Carmarthenshire. The population of the Pembrokeshire component of these parishes is given separately in the Calendar, but the attendance figures cannot be differentiated. With a total of three parish churches and six Nonconformist chapels, these may slightly distort data given later.

The Registrar General delegated responsibility for the Religious Census to a senior official in the Census Office, Horace Mann. The brief was to determine ‘how far the means of Religious Instruction provided in Great Britain during the last fifty years have kept pace with the rise in population in the same period and to what extent these means are adequate to meet the spiritual needs of the increased population of 1851.’ 5

Two forms were used, one for Nonconformists and one for the Church of England. Only English versions were produced. They were distributed to the residences of the officiating minister, deacon or churchwarden by the (Census) Enumerators on March 29, 1851. The census was taken on March 30 and collected on March 31. Any omissions were to be completed by Enumerators by April 8 and forms, after checking and completion by Registrars if necessary, returned to London by April 22. Any further omissions were completed by correspondence with ministers by use of an ‘Informants Form’. This worked satisfactorily and there was a good return from Pembrokeshire as shown in Table l.

No. of Returns Informant Returns Registrar Returns No Return Parish Missing Parish not Listed


321 5 6 5 2

TablI: Religious Census Returns for Pembrokeshire. Source: Calendar.

One Independent Chapel Minister in Pembrokeshire complained of not having received the form in time 6 (although it appears to have been completed). All Informant returns were from North Pembrokeshire. Five of the Registrar returns appeared to be from military establishments at or near to Pembroke Dock. Four of the Informant and four of the Registrar returns were from the Church of England. All but one of the returns from Pembrokeshire shows below average attendances although it is not clear how these averages were derived. David Williams, writing about Cardi­ganshire,7 claims that the below average attendances reported were a sign of proof of reliability. It may equally be taken as a sign of exaggeration of the averages. Two Pembrokeshire chapels had attendances exactly equal to their quoted averages, a somewhat unlikely occurrence given the wide range of reported attendances. Many responders used the bad weather of the day as a reason for relatively poor attendances although Pickering reports ‘average to fine weather on the day of the Census.’ 8 Absence at sea and the demands of agricultural work were also given as reasons for low attendance and some claimed that servants could not attend as they would be visiting their families it being mid-Lenten Sunday. 9

Some Church of England responders did not fully complete the forms because, for example, they claimed not to know the nature and/or amount of endowment while others were not willing to give this information. The vicar of Whitchurch did give the information, but regarded the question as ‘impertinent’ .10 The vicar of Manordivy (sic) added to his return ‘a greater fallacy can barely be entertained than for anyone to suppose they will receive accurate information upon the several returns made under these enquiries’. The Calendar adds ‘. . . [he himself gave] information of questionable accuracy’.11 A Registrar, who was curate of the parish, notes for Cresselly Primitive Methodists (Jefferston Parish), ‘from my own knowledge Congregationalists seldom exceed 15 and there are only three persons in the parish who call themselves Primitive Methodists’.12 The returned response had given an attendance of 30-50.

A number of returns gave information that was clearly inaccurate, although no special comment appears to have been made. For example , St Mary’s Parish Church in Angle gives its capacity as 31 but its morning attendance as 50-100 and in the afternoon 100-120 plus 42 scholars, while Horeb Baptist Chapel in Henry’s Moat had a capacity of 39 and an attendance of 200. These data emphasise the apparent difficulties of interpreting the question which asked for information on ‘space available· for public worship;’ ‘free ‘ and ‘other’ and also asking for ‘Free Space or Standing Room.’ Several returns reflect these difficulties. A deacon of Bethabara at Pontyglasier reports ‘Gallery plus 26′ whereas Ebenezer, Llanfair­ Nantgwyn says ’34 plus gallery’. Carmel, Clarbeston Road, is ‘ all free’ and Llanllawer Parish Church was ‘ large enough’ (these. data all from Calendar).

 As stated, Horace Mann was given charge of the Census and reported in 1853. 13 In order to calculate attendance, he used a formula of counting all those who attended morning service plus half who attended afternoon service and a third of those who attended evening service. There appeared to be no rationale for this and presumably was done to reduce the effect of ‘double’ attendances. The formula has been criticised on the basis that it favoured the Church of England where most services were held in the morning unlike Nonconformists who often attended more than one service. Nonconformists were also alleged to have ‘packed out’ chapels on the dayl4 although this is not confirmed by the ‘below average’ atten­ dances reported.

Mann defended his calculations on the basis there was ‘no other collection of statistical material for comparing varying practice from place to place and from denomination to denomination’ 15 and it compensated for those who went to church in the morning and chapel in the evening. In a lecture to the Statistical Society he added ‘I am really unable to arrive at any other conclusion that the general facts are substantially correct . . . [any] errors [are] distributed equally over the country’ .16 On the other hand, he also said, when referring to the adjusted data, ‘these figures are mainly conjectural’ .17 Mann claimed he had had ‘the hearty cooperation of the clergy and ministers of all denominations’18 and this certainly seemed to be the case in Pembrokeshire.

Following the report, there was further criticism in the House of Lords, including claims that the data were ‘tainted with fraud ‘ and that errors were committed because ‘ … [Nonconformist] ministers were not often in the same rank of life as the Clergy of the Established Church’ .19 The then bishop of St. David’s, Connop Thirlwall, supported this claim.20 This may have specifically mentioned Pembrokeshire but unfortunately bishop Thirlwall’s exact contribution could not be traced.

