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The chief recommendations of the Eclectic to the support of that branch of the community to which it principally, though not exclusively appeals, are these : it is the only periodical exclusively devoted to the maintenance of those great principles, political and religious, in which all the denominations of orthodox Dissenters are agreed; it is tlie only journal which avowedly and systematically views general literature with a reference to its bearing on religion, and which, on purely religious grounds, advocates the great principle which is every day assuming a deeper import. ance-the purely voluntary character of all religion. On this last account, if on no other, it should be the object of Dissenters to give this journal the widest possible circulation, and the highest possible degree of efficiency, since nothing but discussion,-unintermitted, persevering, yet temperate discussion,-can bring about that happy consummation which Dissenters so devoutly desire—the dissolution of the disgraceful connexion between church and state. It has been, and it will be, the Editor's ambition to render this journal an able and efficient advocate of these principles, and all he asks of Dissenters is their energetic con
For JANUARY, 1837.
Art. I. Dissenting Meeting-Houses. Return to an Address of the
Honourable the House of Commons, dated 22d March, 1836; for, A Return of the Number of the Registered Dissenting MeetingHouses, and Roman Catholic Chapels, in England and Wales. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 14th July, 1836.
THIS return was made in pursuance of the motion of the Hon.
Arthur Trevor, the Conservative Member for Durham. If it was his object to ascertain either the present number of Dissent, ing Meeting-houses and Roman Catholic Chapels, or the extent of the provision of religious instruction by them afforded, or the strength of the Dissenters, or the increase of their numbers,-in regard to any and all of these points of information, these Returns are absolutely useless. Some information, indeed, may be gleaned from them. They exhibit in a striking light the slovenly manner in which registration has been wont to be conducted, the total absence of uniformity in the system, and the ineffectiveness of the law in its present shape. The order of the House appears to have been very variously understood, and in most cases very perfunctorily complied with. Some excellent specimens of complete tabular statements occur among them ; but these serve only to render more conspicuous the imperfect, careless, and delusive character of the greater part of the returns.
The law requiring the registration of Dissenting places of worship, had respect, originally, to their being exempted from the penal statutes against conventicles, and brought under the protection of the magistrate. The Toleration Act prescribed the registry and certification of all places of worship allowed by the provisions of that statute; and no congregation or assembly for religious worship, at which are present more than twenty persons besides the immediate family and household of the owner or oc
cupant of the house or premises, is permitted or allowed by law, if not duly certified under some act or acts prior to the 52 Geo. III. c. 155; “unless and until the place of meeting shall have been or shall be certified to the bishop of the diocese, to the archdeacon of the archdeaconry, or to the justices of the peace at the general or quarter sessions. Of sūch piacog of worship so certified, it is directed, that reciprocal returns shall be made once in the year between the bishop's or archdeacon's court, and the quarter sessions; and all such places shall be registered in the bishop's or archdeacon's court respectively, and recorded at the general quarter sessions, by the registrar or clerk of the peace, who is required to register or record the same.'* Such is the law. How faithfully its directions have been complied with, will be seen from the following Returns from the Clerks of the Peace.
• Bucks. I have no record in my office of any licenses being granted within the county of Bucks, for any Dissenting Meetinghouse or Roman Catholic Chapel.—Thomas Tindal.'
• CumberLAND. None of either description have been licensed by the justices, or recorded in quarter sessions for this county.
• W. Hodgson.' • GLOUCESTERSHIRE. The register in my office of the Dissenting places of worship commences in 1689, and ends in 1800; in and between those years the number of places of worship registered was 186, but none since, though I believe many have been certified to the Bishop's or Archdeacon's Court, but I have no account of them.
· Edward Bloxome, Deputy Clerk of the Peace.' · HEREFORDSHIRE. I have no means of ascertaining the number of Dissenting Meeting-houses in this county of Hereford, there being no entry of them in the clerk of the peace's office; there is one Roman Catholic Chapel at Hereford city, and another at Weobley, in this county.—John Cleave.'
• HERTFORDSHIRE. No Roman Catholic Chapel has been, to my knowledge, licensed within the county of Hertford. Dissenting Chapels are seldom registered with the clerk of the peace, and I do not find
document with the records to enable me to make, with any accuracy, the return you require.-J. S. Story.'
