A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7, the City of Birmingham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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PROTESTANT NONCONFORMITY (fn. 1)
Though the history of nonconformity in Birmingham may be said to begin logically in 1662, with the enforcement of the Act of Uniformity, religious revolt originated much earlier in the Puritan reform movement within the Established Church, and in the conflicts and innovations of the Civil War and the Interregnum. Puritan lectureships are known to have existed in Birmingham and King's Norton (fn. 2) in the 1630s, at which were discussed the problems of doctrine and organization that, within a few years, resulted in the irreconcilable schism of English religious life. Of the attendance of Thomas Hall, perpetual curate at King's Norton, at the Birmingham lectures, a royalist historian was later to write that 'maintained and held up by old Puritans, they so operated on his spirit that he relinquished his former principles and adhered to that party, and in many respects became an enemy to the Church of England'. (fn. 3) In 1652 Hall himself paid tribute to the formative years at Birmingham when he 'sat at the feet of those learned Gamaliels, your revered lecturers, Dr. Burgess, Mr. Slader, Mr. Grent and Mr. Atkins'. (fn. 4) Of this group of Puritan pioneers 'Dr. Burgess' was probably John Burgess (d. 1635), a Doctor of Medicine of Leyden, who was Rector of Sutton Coldfield from 1617. He was a prominent advocate of Puritan views, and suffered a brief imprisonment for such advocacy in 1604. (fn. 5) Josiah Slader was apparently in Birmingham by about 1628, (fn. 6) and is said to have 'held the pulpit' of St. Martin's until about 1634. (fn. 7) In his will, proved 1659, he claimed that he had been minister at Pyworthy (Devon), Lyme Regis (Dorset), Coventry, Knowle, Birmingham, and Broughton and had been 'driven from all by the bishops'. (fn. 8) In 1643 he was appointed by the House of Commons to the parish of Buntingford-Westmill (Herts.) as 'a godly and orthodox divine'. (fn. 9) John Grent was Vicar of Aston 1621-45. (fn. 10)
In the forties a new generation preached at Birmingham, and Hall, (fn. 11) in his turn, helped first Francis Roberts and then Samuel Wills (fn. 12) to make the pulpit of St. Martin's a stronghold of Presbyterianism. Two other important centres of Puritan, and later of Presbyterian, influence were the Birmingham Free School (fn. 13) and a small academy kept by Hall at his house at King's Norton, from which he is said to have 'stored the country round with pious, learned, able, orthodox ministers'. (fn. 14)
No records have survived of the existence of Independent or Anabaptist congregations at Birmingham, and the only intimation of separated worship before the founding of a Quaker congregation in the 1650s is the trial in 1638 of William Pinson, an attorney of Birmingham, before the Court of High Commission for holding conventicles in his house while resident in Wolverhampton from 1631 to 1636. (fn. 15) At the beginning of 1642 Joseph Baker, a Birmingham saddler, was indicted before Quarter Sessions for calling the Book of Common Prayer 'mere Popery' and those who used it 'no better than Papists'. (fn. 16)
The first definite account of a separated congregation is to be found in George Fox's Journal, in which he records holding a meeting at Birmingham in 1655, 'where there was several convinced and turned to the Lord'. (fn. 17) Richard Farnsworth had already visited Birmingham for the Friends, in 1654, (fn. 18) and the Quaker community was soon sufficiently important to attract persecution. In 1656 Jane Hicks of Chadwick (Worcs.) was sent to prison at Worcester for having offended the priest at King's Norton; (fn. 19) and about the same time a King's Norton parishioner, John Bissel, had his goods distrained upon for tithe. (fn. 20) In 1659 William Heath of Birmingham (fn. 21) was similarly distrained and in January 1660 a meeting held at the Birmingham house of William Reynolds was broken up by the constable, who 'with a rude multitude armed with swords and staves pulled the Friends out of the house and beat and abused some of them'; a meeting at William Bayliss's house was treated similarly in the following month. (fn. 22)
The Restoration, and the ejectments which followed the enforcement of the Act of Uniformity, greatly increased, by the alienation of the Presbyterian interest, the importance of nonconformity at Birmingham. From opposite sides of the contemporary conflict both Clarendon and Baxter paid tribute to the strength with which the Birmingham populace held to the Parliamentarian and the Puritan cause during the Civil War; the ejectment of the non-conforming clergy in 1662 meant that all the sections of that cause were now ranged locally in opposition. The Birmingham ministers immediately affected were three in number. Samuel Wills, Rector of Birmingham from 1646, had already been forced to leave Birmingham parish church when he was ejected from Deritend chapel in December 1662. Hall was deprived of his curacy at King's Norton. A more dramatic fate was reserved for Joseph Cooper, perpetual curate at Moseley, and a noted Hebrew scholar, for 'there being none to carry on the public service and worship of God in his room there, Mr. Cooper continued to preach in it after the 24th August, until December 1662, when a troop of horse came and carried him out of the pulpit on the Lord's Day, after which he was confined in Worcester jail for six months'. There were other ejected ministers in Birmingham in the early 1660s, notably Thomas Brooks, formerly perpetual curate at Hints (Staffs.), Jarvis Bryan, formerly Rector of Old Swinford, and Samuel Bryan, ejected from the rectory of Allesley. (fn. 23) The passing of the Five Mile Act in 1665 resulted in a fresh influx of uprooted ex-preachers attracted by the fact that Birmingham, though a large centre of population, was not a borough, and was therefore exempt from the effects of the Act. (fn. 24)
Thomas Bladon, former Vicar of Alrewas (Staffs.), recalled in 1702 that 'When the Corporation Act came forth your town of Birmingham was an asylum, a place of refuge for nine of us, and two more who lived near your town, and the ancient professors then alive gave us kind reception'. (fn. 25) Such asylum was only relative. In December 1663 the zealous churchwardens of King's Norton presented Thomas Hall for clandestinely baptizing a child, and in the following year Joseph Cooper for preaching at Hall's house during service time, and George Wright, former Rector of Congerstone (Leics.), for attending the sermon. (fn. 26) In 1663 some 'Quakers or sectarists' were fined at Aston for non-attendance at church, (fn. 27) and in 1671 Robert Rotherham and two others were presented to Quarter Sessions as Quakers. (fn. 28)
The strength of nonconformity in Restoration Birmingham is difficult to assess. A memorandum of evidence submitted by the Birmingham corporation in 1938 to the Royal Commission on the geographical distribution of the industrial population accepts, without qualification, the argument that, in the 17th century, the town became a refuge of 'relatively large numbers of educated and religious minded people, chafing under restrictions imposed on their religious opinions elsewhere', and that the immigrants 'contributed to the furtherance of that particular type of individualism which to this day is considered to characterize much of the industrial life of the city'. (fn. 29) Modern research has led to serious modifications of this traditional view. In a recent criticism it has been pointed out that there is no evidence for a perceptible increase in Birmingham's population in the period immediately before 1680, and that 'the census of conformists, nonconformists and papists organized by Bishop Compton in 1676 reveals not only that the recorded nonconformists accounted for a negligible proportion of the total population of Birmingham in that year, but that several other places in north Warwickshire were sheltering a much larger number of nonconformists actually and proportionately than was Birmingham'. (fn. 30)