A further criticism of the data was that varying ways of reporting children in Sunday schools were used. In some cases they are included in attendances but in others listed separately. It should also be noted that many adults attended Sunday schools and may have been listed as Sunday Scholars. This would have added to the inaccuracy and perhaps favoured Nonconformists. However the Times described the Census as ‘accurate and trustworthy’ and the Christian Remembrance says ‘… on the whole the Church of England may accept the general result as a not very untrue picture’ (quoted in Pickering). 21 There were other criticisms of the Reli­gious Census and its Report both at the time of the Census and afterwards some alleging that it favoured the Church of England and others Noncon­formists. These criticisms both contemporaneous and modem appear to be largely general in nature and no specific criticism of the Pembrokeshire returns could be found.

Horace Mann used his invented formula in an effort to eliminate potential misrepresentations in the Census Returns. More recently, other formulae have been used for this purpose including the best attended service of the day as a percentage of the population.22 Ieuan Gwynedd Jones in his introduction to the Calendar 23 reports using an ‘Index of Attendance’ in his studies of religious observance in Swansea, Caernarfonshire and Brecon and Radnor. It involves adding together the attendances at every service held at an individual church or chapel and expressing this as a percentage of the total population of the parish. This is used to compare the relative attendances of the chosen area. However Vickers 24 argues the most objective figure for comparisons is the total attendance. Therefore in the summary of data that follows (Table 2), both these sets of figures are given.

It should be noted that the figures are likely to be skewed by a number of factors. These include: errors in original data and transcription; missing or non-returns – these have been omitted from calculations; churches or chapels with no service on Census day – but where a return has been made this has been included; variations in including Sunday school scholars as attendees – where these are separately identified in the Calendar they are not included; some parishes are partly in other counties – in these instances Pembrokeshire population has been used but total attendances for calcu­lation. These would include attendees from other counties not included in the Pembrokeshire population quoted; some parishes are detached, e.g. Caldey Island – their (small) populations are included in total population but not in religious returns.

There are discrepancies in total population figures for Pembrokeshire viz Parliamentary Paper LXXXIV gives 84,472 and in a different place 94,140.25 Volume II of the Calendar based on Registration Districts gives 87,672.26 This figure agrees with that in Calendar, Volume 1. The com­puted figure from the returns in the Calendar is 89,285. This figure is used to calculate percentage attendances.

There are a few discrepancies in these data compared with the Census Report. For example, there are no Moravians in the Report but one in the data above, no Latter Day Saints above but one in the Report. There are also four ‘undefined’ denominations in the Report. Other discrepancies may largely be accounted for by the use of Pembrokeshire in Table Two, but the Registration districts in the Report.

Denomination No . of Places

of Worship

No. of


Total Attendance Index of


Church of England  








Baptist* 63 103 19917 22.3%
Independent** 52 75 12633 14 .1%
Calvinistic Methodist***  








Independent Congregational  







3. 1%

(Wesleyan) Methodis t****  








Unitarian I None
Mixed***** I 1 60 0.06%
Roman Catho lic 2 2 1 60 0. 18%
Brethren in Christ l l 60 0.06%
Quakers I 1 5 0.005%
United Brethren (Moravian)  








Total 323 460 62020 69.5%
Total Nonconformists  








Table 2: Attendances at Places of Worship in Pembrokeshire, March 30, 1851; computed from Calendar data·.

* Includes 12 ‘Particular,’ 3 ‘Peculiar’ and I ‘Unitarian free ‘

** Includes 4 ‘Independent Dissenters’ and l ‘Dissenter.’

*** Includes 1 ‘Welsh Methodist’ and 3 ‘Primitive’ Methodists

**** Nine places stated ‘ Wesleyan Methodists.

***** Seaman’s Chapel.

It is difficult to exactly compare the Pembrokeshire figures with evalua­tions of census data by other writers who do not usually state which method they use and comparisons may be distorted because of the Welsh­ speaking north of the county and the strong bias to English south of the Landsker. John Davies 27 gives 80% Nonconformists and 20% Church of England for the whole of Wales using ‘attendances’. In Wales there were 25% Calvinistic Methodists, 23% Independents, 21% Anglican, 18% Baptists and 13% Wesleyans using the attendances at the largest congregation in the denominations. Anglicans were the strongest single denomi­nation in Pembrokeshire.27 In St. David’s diocese, the following ‘attendance figures’ have been given:28


Church of England – 14 % Independent – 17.8%

Calvinistic Methodist – 12.4% Baptist –   l I .1%

Wesleyan – 3.1%

Primitive Methodists – 2.3% Unitarian – 0.4%

Roman Catholic – 0.05%

In fact, very little notice of the Report and results of the Census were taken in Pembrokeshire, or indeed in the whole of Wales.29 There was something of a rekindling of interest in the data by the Liberationists in their campaign for Disestablishment a few years after the Report and that was virtually all. However, the contemporaneous opposition to the Census was successful in preventing further formal and official religious Censuses and questions on religion in subsequent years. The 1851 effort remains the only example of its kind in the UK.

There has been more enthusiasm about the religious census by twentieth century writers. Many have criticised its methodology and accuracy and some argue that ‘its results were sufficiently inaccurate as to damn the census as worthless’ while at the same time saying ‘the [Census] Report is of value to sociologists as well as historians’.30 The Census has been called a ‘useless experiment’ .31 It is difficult to share the view that it was an experiment, as there is no evidence that it was a trial for anything more elaborate or that any hypotheses were being tested, the usual prerequisites for experiments. It merely seems to be part of the development of social statistics, surveys and parliamentary reports dealing with many aspects of national life during the mid-nineteenth century.

Ieuan Gwynedd Jones in his introduction to the Calendar regards the Census as a major source for the study of the history of religion in Wales but bemoans the omission of a question about the language in which services were conducted. He also believes that some chapel officials might have had some difficulty in understanding the questions because there was no Welsh version, 32 and regards the ‘ remarks’ column as often providing important and interesting information about particular congregations and regions, some being long and detailed statements.