HUNTINGDONSHIRE. After having made a careful search among the papers of the late clerk of the peace, who died in September last, I have not been able to find any list of licenses granted in such cases. During the time I have held the office, none have been applied for. I believe there is not a Roman Catholic chapel within the county.
• Nevill Day.' • MIDDLESEX. No such houses or chapels have been licensed by the general or quarter sessions of the peace for Middlesex.
• Charles P. Allen.'
* Beldam's Summary, p. 90.
• NOTTINGHAMSHIRE. There are twenty-six licensed Dissenting Meeting-houses registered with me as clerk of the peace for the county of Nottingham, but not any Roman Catholic Chapel. The number of registered Dissenting Meeting-houses above stated must be a small portion of the whole in the county, and probably the remainder may be registered in the Archbishop's or Archdeacon's Courts.-Edward Smith Godfrey.'
In these eight counties, including the metropolitan, no attention whatever seems to have been paid to the record which the law directs to be reciprocally made, on the part of the clerks of the peace; except in Gloucestershire, where the registry has been discontinued for seven and thirty years! Let us now see what information is to be obtained from the registrars' returns.
• ARCHDEACONRY Court of Bucks. * The total number of houses registered in the said Court as places for religious worship, by Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England, is 602. No places of worship for Roman Catholics have been registered.–Edward Prichett, Deputy Registrar.'
Now it will be observed that, of licensed places of worship Fithin this county, according to the provisions of the 52 Geo. III. c. 155, the clerk of the peace has no record whatever; nor does the registrar's return take notice of any places certified to the justices of the peace; yet'it is next to certain that many places of worship must have been certified at the general or quarter session. The total number returned must be understood as embracing a period of 158 years; but at what time registered, to what denomination the places belong, or how many are buildings set apart for public worship, the vague and general statement does not afford the slightest means of ascertaining. For the purposes of village teaching, Sunday School instruction, or prayer meetings, it is necessary, in order to secure exemption froni disturbance or penalties, to license or register many dwelling-houses, cottages, or single rooms, which of course are abandoned on the erection or purchase of more convenient and separate buildings, if required, or on the change of the occupant. In the diocese of Norwich, the number of places registered in the Episcopal registry from the year 1751, exclusive of those in the Archdeacon's registries and in the offices of the several clerks of the peace, is no fewer than 3,355; but of these a very large proportion must be places of the above description, and a considerable number have doubtless been disused for religious purposes. Of the number registered from 1689 to 1750, the record would seem to have been destroyed; yet, of these, many must still exist. It is obvious, therefore, that, for statistical purposes, the returns are worthless, as they enable us to ascertain neither how many of the registered places are now in existence, nor how many of them were ever exclusively appropriated to religious worship, nor even the total number actually certified and registered in the period specified.
We have given above the return from the registrar of the Archdeaconry of Bucks, in the diocese of Lincoln. A separate return from the Consistory Court of that diocese, exhibits the number of houses, &c. registered as places of worship, from year to year, from 1800 to 1835; taking no notice of any prior registry, and specifying no other particulars. The places registered by the clerks of the peace do not appear to have been returned to the Bishop's court. A beautiful specimen, this, of ecclesiastical registration !
We shall now proceed to lay before our readers the actual number of places of worship within the county of Bucks, so far as ascertainable from other data. We must premise, that this is a small and poor county, chiefly agricultural, and in which both agriculture and education are in a backward state; the middle class is comparatively small; and the Dissenting congregations are proportionably less numerous and influential than in the manufacturing counties. There are, in this county, 202 parishes, comprising a population of less than 150,000. The churches and chapels of the Establishment amount to 214. The Dissenting Congregations are as under.
Independents or Congregationalists
Home Missionary and other Village Stations
92 33 1
The number of houses registered in the Archdeacon's court is 602, which may, or may not, include the whole of the above 126. Supposing it to be included, the difference between the two numbers, 476, would be made up of places of worship extinct *, of barns and other buildings temporarily occupied for religious use, and of rooms and private houses in which religious meetings may have been held, during the lapse of 150 years. Whether the separate places of Dissenting worship were at any time more nu
* The congregations of Quakers were, we believe, at one time, much more numerous in this county.