The 'refuge' tradition appears to have been created relatively late in the 19th century. An influential account of the rise of Birmingham industry, compiled in 1865, mentioned comparative religious freedom as one of many attractions of the town for the industrial immigrant in the 17th century, together with freedom from guild and other economic restrictions. 'Dissenters and Quakers and heretics of all sorts were welcomed' it was remarked 'and undisturbed so far as their religious observances were concerned'. (fn. 31) This moderate view was sanctioned in two subsequent general histories of Birmingham by R. K. Dent, published before 1900. (fn. 32) The extreme view, that the religious factor was mainly, if not solely, responsible for the development of industrial Birmingham, seems to have been first advanced by W. B. Wright in 1889, in an article written for the Atlantic Monthly of Boston. (fn. 33) The 'refuge' theory appears to have been given the seal of authority, however, by J. H. B. Masterman's Birmingham, published, in 1920, in the 'Story of English Towns' series. In this account the author, subsequently quoted in at least one official publication of the corporation, (fn. 34) argued that the presence of nonconformist ministers 'probably attracted to the town a considerable number of Puritan laymen, whose independence of spirit and earnestness of purpose must have made them a valuable acquisition to the life of the city . . . The strongly nonconformist character of Birmingham fostered its industrial progress. Cut off from entry into the learned professions by the fact that the universities were barred to them, English nonconformists devoted themselves to business life'. (fn. 35) Such an assessment appears to be purely deductive, and has yet to be sustained by material evidence. Contemporary evidence is inconclusive. Bishop Compton's census of 1676 gave for the parishes which later became part of the modern borough a total of 133 nonconformists. (fn. 36) The validity and correct interpretation of the census has been the subject of some conflict of opinion, however, (fn. 37) and the theory has even been advanced by a recent biographer of Bishop Compton that it was not intended to include Presbyterians as 'nonconformists'. (fn. 38) The episcopal return of conventicles of 1669 attributed to Birmingham and Aston alone two Presbyterian congregations of approximately 100 each. (fn. 39) There were also said to be at Bromsgrove and King's Norton 'several conventicles, but very few considerable persons in them'. (fn. 40) But even this survey compares oddly with the anxiety of the Bishop of Lichfield, who, in 1669 wrote to the archbishop complaining of the 'numerous and dangerous conventicles' in Coventry and Birmingham and inviting him to give orders that 'a troop of horse abide in Coventry to reduce them to good order, and their confederates in Birmingham, who are a desperate and very populous rabble'. (fn. 41)
The Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 resulted in the licensing of nine Presbyterian houses and one Independent house for dissenters' meetings in Birmingham, (fn. 42) to which must be added three more Presbyterian licences at King's Norton. (fn. 43) The continuity of a Quaker congregation is indicated by the presentation of Robert Rotherham at the Quarter Sessions once more, in 1678, for keeping a conventicle in his house at Aston; (fn. 44) a meeting at Birmingham is mentioned in the minutes of the Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting in 1670. (fn. 45)
The second prosecution of Rotherham proved the prelude for a renewal of intense persecution of dissenters from Birmingham and Aston and there are records of 32 presentments at Warwickshire Quarter Sessions in 1679, 68 in 1680, 19 in 1681, and 18 in 1682. (fn. 46) A further 82 presentments of nonconformists from the neighbourhood of Birmingham were made between 1682 and 1687. (fn. 47) Such presentments were mainly of Quakers, but in 1684 two former Presbyterian ministers were brought before the sessions: George Long, who soon afterwards fled the town, and Thomas Evans, formerly Rector of Weddington, whose house had been reported a conventicle in 1669 and licensed in 1672. A constable of Hemlingford hundred was directed to 'take care from time to time to apprehend all suspicious persons and nonconformists' lodging with Evans, and 'to bring them before Sir Charles Holte . . . to be examined by him and dealt with according to law'. (fn. 48) To Sir Charles Holte of Aston Hall, lord of Aston and Erdington manors from 1679 and a member of the Warwickshire and Shropshire Commissions of the Peace, has been attributed much of the harshness of persecution of local dissenters in the 1680s. (fn. 49) It was Holte who, in 1685, obtained the suppression of the charter of Birmingham school, and turned out the old, largely nonconformist, governors. (fn. 50) The Holtes were traditional enemies of dissent in Birmingham. Their hostility dated in full bitterness at least from December 1643 when a force of 1,200 parliamentarians from the town besieged Sir Thomas Holte in Aston Hall, took and sacked the Hall and imprisoned its owner. (fn. 51) By 1684 it was said that only five nonconformist ministers were left in Birmingham: Bryan, Evans, Fincher, Baldwin and Spilsbury, although others visited the town frequently, notably William Turton, 'a very dangerous nonconformist' (fn. 52) ejected in 1662 from Rowley Regis (Staffs.) and more recently preaching at Nantwich (Ches.). (fn. 53) The accession of James II in 1685 led to a relaxation of the severity of religious persecution and in 1686 Turton became the settled minister of a Presbyterian congregation which had, by October 1687, arranged to buy a piece of land in Phillip Street for the erection of a meeting-house later known as the Old Meeting. (fn. 54) A few years before, in 1681, the Quakers had taken over a house and land off Newhall Lane, (fn. 55) and both these places were registered for dissenters' meetings in 1689, at the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions, after the accession of William III and the passing of the Toleration Act. The houses of William Ford, Fincher, Turton, Baldwin, (fn. 56) and William Polton of Aston (fn. 57) were also so registered. The assembly place of a second Presbyterian meeting, whose existence is confirmed by the survey of Presbyterian and Congregational churches of 1690, (fn. 58) has been identified with a meeting-house in John Ruston's Tanyard, Deritend, (fn. 59) known as the 'Lower Meeting', but it does not appear to have been registered in 1689. (fn. 60) At the time of the 1690 survey a chapel had also been registered at Moseley, and there were week-day lectures at Small Heath. The chapel at Moseley continued in use at least until 1708 when the Presbyterian Board transferred its financial support to a new meeting-house at Kingswood (Worcs.). (fn. 61)
The Revolution of 1688 created the conditions for the peaceful expansion and consolidation of Protestant dissent, firmly attached to the Protestant succession, and sustained by the power of the Crown. It was ironical, therefore, that the Birmingham dissenters, who had, in the 17th century, suffered official persecution for their supposed alienation from authority, had yet to face, at the beginning of the 18th, a severe and damaging attack for precisely the opposite reason.
