Eighteenth-Century Religious Statistics

The statistical analysis of religion in England and Wales has usually commenced with the mid-nineteenth century, but the first holistic quantification of eighteenth-century religious adherence has now been published, as a contribution to the BRIN project, in Clive Field, ‘Counting Religion in England and Wales: the Long Eighteenth Century, c. 1680-c. 1840’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 63, No. 4, October 2012, pp. 693-720.

Through synthesis of a wide range of primary and secondary sources, and some extrapolation, initial estimates of the religious composition of the population in 1680, 1720, 1760, 1800, and 1840 have been produced. These are summarized in Figure 2 in the article, reproduced below, which expresses the raw data as a percentage of the population.


  1680 1720 1760 1800 1840
Nominal Anglicans






Old Dissenters






Arminian Methodists




Other Nonconformists






Roman Catholics












No religion




The table reveals that the Church of England lost almost one-fifth of its affiliation market share during this ‘long’ eighteenth century. Protestant Nonconformity more than quadrupled, mainly from 1760 and especially after 1800. Roman Catholicism kept pace with demographic growth, but, even reinforced by Irish immigration, remained a limited force in 1840. Judaism and overt irreligion were both negligible.

By kind permission of the copyright owner, Cambridge University Press, and strictly for individual and non-commercial research use, the full text of this article has been made available on the author’s personal webpage at:


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The article does not address in any detail the question of religious practice, the extent to which people attended public worship on Sundays. However, much of the extant evidence for this topic has been previously collated in Clive Field, ‘A Shilling for Queen Elizabeth: the Era of State Regulation of Church Attendance in England, 1552-1969’, Journal of Church and State, Vol. 50, No. 2, Spring 2008, pp. 213-53.  

Anglican clergy visitation returns constitute one of the best sources for eighteenth-century religious practice. A close analysis of one set of such returns, for the Diocese of Salisbury in 1783, will be published in the next issue of Wiltshire Studies: Clive Field, ‘Status animarum: a Religious Profile of the Diocese of Salisbury in the 1780s’.

Scholarly editions of eighteenth-century visitation returns are increasingly appearing in print. One recent example is The Visitation Records of Archdeacon Joseph Plymley, 1792-1838, edited by Sylvia Watts, Shropshire Record Series, Vol. 11-12, Keele: Centre for Local History, Keele University, 2010-11.

From this edition it can be calculated that the average congregation at the best attended service in 19 Anglican parish churches in the Archdeaconry of Salop in 1792-94 was equivalent to 26% of the population. Attendance was often said to depend upon the state of the weather, and thus of the roads, in more scattered settlements.


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2 Responses to Eighteenth-Century Religious Statistics

  1. Ian Mathews says:

    I am seeking numbers/percentages of attendance at religious services in England in 1792 or in the general period. I am an undergraduate student at the Australian National University, Canberra. My essay topic is on reaction to Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, published in 1792

  2. Dear Ian

    No hard data, I am afraid. For a review of what we know about churchgoing in England in the long eighteenth century, see C. D. Field, ‘A shilling for Queen Elizabeth: the era of state regulation of church attendance in England, 1552-1969’, Journal of Church and State, Vol. 50, No. 2, Spring 2008, pp. 213-53.

    Best wishes.

    Clive Field

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