The general view of historians seems to be that despite its faults, the Census data do a great service. No other document , before or since , has revealed the demographic state of religion at a particular and specific time. And regarding religion in Pembrokeshire on March 30, 1851 , this writer can do no better than slightly modify Ieuan Gwyn Jones, writing in 1976. 33 The Census, if it has any significance at all, is eloquent of the fact that by the 1850s the pattern of religious adherence in Pembrokeshire (and indeed in Wales) which was to survive in its main characteristics for over a hundred years, had already been established.


 The research work on which this paper is based was originally developed as part of assessment for the MA in Local History Course at Trinity College, Carmarthen.

  1. J. Vickers, The 1851 Religious Census (London: The Historical Associa­tion, 1995), 2.

2. Ieuan Gwynedd Jones and David Williams, The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of Returns Relating to Wales, Volume 1: South Wales (Cardiff, 1976).

3. Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (London, 1966),

4. Parliamentary Papers, 1851 , Vo XLVIII (1339), 41.

5. Unpublished Notes. MA Local History, Trinity College, Carmarthen,

6. Calendar, cit., xvi.

7. David Williams, ‘The Census of Religious Worship of 1851 in Cardiganshire,’ Ceredigion, IV. 2 ( 1961) , 116.

8.    W. S. F. Pickering. ‘The 1851 Religious Census – a Useless Experiment?’ British Journal of Sociology, XVIII, 4 (1967), 38

9.    David Thompson. ‘The 1851 Religious Census: Problems and Possibilities,’ Victorian Studies, XII (1967), 94

10. Calendar, op. cit., xvi.

11. Idem.

12. Calendar, op. cit., xix.

13. Parliamentary Papers, 1852-1853, XXXXIX (1690).

14. J. A. Vickers, op. cit., 4.

15. Horace Mann, Journal of the Statistical Society, XIII (1855), 147 quoted in David Thompson, op. cit., 91.

16. Owen Chadwick, op. cit., 365.

17. Census of Great Britain 1851 Religious Worship (Abridged Version), London, 1853, 2.

18. W. S. F. Pickering, op. cit., 389-390.

19. Hansard, 3rd Series 185I, CXXXV 1851, 35.

20. Hansard, 1860 CLIX 1717 quoted in Owen Chadwick, op. cit.

21. W. S. F. Pickering, op. cit., 387.

22. Idem., 396

23. Calendar, xviii.

24. J. A. Vickers, op. cit ., 3.

25. Parliamentary Papers, LXXXIV, xviii and xxiii.

26. leuan Gwynedd Jones and David Williams, The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of Returns Relating to Wales, Volume 2: North Wales (Cardiff, 1981) (Un-numbered frontispiece).

27. John Davies, A History of Wales (Harmondsworth, 1994), 422.

28. Unpublished Notes. MA Local History, Trinity College, Carmarthen, 2004.

29. Calendar, xxxiii.

30. W. S. F. Pickering , op. cit ., 382-383.

31.   Idem., 406.

32. Calendar, xxxiii.

33. Idem, XXV





By  Simon Hancock

Although not tied to any particular denomination or institution, Evangelic­alism was an extremely important variety of Protestant Christianity. Evangelicalism emerged during the 1730s and exerted a powerful influ­ence on society and culture during subsequent decades. This dynamic · religious and ideological movement changed over time but is generally accepted as having four defining theological characteristics. Conver­sionism; [acceptance of Christ as one’s saviour] Activism; [efforts to bring about the conversion of others] Biblicism [the source of all spiritual truth] and Crucicentrism, the latter being ‘the most compelling testimony both to the power of sin and to the sacrificial  love of God ‘.1 Individualism  was also a pronounced tendency of Evangelicals.

One of the most compelling reasons for studying Evangelicalism in the nineteenth century is the variety of consequences caused by its diffusion throughout society. The capacity of Evangelicalism to facilitate community building, or in extending the role of women in a general sense, is well attested. Evangelicals often played  major roles in the  major social  issues  of the nineteenth century. Without doubt the greatest of these, in the early 1830s was the campaign for the abolition of slavery which still existed in  the British Empire. The  abolitionist  crusade  had already  been  successful in ending slavery  within  the British  Isles in 1807.

Most traditional accounts of the abolitionist movement dutifully rehearse the liturgy of dates and illustrious roll call of names, which rightfully punctuate the successes of their earlier campaigns. The giant of the move­ment, William Wilberforce, the epitome of Christian social engagement, declared ‘God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the sup­pression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners’ .2 He and the ‘Clapham Sect’ of socially conscious Anglicans worked tirelessly on a range of causes, and together with the Quaker-inspired Society for the Abolition of Slavery [founded in 1787] succeeded in getting the British Parliament to legislate for its abolition on 25 March 1807.3

Traditional accounts of the anti-slavery campaign continually emphasise the importance of Evangelical-inspired Christians throughout these decades. Some accounts have stressed the popular, radical anti-slavery movement, which flourished in the 1790s, and also the Quakers who supplied money, / manpower  and ideas before Evangelicals  became actively  involved. Yet
it is surely right to conclude that ‘Evangelicals were central to the whole enterprise’ .4 Individuals like Clarkson, Newton, Macaulay, Thomas Powell, Buxton, James Stephen et al, economic boycotts against slave-grown sugar, tracts by the hundreds of thousands and parliamentary lobbying, were signs of a new and sensitive activism and moral ascendancy which bore fruit in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The anti-slavery movement had many threads of which religious Evangelicalism was prominent. Evangelicals were ‘entirely in harmony with the spirit of the age that set benevolence among its highest value’.5

This assumption, together with their moral philosophy, was given an extraordinary and positive dynamic of their own by Evangelicals who transformed them into a religious key.6 Traditionally, the abolitionist movement has always been represented as the apogee of Evangelical humanitarianism; the triumph of the doctrine of social responsibility. The vitality of British Protestantism accounted for a large part of the success of the British anti-slavery movement 7 laying the foundation for Christian reform action.8 but it perhaps more accurate to say that the movement was delineated along the lines of religious morality rather than humanitar­ianism. This narrow orthodoxy left little room for concern ‘with the plight of any other points of human suffering’ .9 Thus nonconformists were often ambivalent concerning other social issues and did not share an equal enthusiasm for the working classes, or workhouse inmates as they did for slaves.