The Jacobite rising of 1715 released, in the Midlands, as elsewhere, a sudden outburst of popular fury against the Presbyterians, regarded as defenders of the Hanoverian cause. In the course of a series of riots in July meeting-houses at Birmingham, Oldbury, Bradley, Stourbridge, Dudley, and Bromwich were attacked and more or less seriously damaged. At Birmingham the Phillip Street Meeting was sacked and the interior badly damaged and the Lower Meeting also suffered, though less severely. (fn. 62) The attempt to burn the new meeting-house at Kingswood was only narrowly foiled. (fn. 63) However, the outbreak in 1715, unlike the judicial harrying of the previous century, was only the symptom of a temporary crisis, and for most of the remainder of the 18th century the significant history of Birmingham Presbyterianism is concerned with more peaceful issues.
From about 1712 an increasing party among English Presbyterians began to be affected by a current of Arianism strong enough and near enough to Unitarianism to break, at the Salters' Hall Synod in 1719, the brief unity of Presbyterians and Independents. The new tendency was slow to affect Birmingham. When, in 1736, the Lower Meeting appointed Samuel Bourn to preach at their new chapel in Moor Street (subsequently known as the 'New Meeting' in contrast to the 'Old Meeting', Phillip Street), Bourn was known to be a trinitarian, but by 1736 he had begun to question vital elements of the Westminster Assembly's Catechism. The change did not affect the Old Meeting until 1746, when William Howell succeeded to the ministry, but after that date both the Birmingham Meetings were regarded as leaning towards Unitarianism. (fn. 64) This theological revolution inevitably displeased a substantial Calvinist section of the congregations, and led in the 1740s to a revival of Congregationalism apparently dormant in Birmingham since the licensing of a Congregational teacher in 1672. (fn. 65) In 1745 the house of Thomas Pearsall was registered as a meeting for Independents, and by midsummer 1747 a new chapel, at Carrs Lane, had been built and registered, to be peopled by a secession from the Old Meeting in 1748. (fn. 66)
The Carrs Lane secession marked the end of a germinative decade in the history of Birmingham nonconformity, during which churches of both Particular Baptists and Methodists had established themselves in the town for the first time. According to the 18th-century Birmingham historian, William Hutton, (fn. 67) there had been Baptist meetings in the town since the beginning of the century, at which time the preachers 'held forth in a diminutive style at the top of Ranns' Yard near the old cross'. From this congregation is said to have sprung, in 1727, a General or Arminian (fn. 68) Baptist meeting, whose premises in Freeman Street were registered in 1729, (fn. 69) the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists continuing as a congregation at John Attwood's house in the High Street, where their meeting was licensed in 1736. (fn. 70) From other sources it appears likely that the High Street congregation was composed of members of the church established at Bromsgrove, (fn. 71) and it was not until 1737 that a Birmingham Particular Baptist church was formed. A chapel was opened in Cannon Street the following year. The cause did not become firmly established, however, until the reunion of the two Baptist congregations at Cannon Street in 1754. (fn. 72) The Methodist revival reached Birmingham in 1743, when Charles Wesley preached in the streets on Whitsunday. (fn. 73) He was followed, in October, by his brother, who preached to 'a small attentive congregation' (fn. 74) and in December by the Calvinistic Methodist, George Whitfield, (fn. 75) who engaged in a preaching campaign of a week or more. (fn. 76) John Wesley later described Birmingham as 'long a dry and uncomfortable place' (fn. 77) and even as 'a barren wilderness', and on at least one preaching occasion he was met with stones by the mob. (fn. 78) By 1751, however, Methodism seemed to have taken a firm hold, and the first meetinghouse, an outbuilding in Steelhouse Lane, was filled to overflowing to hear his sermon. (fn. 79) The congregation had yet to endure a few more difficult years. In October 1751 the meeting-house was attacked and the seats and pulpit burned by a hostile mob. (fn. 80) Antinomianism and mysticism divided and seduced the members (fn. 81) to such effect that on a visit in 1760 Wesley could rally only 'upwards of fifty resolved to stand together in the good old path'. (fn. 82) By 1782, when the Birmingham Circuit was created, there was a local membership of 700. (fn. 83) The Birmingham chapel was then 'an old shabby building in an obscure dirty back street', (fn. 84) a former theatre off Moor Street, opened, with a sermon by Wesley, and a public riot, in March 1764. (fn. 85) In the next seven years the Birmingham Methodists were to build three new chapels: Cherry Street, replacing Moor Street, in 1782, Bradford Street in 1786, and Coleshill Street (later known as Belmont Row), in 1789. Two other chapels were open at the close of the century: Bank Alley, Dale End, registered in 1799, and a country chapel at Ridgacre, Quinton, built in 1780. (fn. 86)
During the last quarter of the 18th century an evangelical impulse, born of the Methodist revival, became increasingly evident in local religious life. Perhaps most directly associated with Wesley's campaign was the revival, in the seventies, of the New Connexion of General Baptists in Leicestershire whose preachers early extended their activities to Sutton Coldfield and to Birmingham, where the first chapel was built in Lombard Street in 1785, by a congregation established a dozen years before. (fn. 87) About the same time as Abraham Austin was reviving the General Baptist cause, and 'not long after' 1774 'Lady Huntingdon sent some of her students to Birmingham and other places in the neighbourhood' as a new mission of the Calvinistic Methodists. 'In the process of time a congregation was raised and a chapel opened in Paradise Street.' (fn. 88) In 1786 an old theatre in King Street was purchased and opened as a Connexion chapel, the internal arrangements lending themselves to spectacular revivalist effects. Two years later Union Row chapel, Handsworth, was added, and in 1791 a further chapel was opened in Bartholomew Street. (fn. 89) Yet another smaller denomination in evidence in Birmingham before the end of the 18th century was the New Jerusalem, or Swedenborgian Church, which, founded in London in 1788, had already a congregation in Birmingham in 1789, and a chapel in 1791. (fn. 90)
The new current was slower to stir the established congregations. There was a secession from Cannon Street in 1784-6 when Edward Edmonds, after a period of cottage meetings and open-air preaching at Deritend, led his congregation into a new Particular Baptist chapel in Bond Street. (fn. 91) The new church seems to have drawn away, for a time, most of the vigorous evangelists of the older chapel, and in 1787 Edmonds reported to the Midland Association that the members were regularly sending out 'eight of our brethren, two by two, who expound the word every Lord's Day at Erdington, Yardley, Beech Lanes, and Heeley, where they are kindly received'. (fn. 92) In 1791 a daughter church was founded at Coppice, near Coseley (Staffs.). A decade later, however, inspired by the pastorate of Samuel Pearce, Cannon Street itself was supplying its own group of village stations, of which Wythall Heath (Worcs.) and Shirley later became full chapels. (fn. 93) The Congregationalists at Carrs Lane, the Presbyterians, and the Quakers do not seem to have responded to the same extent to the new awakening in religious life which characterized the period, although by 1795 there were new Congregational chapels at Oxford Street and Paradise Street. (fn. 94) At the end of the century the Presbyterians, preoccupied with the theological problems of a hardening Unitarianism and with a growing interest in political equality, found themselves once more unpopular at a time of national political crisis, and suffered fresh violence in consequence. In the notorious riots of 1791 the three local meeting-houses were attacked by a 'church and king' mob incited by the political and religious enemies of Dr. Joseph Priestley, minister, since 1780, of the New Meeting. (fn. 95) The New Meeting and Kingswood chapels were burnt down and the Old Meeting destroyed. Although the Old Meeting and Kingswood chapels were rebuilt within a few years, the New Meeting finished the century in temporary accommodation at Livery Street. (fn. 96)
