“The Faith Society”? Quantifying Religious Belonging in Edwardian Britain, 1901–1914


  • Clive D. Field

Clive D. Field is Honorary Research Fellow, School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham, UK and Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester, UK.


Historians disagree about how the Edwardian era fits into the jigsaw of secularisation in Britain. Was it a time of religious crisis (Keith Robbins, Hugh McLeod) or a faith society (Callum Brown)? This article subjects the debate to quantitative scrutiny by examining the available statistics of church attendance and church membership/affiliation for 1901–1914. A mixed picture is reported, with elements of sacralisation and secularisation co-existing. Although churchgoing was already in relative and absolute decline, one-quarter of adults (disproportionately women) still worshipped on any given Sunday and two-fifths at least monthly. Moreover, hardly anybody failed to be reached by a rite of passage conducted on religious premises. Only 1 per cent professed no faith and just over one-half had some reasonably regular and meaningful relationship with organised religion in terms of church membership or adherence. For children, perhaps nine-tenths attended Sunday school, however briefly.