Perhaps the dramatic and exotic excited greater feeling than the more subtle forms of domestic inequalities. This humanitarianism did not lead to a fundamental reordering of the social and economic hierarchy.10 Missionary movements were established across the country, including Pembrokeshire. On 7 June 1832 a well-attended meeting at the Guildhall, Haverfordwest was held for the purpose of establishing a Church of England Missionary Society. The Revs. Hazlewood, Adams, Austin, Byers, Brigstocke and Turner advocated the cause and ‘a  liberal collection was made for the support of the society’.11 The Haverfordwest Wesleyan Methodists  seem  to  have  possessed  a  vibrant  Missionary  Society.  On 19 October 1834 a public meeting attended by ministers of other denomi­nations and chaired by W. H. Scourfield Esq. saw the chapel packed to excess. The collection amounted  to £22.12

The core theological beliefs of Evangelicalism receive ample attention in the context of British anti-slavery. After all, anti-slavery thought could not in any way be divorced from the general body of Protestant theology in which it was rooted.13 At the very centre of their beliefs, and the doctrine that propelled so much of their activism was the concept of redemption. Through the redemptive work of Christ came that unutterable assurance that sins were forgiven.14 When applied to the world it involved an almost physical release from bondage, 15 which the West Indian slaves  so palpably, lacked. For Evangelicals, the journey from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the children of God was fundamental to their experiences.16

Evangelicals viewed the world from a theological perspective. Since their own concepts also incorporated reason, they were able  to attract  many well read and educated individuals. 17 There was a clear spiritual impera­tive to strike down slavery, which constituted the greatest of all social evils. The anti-slavery stance has been highlighted as typical of  these years, dubbed the ‘years of conscience’, when moral imperatives dictated policy, rather than political calculation.18 Belief in an ideology, which carried the revealed word of God, was a powerful motivational factor and one, which certainly galvanised the collective consciences of such a large number of British Protestants.19 Dissenters, especially, were powerful leaders in British politics during these decades and they were usually staunch advocates of both liberal  and humanitarian reforms.20

Nothing short of immediate emancipation would do although the govern­ment’s proposed scheme of apprenticeship for slaves and grant of £20 million for the planters and slave-owners excited much controversy [such recompense was seen as rewarding the criminal for the loss of his stolen property].21 The Emancipation Bill became law on 29 August 1833, with slavery officially abolished on 1 August 1834. The six years of apprentice­ ship which some slaves were to serve was seen as a more subtle form of slavery which thus officially ended in 1838.

Fig. I: Bronze/copper medal, probably by Halliday, commemorating the passing of The Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 . The obverse depicts King William IV seated beneath a canopy attended by four statesmen. The reverse shows seven freed slaves dancing around a palm tree. (Published courtesy of the British Museum. Ref. No . M622).

Fig. I: Bronze/copper medal, probably by Halliday, commemorating the passing of The Abolition of Slavery Act 1833 . The obverse depicts King William IV seated beneath a canopy attended by four statesmen.
The reverse shows seven freed slaves dancing around a palm tree.
(Published courtesy of the British Museum. Ref. No . M622).

The most fundamental aspect of Evangelical objection to slavery was the argument that it was criminal in the sight of God. This was the most com­pelling theological and moral reason they gave and one, which was widely encountered. The moment slavery was identified with sin; it could no longer be tolerated .22 The leading Evangelical abolitionist, Sir George Stephen, put it succinctly: ‘It was self-evident that if the religious world could be induced to enter upon the subject … and viewing it simply as a question between God and man, the battle was won.’ 23

This view is amply demonstrated in the columns of two early Welsh news­ papers, The Cambrian [published in Swansea from 1804] and The Welsh­ man, a Carmarthen-based newspaper established in 1832. Pembrokeshire Evangelicals  were not tardy in the anti-slavery agitation. On 12 January 1826 a meeting was held at the Guildhall, Haverfordwest, when petitions to both Houses of Parliament were prepared and signed. The meeting was chaired by John Frederick Campbell [1790-1860] who was created Earl Cawdor in 1827. The audience, which packed the fine neo-classical build­ing with its handsome gates and piers called upon the government to ‘adopt those just and necessary improvements in the condition of so large and wretched a portion of the human family’ .24

On Tuesday 24 May 1832 a meeting of the burgesses and inhabitants of Carmarthen took place at their Guildhall to hear the Rev. J. Thomas, the resident Wesleyan Methodist minister in that town argue that slavery was an evil ‘to which the tyrannical passions of men gave birth’. Moreover, he stressed the starkness of the issue:  ‘slavery  and Christianity  are as much at variance as light and darkness, as Christ and Belial.’ 25 Similar arguments were being advanced across Wales. At Wrexham Town Hall in September 1832 a Mr Baldwin stated that since he based his anti-slavery arguments on eternal truth, they must command universal assent. Slavery, he asserted, was against the feelings of humanity and against the laws of God.