The history of the Birmingham Friends in the 18th century seems to bear little relation to that of the other denominations. The new meeting-house at Bull Street, opened in 1703, (fn. 97) did not suffer with the Presbyterian chapels in 1715 and 1791, or with the Methodist chapels in the middle years of the century. Indeed, apart from a brief outbreak in 1759, when some Quakers had their windows broken for refusing to celebrate the English victory in Canada, (fn. 98) the congregation was allowed to develop peacefully. Relief from the habitual persecution of the 17th century was not reflected in any substantial increase in numbers, and missionary fervour seems even to have declined into a quietism bordering on complacency. Even as late as 1849 the membership of the Birmingham Society of Friends, estimated to have been from 200 to 225 in 1689, (fn. 99) had risen only to 380, including children. (fn. 100)
Any attempt to measure the strength of nonconformity in Birmingham in 1800 can only be provisional and tentative. There are, however, a few reliable indications. In 1787 there were said to be 800 members of the Methodist church in the Birmingham chapels. (fn. 101) A joint service of the Unitarian congregations drew 1,200 hearers in 1791 (fn. 102) and 200 regular hearers were reported from Kingswood in 1772. (fn. 103) In 1788 Cannon Street claimed 242 members, (fn. 104) and in 1800 Lombard Street 33. (fn. 105) In 1819 the second Carrs Lane chapel attracted a congregation of about 800, but at the beginning of the century the first chapel could accommodate only about half as many. (fn. 106) Although comparable figures are not available for the other chapels there is sufficient data to justify a generous estimate of 6,000 as the maximum number of nonconformist worshippers in greater Birmingham, at a time when Birmingham and Aston alone contained a population of more than 73,000. (fn. 107)
The dominant theme of the history of nonconformity in 19th-century Birmingham is the response made by the sects to the problems and opportunities involved in swift growth of population and accelerated industrialization. Between 1800 and 1900 the population of the Birmingham district increased at least fivefold, an increase directly reflected in developments in religious life. In 1800 it is possible to identify in Birmingham about seventeen places of worship of eight nonconformist denominations. In 1892 a religious census conducted by the Birmingham News resulted in returns by 21 denominations for 221 places of worship. (fn. 108)
From the central chapels, built in the 18th century, the denominations expanded to build in the new streets and in the old villages that had become new suburbs. New Particular Baptist chapels were opened by Cannon Street at Newhall Street (1814), Heneage Street (1841), King's Norton (1847) and Aston (Christ Church) (c. 1863). From the daughter chapels in their turn yet others were founded: The People's Chapel, Great King Street, was opened by members of Newhall Street in 1848. From Heneage Street chapels were opened in Bradford Street in 1848, and Yates Street in 1859. Christ Church, Aston, was responsible for the opening of new chapels at Guildford Street in 1880, and Victoria Road, Handsworth, in 1885. (fn. 109) Essentially similar 'tables of descent' could be traced for chapels owing their origin to the General Baptist Church in Lombard Street, or to the Congregationalists of Carrs Lane. The organization of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in circuits makes an exact parallel difficult, but from changing administrative arrangements it is possible to construct the same pattern of sustained advance. In 1835 the original Birmingham Circuit of 1782 was divided, and Belmont Row and Cherry Street placed at the head of two new circuits. From chapels in the Cherry Street Circuit was founded, in 1862, the Wesley Circuit, with Constitution Hill chapel at its head, to take charge of chapel building and expansion in the Handsworth and Rotton Park direction, and in 1873 the Islington Circuit, under the supervision of St. Martin's Street chapel. The Islington Circuit was further subdivided in 1884 by the creation of a new circuit under Bristol Road chapel. Belmont Row Circuit continued to be responsible for extension in the direction of Small Heath, but in about 1868 Newtown Row, one of the circuit chapels, was placed at the head of a new circuit, out of which was created, in 1888, Aston Park Circuit, with Lichfield Road chapel at its head. (fn. 110)
It is possible to distinguish three main stages in the expansion of Birmingham nonconformity in the 19th century. The first stage is characterized by an extensive campaign by the town chapels to evangelize outlying villages and suburbs. At Harborne, for example, Baptists from Bond Street, active in the village since the 1780s, had by 1820, established a meeting at a private house at Harborne Heath. The progress of this mission resulted, in 1836, in the opening of the first local Baptist chapel. (fn. 111) The Congregationalist chapel, opened in about 1820, (fn. 112) was preceded by meetings at the houses of J. A. James, Minister of Carrs Lane, registered for worship in 1812, (fn. 113) and of John Burt, registered in 1817. (fn. 114) A Wesleyan chapel was opened at Harborne Heath in 1839. (fn. 115) At Erdington a Wesleyan chapel was registered for worship in 1814, (fn. 116) and the Congregationalists started services in the same year in a building in Bell Lane. (fn. 117) By 1822 the Baptists had begun a Sunday school at Moor Lane, Witton, nearby, which later developed into a cottage meeting. (fn. 118) Near Yardley, missionaries from Bond Street chapel had penetrated as early as 1787. (fn. 119) A Congregationalist Sunday school was opened in 1820 in a granary at Acock's Green, where the first Congregationalist chapel was built in 1827. (fn. 120) Shortly afterwards, in 1829, William Gilpin, a Wesleyan minister, registered a schoolroom at Hall Green, Yardley, for public worship. (fn. 121) At Quinton, where the Wesleyans had been established at the Ridgacre chapel since 1780, a new Baptist chapel was opened by Bond Street in 1824. (fn. 122) In King's Norton parish there were, by 1829, three Baptist meetings and one Methodist meeting as well as Kingswood Unitarian chapel. (fn. 123) Missionary activities extended far beyond the boundaries of modern Birmingham. In 1798 Cannon Street was maintaining preaching stations at Wythall Heath and Shirley, where chapels were opened in 1806 and 1845 respectively. Yet another chapel was opened by Cannon Street at Alvechurch in 1828. (fn. 124) By 1834 the Steelhouse Lane Congregational church had established branch chapels at Coleshill, Solihull, Knowle, and Marston Green. (fn. 125) In 1849 there was also a Congregational chapel, built by Carrs Lane, at Minworth. (fn. 126)
Nonconformist village evangelism around Birmingham in the 19th century followed more or less closely a standard pattern. Open-air preaching by missionaries from an existing church was followed by the organization of an adult Sunday school, which in its turn was superseded by a cottage meeting. Next came the building or purchase of the first chapel, supplied with preachers by the mother chapel, and, finally, recognition as an independent church. In this way Birmingham nonconformity invaded rural areas where the Established Church, by virtue of the parochial system, had long been dominant and unchallenged.
