RELIGION IN 18TH CENTURY ENGLAND
By Tim Lambert
The early 18th century was noted for its lack of religious enthusiasm and the churches in England lacked vigour. (Although the great hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748)was born in Southampton in 1674).
However in the mid-18th century things began to change. In 1739 the great evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) began preaching. Also in 1739 John Wesley (1703-1791) began preaching. He eventually created a new religious movement called the Methodists. His brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was a famous hymn writer.
John Wesley travelled all over the country, often preaching in open spaces. People jeered at his meetings and threw stones but Wesley persevered. He never intended to form a movement separate from the Church of England. However the Methodists did eventually break away. After 1760 Methodism spread to Scotland.
In Wales there was a great revival in the years 1738-1742. Howell Harris (1714-1773) was a key figure. Scotland was also swept by revival in the mid-18th century. William McCulloch and James Robe were the leading figures.
Though there were still Roman Catholics in England, especially in the Northwest anti-Catholic feeling remained. In 1780 London was rocked by the anti-Catholic Gordon riots. Riots Lord George Gordon (1751-1793) was an MP who led a huge crowd to parliament to present a petition demanding the repeal of a 1778 act, which removed certain restrictions on Roman Catholics. The demonstration became a riot. With cries of 'No Popery!' the rioters held London for several days until the army restored order. About 300 people died in the rioting.
At the end of the 18th century a group of Evangelical Christians called the Clapham Sect were formed. They campaigned for an end to slavery and cruel sports. They were later called the Clapham Sect because so many of them lived in Clapham.
Holy Trinity Church Clapham
Sunday Schools were also founded in the 18th century. It is not know for certain who, when or where the first Sunday School was founded but a leading figure in the movement was Robert Raikes (1735-1811).
In the early 18th century there was a great religious revival in the North American colonies. (Later it was given the name 'The Great Awakening'). Leading figures in the revival were William Tennent 1673-1745, a Scottish-Presbyterian preacher, Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758, a Congregationalist and John Davenport 1716-1757. The English preacher George Whitefield 1714-1770 also visited the colonies and won many converts.
Religion in the 17th Century
A history of Christianity in England
Life in the 18th Century