That the abolition of colonial slavery was an important political question was manifest, when on 10 December 1832 the election to return a mem­ber to the reformed Parliament for Haverfordwest took place. Sir Richard Bulkeley Philipps Philipps [1801-1857] had held the seat since 1826. He arrived at Haverfordwest in his carriage, preceded by a band of musicians and a banner-carrying crowd. The Guildhall was packed with electors, one of whom, William  Thomas,  enquired  of  the  titled  candidate  whether he would pledge to put an end to oppressive measures which he listed as the Corn Laws, tithes and ‘the abominable system of slavery in the colonies’.26 In his reply Sir Richard alluded to the support which he had given for a proposed enquiry into slavery which had been voted down. His publicly stated support for this measure an obvious attempt  to highlight his humanitarian credentials. Sir Richard Bulkeley Philipps Philipps was successfully returned as member for the Town and County of Haverford­ west and he served two terms, 1826-1835 and 1837-1847. 27

The 1832-1833 Campaign against colonial slavery had clear political and economic consequences. It is held that Evangelicals exercised consider­ able influence during the General Election in that year of reform, 1832. The Agency  Committee  published  lists  of  parliamentary  candidates as either ‘pledged’ [for abolition] or ‘irredeemable’.28 Local anti-slavery associations would only support candidates who would vote for emanci­pation, regardless of their political persuasion. In one celebrated incident, no fewer than sixty-six members of Parliament appeared on a public platform and promised to vote as they were directed.29

The ability of Evangelicalism to demonstrate political potency is illustrated in an advertisement addressed to the independent electors of Carmarthen from E. H. Adams Esq. of Middleton Hall. He specifically mentioned his staunch support for the abolitionist campaign.30 Politics of party were always important although to many Evangelicals they were secondary to discharging their Christian obligations. Nor were Evangelicals tolerant of political inconsistency. The Rev. Jabez Bunting, President of the Methodist Conference, earned scorn and derision by voting for an anti-abolitionist candidate whilst at the same time calling for abolition.3 1

Even more explicitly  Christian  arguments  against slavery  were advanced in 1833 as  the Evangelical  tempo reached fever pitch. At a  public meeting at Haverfordwest on I 5 January I 833, nearly all the speakers invoked the argument that slavery was incompatible with Christianity. John Lewis maintained ‘according to the precepts of the  Christian  religion  we  are called upon to blot out this damned spot of slavery from our national escutcheon’ .32 He subsequently supported the resolution  that  British colonial slavery was irreconcilable with Christianity. 33 The Rev. Samuel Fenton, vicar of Fishguard, commented that slavery was contrary to both reason and revelation, whilst the Rev. David Davies, in a statement which hammers home the scholarly views on Evangelicalism already cited, pro­claimed ‘Christians are under  the greatest obligation.  Emancipated  from the bondage of sin you must feel for the double slavery of the Negro, both of  body  and soul’.34

One of the most significant stances taken by Evangelicals  in  1832-1833 was the adoption of what has been called immediatism. 35 Only  immediate and unconditional abolition would do, with no amelioration or halfway house of compromise possible. Since slavery represented the powers of darkness no compromise or gradual settlement was feasible. This  impor­tant  tenet  of  Evangelical  convictions  has  been  traced  to  Mrs Elizabeth Heyrick’ s work entitled Immediate Not Gradual Abolition, in which she argued that slavery should be ‘immediately and for ever abolished’ .36 The immediatist phase of the abolitionist campaign is usually taken as having started  with the Rev. Andrew Thomson’s  sermon in October 1829.37

Fig. 2: Drawing of the Guildhall at the top of High Street, Haverfordwest [probably drawn by Thomas Ellis of Short Row School in the 1820s], the venue for several anti-slavery meetings.

Fig. 2: Drawing of the Guildhall at the top of High Street, Haverfordwest [probably drawn by Thomas Ellis of Short Row School in the 1820s], the venue for several anti-slavery meetings.

The demand for immediate emancipation was a  truly  Evangelical  one.  James Stephen fuelled the radical shift to immediatism in  his two  volumes The Slavery in the British West Indies Delineated [1824-1830].38 In July 1832 the Wesleyan Methodists committed themselves to immediate emancipation. Uncompromising, absolute language was used: abolish, extinguish, destroy and annihilate were the words regularly use d by Evangelicals  who  were  stimulated  by  deep  religious  faith  and  conscious of what they thought  was right. One group of  ladies  were  in  no doubt of  the necessity of abolishing  ‘immediately  and  entirely’  slavery  in  the colonies. 39 The efforts of the Anti-Slavery Agency Committee and Anti­ Slavery Reporter did much to popularise immediatism in the Evangelical campaigns, maintaining that it only required the steam of public opinion [employing the language of technology and progress] to ‘annihilate colonial slavery  in  one  majestic stroke’.40

At a Carmarthen meeting in May 1832 the Rev. Thomas stated that the business of their meeting was about the speedy and entire abolition of colonial slavery.4 1 At another meeting the Rev. W. Powell pointed to the inefficiency of measures to improve the conditions of the slaves. The meeting went on to move the resolution: ‘That the history of all past attempts to ameliorate the condition  of slaves, sufficiently  demonstrates on the one hand, that slavery cannot be made compatible either with the welfare of society or the claims of religion .’ 42