The second stage of Birmingham nonconformist expansion was marked by a growing attention to the religious needs of the swollen and depressed urban population. In 1837 Cannon Street and Carrs Lane both founded slum mission rooms, (fn. 127) at Hill Street and Allison Street respectively. (fn. 128) Such missions were henceforth to be characteristic of 19th-century chapel activity, and concerned themselves chiefly with simple evangelical work, with Bible study, and with the creation of new congregations and new churches. The Unitarians and the Quakers, however, soon gave to the movement a new emphasis on social reclamation and educational work. The Unitarian Domestic Mission, founded in 1840 in a chapel in Thorpe Street, and continued, after 1844, at Hurst Street, (fn. 129) was begun with aims similar to those of Hill Street preaching room, and the Carrs Lane Town Mission. In 1844, however, J. G. Brooks, a working stockinger, founded a second mission under the ægis of the Unitarian New Meeting. (fn. 130) By 1854, when it had been established at the Lawrence Street chapel for six years, this new domestic mission was concerned with a wide range of activities, including, as well as religious services, a day-school for girls, a news-room and library, a savings club, a temperance Band of Hope, and even a cricket team. (fn. 131) In 1861 the Free Christian Society, a continuation of the New Meeting Sunday school, opened a mission for voluntary educational work in 'one of the poorest districts'. This mission was undertaken 'chiefly by working men of ordinary means', and eventually, in 1865, moved into a specially-built school in Fazeley Street. Here, at its most active, the society provided elementary education for some hundreds of boys and girls. (fn. 132)
A somewhat similar venture by Congregationalists of Legge Street chapel, the Digby Street ragged school, founded in 1848 by William Chance, is described elsewhere. (fn. 133) In 1869 eighteen Protestant nonconformist schools were visited by a government inspector, who found that four of them, attached respectively to the Baptist Wycliffe Church, Carrs Lane, the Unitarian Church of the Messiah, and the Church of the Saviour, (fn. 134) provided undenominational education.
It was in the sphere of adult education that the Quakers made their most distinctive contribution. In October 1845 Joseph Sturge (fn. 135) began meetings for men at the British School, Severn Street, which became the headquarters of the movement. His model was the school founded by Samuel Fox at Nottingham fifteen years earlier. (fn. 136) 'On the one side', it has been written, 'were the working classes of Birmingham, ill-fed, half clothed, ignorant, ready for revolution; on the other, a number of young people, well-to-do, well travelled, and, to a certain extent, well read; and Joseph Sturge's aim was to bring the two together in one body in Christ'. Already, by 1861, some 40 or 50 of the small Bull Street congregation, with a membership of only 430, were teaching in adult First Day classes. Originally based solely on Severn Street, the First Day schools began to extend their activities in the seventies, largely under the inspiration of the Friends' Severn Street Christian Society, founded in 1874 with 134 members, although other denominations also played a part. The newly opened board schools provided convenient premises. In 1877 the society moved its headquarters to Bristol Street Board School, and from the new base, where George Cadbury taught class XIV, many new classes were built up in the last quarter of the century. (fn. 137) In 1894 there were eleven Sunday evening classes under Christian Society auspices, with a total attendance of three to four thousand. (fn. 138) The Christian Society served an important secondary purpose as the vehicle for an evangelical forward movement which the more conservative Society of Friends itself was neither well fitted nor unreservedly eager to conduct. From the early 1860s religious meetings began to be held in connexion with the classes, which were themselves undenominational. (fn. 139) A new type of associate membership of the Society of Friends was eventually created to accommodate converts made at such meetings. By 1908 there were 1,003 'associates' attached to the twelve Friends' meetings in Birmingham, as against 972 full members. (fn. 140)
The Wesleyans were early concerned with the provision of denominational education, and, by 1850, there were in Birmingham five Methodist day schools, with more than 1,000 pupils enrolled. (fn. 141) After 1860 they began to turn their attention also to social work. The Bloomsbury Institution, a centre for educational, temperance, social, and charitable work, though it later became undenominational, was founded in 1860 by David Smith, a prominent Methodist. (fn. 142) In 1889 a slum mission was established in the Cecil Hall, a former malt-house in Cecil Street. (fn. 143) By 1893 the Birmingham Mission, based on Central Hall, included, as well as Cecil Hall, a number of important social institutions. The 'Sea Horse', Buck Street, a former public-house, converted into a temperance coffee tavern, provided, as well as a 'men's shelter', a 'labour yard' in which work was made available for the unemployed. There was also a hostel to accommodate 108 working girls, at Shaftesbury House, opened in 1878 to replace a smaller building which had been in use for some years. In 1888 the Mission opened a girls' club at Havergal House in the Newtown Row district. (fn. 144)
The third stage in the history of Birmingham nonconformity in the 19th century is characterized by adjustment to the movement of population from the centre of the city to the rapidly expanding suburbs. In the latter half of the century what had once been, in the centre, densely populated streets were, by degrees, given over to industrial and commercial premises. Isolated, the old chapels found their congregations dwindling. At the same time new centres of population came into being in areas inadequately served by existing chapels. Between 1871 and 1901 the population of Yardley and district rose from about 5,000 to more than 33,000; that of Handsworth from 14,000 to 52,000; that of Erdington and Witton from 5,000 to 16,000, and that of King's Norton, King's Heath, and Moseley, considered together, from less than 10,000 to 37,000. In the same period the population of Aston Manor doubled to over 77,000. (fn. 145)
The old central chapels began to close and to amalgamate their congregations. Cherry Street (fn. 146) and Cannon Street (fn. 147) were closed to make way for town improvements in 1879. Bond Street, sold to the United Methodists in 1886, was finally closed in 1890. (fn. 148)
Other chapels continued with serious loss of support. The Sunday morning attendance at the Congregational chapel in Steelhouse Lane fell by half between 1851 and 1892. (fn. 149) The congregation of Graham Street Baptist chapel fell slightly despite its use as the new chapel of the displaced Cannon Street church from 1882. (fn. 150) In 1892 the main Sunday congregation of the Wesleyan chapel in New John Street West, seating 400, was 83, and that of the Presbyterian chapel, seating 450, was 78. The largest Sunday attendance at service in the Lombard Street Baptist chapel, seating 800, was 44. (fn. 151)
In some cases the churches followed their members out to the suburbs. Hagley Road and Hamstead Road Baptist churches were founded in the 1880s by members of the discontinued old Graham Street church living in the Rotton Park and Handsworth districts respectively. (fn. 152) The neighbouring Congregational church had already moved, in 1879, from its Graham Street chapel out to a new building at Soho Hill. (fn. 153)
After 1860 new chapels began to appear in the suburbs at an increasing rate. The period of most intensive building seems to have been the fourteen years between 1875 and 1888. During these years the Wesleyans opened new chapels at King's Heath, Small Heath, Hay Mills, Acock's Green, Yardley, Stechford, Edgbaston (two), Stockland Green, California, and Quinton, and rebuilt or extended chapels at Holyhead Road (Handsworth), Selly Oak, and Erdington. (fn. 154) In the same period the Baptists built new chapels at Selly Park, Erdington, Witton, Yardley, and Oxford Road, Moseley. (fn. 155) Congregational chapel extension does not appear to have followed this pattern.
In the course of the 19th century many new denominations began to take root in Birmingham, partly in response to a need for fuller popular participation in church life, and partly as a reflection of the new, and sometimes bizarre, religious currents of the age. To the greatly expanded working class and lower middle class of the town some of the older congregations inevitably seemed to present an exclusive and undemocratic aspect. Of the Birmingham Quakers it was said in 1845 that 'the Society of Friends had made its fortune and might retire'. (fn. 156) At about the same time the congregation at Carrs Lane was described as 'an assembly largely composed of the opulent and well disposed'. (fn. 157) At the time of the 1851 religious census two-thirds of the seats in the Baptist and Congregational chapels in Birmingham and more than half the seats in the Wesleyan chapels were privately owned. (fn. 158) By contrast it was estimated by a contemporary authority that two-thirds of any mixed population required free accommodation in churches, while one-third were willing to pay for it. (fn. 159)
Among the sects attracting new converts, the most important from the numerical point of view, were the several seceding branches of the Methodist Church. The Methodist New Connexion, formed at the end of the 18th century by dissident Wesleyans under the leadership of Alexander Kilham, began activity in Birmingham in 1809, with a mission in a court of New Street. In 1811 a chapel was opened in Oxford Street. (fn. 160) By 1850 additional chapels had been opened in Unett Street (1838), (fn. 161) Sparkbrook (1849), (fn. 162) and Bridge Street (1849). (fn. 163) In 1892 there were six Birmingham New Connexion chapels. (fn. 164)
Despite the proximity of Staffordshire, the chief field of William Clowes's and John Bourne's evangelism, Primitive Methodism was slow to gain a foothold in Birmingham. In the summer of 1824 John Ride of Darlaston began missionary work with open-air services in Moor Street. A room was later secured in the same street, and this was succeeded by the opening of a small chapel in Balloon Street in 1826. From 1831 the congregation worshipped in a rented chapel in Bordesley Street, but expansion was slow, so that by 1844, there was a church membership of only 62, worshipping in temporary rooms. (fn. 165) In 1848-9 the Primitive Methodists built their first Birmingham chapel, in New John Street West. (fn. 166) There, in 1851, the estimated congregation was a mere 200, yet in the following year a second chapel was opened in Gooch Street, (fn. 167) to which, by 1860 had been added five more meeting places at a total cost of £3,500. Membership was then 750. (fn. 168) In 1881 there were eight Birmingham Primitive Methodist chapels, with a church membership (including Smethwick) of more than 2,000. (fn. 169)
The national schism that led, in 1836, to the founding of the 'Wesleyan Association' was reflected locally in the opening of Bath Street chapel in 1839. (fn. 170) More serious was the crisis caused by the secession of the Wesleyan Reformers in 1849, which is said to have swept away two-thirds of the congregation of Belmont Row chapel. (fn. 171) Its effects can be measured in terms of the decline in membership of Birmingham Wesleyan Methodist churches from 3,600 in 1849 (fn. 172) to 2,591 in 1854. (fn. 173) In 1855 the Reformers were said to have erected 'commodious' chapels in Moseley Street, Branston Street, Summer Hill, Nechells Green, Legge Street, and Balsall Heath, and to have besides eleven preaching rooms in different parts of the town, (fn. 174) but this impetus was not sustained. In 1857 the national Wesleyan Association amalgamated with the Methodist Reform churches to form the United Methodist Free Church. This denomination was represented in Birmingham in 1892 by only four chapels. (fn. 175) Before the end of the century the Bible Christian Methodists and the Temperance Methodists had also established themselves in Birmingham, with chapels in Marroway Street (registered in 1888) (fn. 176) and Oxford Street (registered in 1871) (fn. 177) respectively.