The important issue of immediatism was especially prominent at the Haverfordwest anti-slavery meeting in January 1833, which was  held in the Guildhall at the top of High Street, near St. Mary’s Church. David Davies expressed his relief that the meeting was not going to propose amelioration or mitigation, ‘which would be only to prolong the monster’s life ‘. 43 Rather, he asserted, to loud cheers, he under stood the meeting to be about slavery’s ‘utter extinction, its entire annihilation’.44 Equally, John Lewis invoked historical parallels in mocking those who advocated slow improvement.  Talk  of  gradual  improvement  for  slaves  would  be like recommending toleration ‘to a set of Spanish Inquisitors or Grecian liberty to a Turkish Divan’.45 The Rev. John Bulmer of Haverfordwest called for immediate emancipation : ‘if emancipation be not speedily effected, I am determined  to preach for it on all proper occasions.’ 46

Although Evangelicals campaigned for immediate emancipation primarily on theological grounds, social, economic and commercial factors were sometimes also cite d. When Mr George Pilkington addressed an anti­ slavery meeting at the Nelson Hotel, Milford Haven in January 1833 he reassured his audience that immediate release from slavery would be advantageous, safe and practical.47

That immediatism was a powerful weapon is clea r, especially because of its emphasis on moral imperatives. In their letter of Instructions issued to their agents, the Agency Committee explicitly stated that the principle ought to be that slavery should be ‘immediately and for ever abolished ‘.48 A distinctive feature of Evangelicalism was its stern moral absolutism whose demands were ‘immutable, sacrosanct and certainly not open to negotiation’.49

The anti-slavery campaign witnessed an unprecedented pet1t10ning of legislators. The point has been well made that these petitions were no mere aggregate of signatures but rather the end product of expenditures of energy, money and resources. Almost all the petitions resulted from public meetings called for abolition. 50 They were an accurate reflection of public opinion on that issue and were a potent symbol of an Evangelical ‘people mobilised ‘.51 Gathering petitions required quite complex social and religious networking sometimes over large geographical areas.

The coverage reached by Evangelical-inspired anti-slavery petitions was truly staggering. One in five British people over the age of 15 in 1833 and some ninety per cent of the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion ‘ s membership signed these petitions, which were sent to Westminster.52 Only the later Chartist petitions came anywhere near in approaching this level of public participation. The anti-slavery petitions achieved speedy and impressive political results. In May 1833 the Government sponsored an Emancipation Bill only a matter of a few months after the King’ s Speech neglected even to mention colonial slavery.53  Newspapers, local and  national, contained almost daily accounts of anti-slavery petitions being delivered to Parlia­ment. On 11 June 1830 petitions praying for the abolition of Negro slavery, containing 30,000  names from  three denominations of Protestant Dissenters within  12 miles  of London  were  handed into the House of Commons.54

Around 4,000  petitions  were  presented in  the session of  1833, of which 229,426 were Methodist.55 This was often achieved by following the Protestant  Congregationalist   community’s    organisational pattern, with staggering results. In February and March 1833 no more than  21  petitions had been received by Parliament in any one day. However, on 3 April  1833
55 petitions arrived and 200 more followed on 26 April. Another 200 were handed in on 13 May and an astounding 500 on 14 May.56 It has been estimated that one and a half million people signed anti-slavery petitions, an  impressive  tally  for  a movement  in   which  Evangelicals  were prominent.

Petitions demonstrated the penetration of anti-slavery sentiment through­out all levels of British society . Sometimes the language was steeped in the political vernacular of what has been termed artisan radicalism, but the prominence  of  the  Evangelical  message   was   clear  enough.  On 18 February 1833 Earl Cawdor presented two petitions praying  for  the abolition of colonial slavery from Haverfordwest and Milford Haven to the House of Lords.57

The anti-s la very petitions were doubtless circulated to each local church and chapel. In the Haverfordwest Circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Church the  accounts  for 1830  record the  sum  of 6s 3d  for  paper for petitions and an even larger sum, 8s 3d expended for the same purpose in 1833. 58 On 8 November 1830  the House of Lords received anti-slavery petitions from ‘Members of a society and congregation of Wesleyan Methodists  worshipping  at  Pembroke,  “Southern Pitts”,  Haking, Waters­ton, Merlin’s Bridge, Milford, Spittal, Roach, Hearson Mountain, Carew, Jefferson,  Narberth,  Pembroke  Doc k and Redberth’ .59 T hat same  day a petition calling for the abolition of slavery was submitted by Wesleyan Methodists worshipping at their chapel in the Town and County of Haver­fordwest.60 Three days later [11  November 1830]  the members of  the Calvinistic Methodist persuasion ‘ worshipping in the Tabernacle ‘ at Haverfordwest sent in a petition.61 On 18 November 1 830  the minister and members of the Particular Baptist denomination at Haverfordwest, the Independents of Narberth and the Baptists of Milford Haven submitted similar petitions.62 It is with good reason that Roland Thorne has described petitioning Parliament in the early nineteenth century as reaching a crescendo. 63

The difference in the balance of public opinion as expressed in petitions was truly startling. The Welshman of 12 July 1833 reported how, up to that time, 4,603 petitions had been sent to Westminster, containing 1,209,355 names urging abolition, whilst only one petition, containing a mere 391 signatures, called upon Parliament to resist immediate emancipation.