Although Birmingham in the 19th century recruited a relatively small proportion of her population from the Celtic west, immigration from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales resulted in the creation of small minority communities, each with its own religious expression. While the Roman Catholic church catered for the majority of the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh established Protestant nonconformist churches to suit their individual requirements. The 'Scotch Church' in Islington was opened in 1824 (fn. 178) for the Birmingham Presbyterians, who later moved to a new chapel in Broad Street. On the schism in the Scottish church in 1842 the Birmingham Presbyterian chapel is said to have adhered to the Free Church of Scotland, (fn. 179) but the Scottish connexion became progressively more tenuous until the creation of the Presbyterian Church of England in 1876. In 1892 there were four churches in the Birmingham Presbyterian Synod. (fn. 180)
The first significant influx of Welsh into Birmingham occurred at the time of the building of the town hall, (fn. 181) begun in 1832, which, constructed of Anglesey marble, required the importation of workmen accustomed to that kind of stone. A Welsh Presbyterian or 'Calvinistic Methodist' congregation was in existence in Peck Lane in 1842. (fn. 182) In 1849 the congregation moved into Wood Street Rehoboth chapel. A second chapel was opened by the denomination at Hockley Hill in 1868. (fn. 183) By 1854 there was a Welsh Baptist church at Bell Barn Road, (fn. 184) and in 1860 a Welsh Congregationalist church was formed. In 1872 it was established in a chapel in Wheeler Street. (fn. 185) By 1878 a body of Welsh Wesleyans had taken over an old chapel in Oxford Street. (fn. 186)
The working-class revolt against contemporary conditions, so strongly expressed in Birmingham Chartism, was reflected in the religious life of the city, directly in Arthur O'Neill's 'Christian Chartist Church' of 1840, (fn. 187) and indirectly in the persistent appeal of Apocalyptical religions. The first Birmingham Millennians of which there is record registered a house for worship in Chapel Street in 1819 (fn. 188) and were possibly Southcottites, for Lawrence Street chapel (first registered in 1826) (fn. 189) was erected by this sect (fn. 190) and 'used for a time by a man who gave out that he was Shiloh, the promised saviour of mankind'. 'While the imposture lasted', we are told, 'he seems to have had a large following, but the meetings were always noisy and irreverent'. (fn. 191) A remnant of 'Shilohites' still persisted in 1851, when there was, in Cox Street, a meeting of 'Christian Israelites' one of a small number of contemporary English congregations of the followers of John Wroe. (fn. 192) At the same date the Mormon chapel in Livery Street claimed a crowded congregation of 1,500, (fn. 193) and in 1855 the denomination had four places of worship in Birmingham. (fn. 194) Mormon missionaries had begun to work in Birmingham in the early part of 1840, and by the end of the year had established a small church of 25 members. (fn. 195) The Livery Street chapel seems to have been acquired in 1845. (fn. 196) Although congregations of Latter-day Saints have survived into the 20th century, attendance at the main Sunday services in the two Mormon places of worship had fallen, in 1892, to 79. (fn. 197) The Irvingites opened a Catholic Apostolic church in Newhall Street in 1834 and an 'Evangelists' Chapel' in Villa Street in 1851 (fn. 198) but by 1892 retained only a single church. (fn. 199)
The Christadelphian Church was introduced into Birmingham in 1864 by Robert Roberts, a leading British disciple of Dr. John Thomas, the American founder of the denomination. (fn. 200) As early as 1850 there had been two meetings of Millerite Second Adventists, in Cambridge Street and Ann Street, (fn. 201) where the meeting-place seems to have been the National School. (fn. 202) It was possibly the Ann Street congregation, which, in 1864, welcomed Roberts to Birmingham (fn. 203) for the first 'ecclesia' of the Birmingham Christadelphians was established at the schoolroom shortly afterwards. (fn. 204) In 1866 there was a sudden widely-held conviction in Birmingham that the prophecies of the Book of Daniel had been fulfilled and that the Day of Judgment was imminent. Thousands packed the Birmingham Town Hall for a series of meetings held by the Catholic Apostolic church to explain the Apocalypse. Vigorous proselytizing among the attenders secured a significant following for Roberts and his disciples, and in August the Athenaeum Hall was opened as a Christadelphian 'Synagogue'. (fn. 205) By the end of 1871 meetings of almost a thousand were claimed by the Birmingham ecclesia. (fn. 206) In 1892 there were two congregations with an attendance at the main Sunday service of approximately 500. (fn. 207)
Yet another American sect to gain adherents in Birmingham in the middle years of the 19th century was the 'Disciples of Christ', founded by Alexander Campbell in Virginia in 1828. In 1858 David King, a leading English evangelist for the church, settled in Birmingham, where there was already a tiny meeting of eleven members, opened the previous year. In 1860 a chapel had been acquired in Charles Henry Street, and church membership was 326. By 1882 two more chapels had been opened by the denomination, and there were 500 church members. (fn. 208)
The first Brethren's Gospel Hall in Birmingham, in Great Charles Street, was not registered for worship until 1867, although missionary activity appears to have dated from the opening of a meeting-room by P. G. Anderson in 1843. (fn. 209) By 1870 there were six halls registered for the use of the sect (fn. 210) and by 1892 twelve, with a total Sunday evening congregation of more than 700. (fn. 211)
The migration from the centre of Birmingham was selective, and though by the last quarter of the century the middle and lower middle classes had largely left for the suburbs, a large working-class population remained. As the denominations began to direct more and more of their attention to the new population centres, so the Salvation Army moved into the central areas to evangelize this residue. About 1880 the first hall was secured in Bordesley Street by the purchase of a former chapel of Carrs Lane Town Mission, (fn. 212) and in 1881 a second Salvation Hall was registered at Heaton Street, Hockley. (fn. 213) By 1892, when the Army was conducting services at nine places of worship, the Birmingham Citadel in Corporation Street was alone attracting attendances of more than a thousand. (fn. 214)
At the same time a number of independent missions continued to be active among particular sections of the working population: the City Mission (founded about 1838) among cabmen; the Seamen's and Boatmen's Friend Society (founded in 1846) among canal workers; the Railway Gospel Mission (established in Birmingham by 1883) among railwaymen; and the Medical Mission among the sick poor. (fn. 215) R. T. Booth's 'Gospel Temperance' mission of 1882 combined the features of a revival campaign and an anti-drink demonstration. Its organizers claimed 50,184 new pledges for the period May-June 1882. (fn. 216) Their technique of dividing the town into districts for house-to-house visitation was later adopted for other evangelistic campaigns; the mission itself continued until after 1900, when its headquarters were in the Temperance Institute, Corporation Street. (fn. 217) In 1893 J. G. Pentland, a printer and prominent member of the Birmingham School Board, founded the Bull Ring Mission for special work amongst slum children - 'news-boys, match-sellers, flower-girls and waifs . . . the ragged offsprings of our "submerged tenth"'. The principles of the mission were 'bodily comfort first, and then moral lessons' and it was chiefly noted for picnics and country excursions organized for the thousands of 'Pentland's Street Robins', although treats were also staged for the Digbeth poor. (fn. 218)
There was certainly still much need for religious proselytizing, even in the centre of Birmingham. The Birmingham News religious census of 1892 revealed that in four working-class wards of the city, with a population of 118,110, only 4,518, or about 4 per cent., attended worship on the Sunday morning of the census. The sum of the attendances at the main Sunday service in each of the Protestant nonconformist chapels in 1892 was 52,717, out of a total population in the district investigated of 669,000. Contemporary statistics provided by the three most numerous denominations for membership of their Birmingham churches are equally significant. In 1894 the Wesleyan Methodists claimed 5,969 members, (fn. 219) and the Baptists 4,698. (fn. 220) In 1899 the Congregationalists claimed 5,071. (fn. 221) The conception of Birmingham as a 19thcentury fortress of militant nonconformity must depend, evidently, on the record of individual nonconformists rather than on a counting of heads (see Table 1).