The burning theological priority of preaching the gospel was one of the fruits of Evangelical conversion as was a sign of activism. This ensured that Evangelicals were particularly receptive to the plight of Christian missionaries in the British West Indies, especially after the brutal sup­pression of the Jamaican slave rebellion of 1831. Slavery was widely perceived to be a barrier to the missionary progress of the gospel in the Caribbean, hence the comment of John Dyer, secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, ‘either Christianity or slavery must fall’.64 The per­secution which slave owners and planters inflicted on missionaries suspected of fermenting slave rebellion stoked Evangelical indignation. Sometimes missionaries suffered on account of the abolitionist statements of their home churches. To this Methodist missionaries were particularly vulnerable.65 The news of imprisoned ministers and Baptist chapels razed to the ground raised the temperature of the anti-slavery campaign. Those who suffered at the hands of the planters attracted a certain martyrdom. When Henry Whiteley, a missionary, published an account of his expe­ riences, his book sold 200,000 copies in just a fortnight.66

At Haverfordwest the Rev. Daniel Davies referred to the deliberate policy of the planters in seeking to banish Methodist missionaries from Jamaica since ‘Methodism in every  form, whether under a surplice or black coat, is equally offensive to them and their trade’.67 We are in no doubt that Christian missionaries were seen from an Evangelical perspective as bringing light, hope and the message of a saving gospel to the slaves. Interference or persecution of that mission was singled out as being especially wicked.

There is very little evidence of women’s activism or even attendance at these anti-slavery meetings. It may be that their presence was just not recorded. At a Carmarthen meeting all ten speakers were male 68 and there is no reference to women heing in the audience. In Pembrokeshire the requisition to call the anti-slavery meeting was signed by seventy-seven men.69 When Daniel Davies chaired the Haverfordwest meeting he opened with the words ‘gentlemen’ .70 Perhaps the undoubted involvement of women, which certainly took place nationally, was more pronounced in an urban, metropolitan context that in rural areas like west Wales.

The degree of public interest in, and attendance at anti-slavery meetings has been widely asserted ‘ with a pattern of crammed halls, overspill audiences, throngs travelling great distances – of all classes and sexes – waiting patiently for and during the lectures’.71 Such statements are sub­stantiated by articles in local newspapers. The Carmarthen meeting was ‘more numerous and respectable’ than on previous occasions. 72 At Haver­fordwest the chairman was gratified to see ‘so large and respectable an audience.’ 73

We can learn much about the Evangelical influences in this area of social concern by examining the balance of leadership and engagement between Anglicanism and Nonconformity. Secondary literature seems to suggest a general correlation between the growing British anti-slavery movement and the rise of Evangelical nonconformity.74 However, the campaign reached well beyond the confines of organised nonconformity and was often communally rather than denominationally based, initially at least. That said, anti-slavery societies did establish particularly strong links with the Wesleyan Methodists and Baptists in 1831-1833. 75 Although some bishops might have feared that if slavery was abolished tithes might be next; many Anglicans were active in anti-slavery ranks.

The ecumenical nature of anti-slavery is clearly demonstrated. The de­nominations of many who spoke at the meetings are sometimes difficult  or impossible to detect, although when denominations are given they often represented a wide spectrum of Christian allegiance. In Pembrokeshire there is no evidence of Roman Catholic involvement [at Abergavenny a Catholic priest, the Rev. J. W. Henderson spoke]. 76 The Haverfordwest meeting  saw  prominent contributions from the Rev. John  Bulmer, pastor of Albany Congregational Church [1813-1839] and from the Rev. Samuel Fenton, vicar of Fishguard [18 25-1852].77

Determining the balance of religious and secular leadership in a local context is very challenging . Communal-based organisations, sometimes with popular, radical support, also made vigorous efforts in the abolitionist campaign. Religious denominations accounted for 56% of anti-slavery petitions in 1833 but rather less than 27% of actual signat ures. 78 The often middle-class nature of Evangelicalism could blunt its appeal to the wider population. The number of signatures mobilised against granting Roman Catholics political rights attracted nowhere near this level of support. It might be reasonable to conclude that the anti-slavery campaign of 1832-1833 represented the confluence of religious and secular influences, although the religious aspect remained far more important than most other influences.

At Haverfordwest the main movers behind the anti-slavery meeting were from both secular and clerical worlds. The former  included  the  county gentry, including J. H. Allen of  Cresselly;  a  local  medical  practitioner, John Howell MD; an elected politician, Sir John Owen MP and a secular high-ranking official, the High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire.79 After the royal assent to the Emancipation Bill on 29 August 1833,  further  agitation followed regarding the thorny issue of  the ‘ apprenticeship  ‘  provisions for the freed slaves. As well as freeing some 800,000 black slaves,  the cam­paign  had  tangible consequences for  increased  optimism  in society and in a  teleological  belief  in progress in the human  condition .

The synthesis of religious and political action ‘had profound implications for middle class optimism and the idea of progress’80 and represented a shining light that religious principle could indeed triumph over com­mercial considerations. It is asserted that the world benefited morally from the abolition of slavery within the British Empire and provided a dynamic thrust forward to the notion of a universal God alive in the world.

This was Evangelicalism active in society. It was an activism born of conversion of assurance that individual sins were forgiven , and a commit­ment to serious religious principle and practice. The anti-slavery campaign across Great Britain, of which the activity of Evangelicals  in Pembrokeshire comprised a minute part, met with glorious success in 1833 and showed the short shrift, which they gave to superficial Christian pro­fession.81


I. John Wolffe, ‘Evangelicals, Women and Community in Nineteenth-century Britain’ (Milton  Keynes, 2000), 18.
2. Ernest Marshall Howse, Saints in Politics, the ‘Clapham Sect’ and the growth of Freedom (London, 1952), 32.
3. Oliver Warner, William Wilberforce and His Times (London, 1962), 103.
4. D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism , in Modern Britain.  A  history  from  the 1730s to the 1980s (London, 1989)  , 71.
5.  I bid., 71.
6. Howse, Saints in Politics, op. cit. 7.
7. Edith F. Hurwit z, Politics and the Public Conscience. Slave Emancipation and the Abolitionist Movement in Britain (Lo ndon, 1973)  ,  I 5.
8.  Ibid., 17.
9.  Ibid., 42.
10 . John S. Galbraith,  ‘Myths of  the  ‘ Little England  Era’, A. G.  L. Shaw  l ed. I,
Great Britain and the Colonies,  /8 /5 – /865   ( Londo n, 1970), 40.
11 . The Cambrian,  15 June 1832.
12. The Cambrian, 24 October  1834.
13. Hurwilz, Politics and the Public Conscience, op. cit., 44.
14. Roger Anstey, ‘The pattern of British abolitionism in  the eighteenth  and  nine­ teenth centuries,’  Christine Bolt and Seymour Drescher [eds.], Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform: Essays in Memory of Roger Anstey (Folkestone, 19 80)  , 21.
15. Ibid.
16. Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition 1760- 1810 (Lon­ don, 1975),  190.
17 . Ibid., 168.
18. D. W. Bebbington, The Nonconformist Conscience. Chapel and Politics 1870- 1914  (London,  1982), 16.
19. Hurwitz, Politics and the Public Conscience, op. cit., 22.
20. R. G. Cowherd, ‘The Politics of English Dissent, 1832-1848’, Church History (Vol. 23, No. 2, 1954), 136.
21. Howard Temperley, British Anti-Slavery 1833-1870 (London,  1972), 271.
22. D. W. Bebbington, The Nonconformist Conscience, op. cit., 14.
23. Sir George Stephen, Anti-Slavery Recollections in A Series of  Letters  Addres­sed to Mrs Beecher Stowe [1854]  , (London, 1971), 160.

24. The Cambrian, 3 February 1826.
25. The Welshman, 11 May 1832.
26. The Welshman,  14 December 1832.
27. Roland Thorne, ‘The Political Scene in Haverfordwest 1600-1974’, D. Miles [ed.], A History of Haverfordwest (Llandysul, 1999), 219.
28. Anstey, Anti-Slavery, Religion and  Reform, op. cit., 28.
29. Howse, Saints in Politics, op. cit., 163.
30. The Welshman, 2  November 1832.
31. The Welshman, 11  May 1832.
32. The Welshman, 25 January 1833.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid.
35. D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Mod ern Britain, op. cit., 72.
36. Anstey, Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform , op. cit., 27.
37. Louis Billington and Rosamund  Billington,  ‘A  Burning  Zeal  for  Righteous­ness: Women in the Anti-Slavery Movement 1820-1860’,  Jane  Rendall  [ed.], Equal or Different? Women’s Politics 1800-1914 (London,  1914) , 90.
38. Hurwitz, Politics and the Public Conscience, op. cit., 36. 39.  Ibid., 144.
40. James  Walvin,  ‘The  rise  of  British  popular  sentiment  for   abolition,   1787- 1832  ‘ , Anti-Slavery , Religion and Reform, 158.
41. The Welshman, 11 May 1832.
42. The Welshman, 21  December 1832.
43. The Welshman, 25 January 1833.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. Report of the Agency Committee of the Anti-Slavery Society (1832), 3.
49. D.W. Bebbington,  Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, op. cit., 136.
50. Seymour Drescher, ‘Public Opinion and the destruction of British Colonial Slavery’, James Walvin [ed.], Slavery and British Society 1776-1846 (London, 1982), 25.
51. Ibid.
52. D. W. Bebbington,  Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, op. cit., 72.
53. S. Drescher,  ‘Public Opinion  and the destruction of British Colonial Slavery’,
op. cit., 41.
54. The Times, 12 June 1830.
55. Seymour Drescher, ‘Two variants of Anti-Slavery: Religious Organisation  and Social Mobilisation  in Britain  and  France  1780-1870’ , Anti-Slavery, Religion and  Reform, 48.
56. Hurwitz,  Politics and the Public Conscience, op. cit., 62.

57. The Cambrian, 23 February 1833.
58. Pembrokeshire Record  Office.   Haverfordwest   Methodist Circuit  accounts, 182 1- 18 3 7 . DFC/M/9/1.
59. House of Lords Journal, Vol. 63. 8 November 1830.
60. Ibid .
61. House of  Lords Journal, Vol. 63.  l l  November 1830.
62. House of Lords Jou rnal, Vol. 63. 18 November 1830.
63. Roland Thorne,  ‘The Political Scene’ , History of  Haverfordwes t, op. cit., 216.
64. D. W. Bebbing ton, Evangelicalism in Mode rn Britain, op. cit., 133.
65. Michael Crafton, ‘Slave Culture, Resistance and the Achieve ment of Emanci­pation in the British West Indies 1783- 1838’ , Slavery and British Society, I 0 8.
66. C. Duncan Rice, ‘ The Missionary Context of the British Anti-Slavery Movement’, ibid., 15 9.
67. The Welshman, 25 January  183 3.
68. The Welshman , 11 May 1 832.
69. The Welshman,  11 January 1833.
70. The Welshman, 25 January  1833 .
71. Walvin, Slavery and British Society, op. cit., 54.
72. The Welshman, 11 Ma y 1832.
7 3. The Welshman, 25 January 1833 .
74. S.  Drescher,  Slavery and  British Society, 34.
75. Anstey , Anti-Slavery, Religion and Reform, op. cit., 27.
76. The Welshman, 21 December  1832 .
77. The Welshman , 25 January 1833.
78 . S.  Drescher, Slavery and British Society, op. cit ., 36 .
79. The Welshman, 18 January  183 2.
80. David  Brion David, ‘Slavery and Progress’ , Anti-Slavery,  Religion and  Reform, 352.
81. Andrew Walls, ‘The Evangelical Revival, The Miss ionary Movement and Africa’. Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington and George A. Rawlk [eds.], Evangelicalism. Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, The British Isles and Beyond 1700-1900 (Oxford, 1994), 313.