Within the national churches Birmingham was particularly influential in the affairs of the smaller denominations. The home, from 1868, of the Christadelphian magazine, edited by J. Roberts, it became the main English centre of Christadelphian printing. The pastor of Frederick Street Strict Baptist chapel, J. T. Dennett, was also for a time, editor of the Gospel Standard. (fn. 222) Similarly, the Churches of Christ Ecclesiastical Observer (later the Bible Advocate and the Christian Advocate) was edited by David King in Birmingham from 1876. It is appropriate to mention in this context, though the events took place in the 20th century, the establishing by the Churches of Christ of the Berean Press in Birmingham, (fn. 223) and the opening in 1921 of the Churches of Christ Theological College at Park Road, Moseley. (fn. 224) Of greater significance, perhaps, was the founding in the city of theological colleges by the Congregationalists and Wesleyans; Spring Hill Congregational College was first opened in 1830, and remained in Birmingham until 1885, when the move to Oxford was made that resulted eventually in the founding of Mansfield College. During the 47 years that the college was in Birmingham, some 150 alumni graduated to serve Congregational causes in all parts of the world. (fn. 225) Handsworth Wesleyan Theological College, in Friary Road, built in 1880, has continued in use. (fn. 226)
The 19th century was, for nonconformity, a period of increasing division, even of fragmentation. In the 20th century this process was reversed, at least in the case of the older and larger sects. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the reunion of Methodists in one church, completed in 1932. Locally this reconciliation was reflected in the union of all the Birmingham Methodist chapels which had belonged, in 1900, to five separate denominations. Of a more general significance was the development of positive co-operation between the denominations, begun, substantially, in the last decade of the 19th century. Co-operation for limited objectives had long been accepted. As early as 1846 Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Wesleyans, and Lady Huntingdon's Connexion united in the Birmingham auxiliary of the British Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews. (fn. 227) In a wider field, J. A. James, minister of Carrs Lane chapel, was the chief pioneer of the Evangelical Alliance, an early prototype for Free Church co-operation, created in 1842. (fn. 228) Nonconformist association in the 19th century was more typically of a political nature, and concerned with such questions as church rates, education, and the struggle against the disabilities to which dissenters were still subjected. The results of the Birmingham News census of 1892, however, compelled the leaders of Birmingham nonconformity to consider the need for a union at once more permanent and wider in scope. The census revealed, first, that the provision of chapel accommodation had failed to keep pace with the growing population, and, secondly, that existing chapels were less than half full even at the most popular services. On the instance of George Cadbury the Birmingham Council of the Evangelical Free Churches was formed in 1893 to attack both problems. At the council's first meeting, in November, 132 churches were represented, belonging to all the major denominations except the Unitarians. The preceding September the churches had undertaken a joint evangelical campaign with more than 150,000 domestic visits. (fn. 229) The work and organization of the Birmingham Council was to some extent the pattern for the National Free Church Council movement which was launched at the same time, and which George and Richard Cadbury helped to finance. (fn. 230) In February 1901 the National Free Church Council sponsored a 'Simultaneous Mission' of visitations and meetings in Birmingham, led by Gypsy Smith and Dr. John Clifford, which attracted crowds of more than 10,000 to the meetings. (fn. 231) As well as short-term intensive crusades the Birmingham Council carried on permanent missionary work in a number of spheres. During the construction of the corporation reservoirs at Frankley, opened in 1904, a 'navvy mission' was maintained at the site for nearly four years. (fn. 232) A deaconess, Miss M. Taylor, was appointed for redemptive work among prostitutes and women criminals and near-criminals. (fn. 233) In 1904 a permanent evangelist, G. Dunnett, was employed by the associated West Midland Federation of Free Church Councils. Dunnett inaugurated an annual caravan mission to the 50,000 seasonal hop, pea, and fruit pickers who each year left Birmingham and the Black Country for the growing districts in Hereford and Worcestershire. (fn. 234) Particular features of the Birmingham Council's work were joint open-air meetings for worship, and regular services and visitations at prisons and institutions. (fn. 235) Such work became a permanent feature of Birmingham religious life. In 1920, for example, the council reported that during the year 1919-20 it had continued 'institution' services, organized a ten weeks' evangelical campaign, and held joint services of intercession and a joint week of prayer with the Church of England. (fn. 236)
a Tables extracted from the Censuses of 1851 and 1892 (see nn. b, d below) give attendances at morning, afternoon, and evening service for each denomination. In the interests of an equitable comparison of congregations the largest of the three attendance figures has been selected in each case. The total will therefore tend to represent less than the number of individuals of each denomination attending service on the Sunday in question. There is, however, a compensating error, in that worshippers attending services held by more than one denomination, may be added to the total of all the denominations concerned. An addition of the three attendances would result in too high a total by sometimes including in it two or three attendances by individual worshippers. The figures for the Roman Catholic denomination are the totals of those attending Mass.
b Census, 1851, Religious Worship, Eng. and Wales, from a table on p. 114. Statistics for Sunday, 30 Mar. 1851. The figures are for the Birm. Municipal Borough with a population, according to the Census, of 232,841.
d Birm. News, religious census, 1892. Statistics are for Sunday, 27 Nov. 1892. This census included Smethwick and other suburbs and is thus only approximately comparable to the 1851 and 1872 tables. Census returns were collected from a district with a population calculated to be 668,908. The populations of Birm. Municipal Borough at the time of the 1891 Census was 478,113.
Perhaps the most serious problem facing the churches in the period 1920-35 was the continued decrease in the population of the city centre, and the rapid growth of the new areas. Between 1923 and 1935 more than 40,000 houses were built by Birmingham Corporation, and a further 30,000 by private enterprise, frequently in new estates without sufficient churches or chapels. So that the provision of facilities for worship should be regarded as a matter for co-operation rather than competition, an inter-denominational church extension committee was created in 1926, supported by the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Methodist Churches, and the Presbyterians. The Bishop of Birmingham sent a letter of goodwill to the inaugural meeting. (fn. 237) The movement towards joint action began to extend, in the 1920s, beyond the nonconformist churches to embrace the Church of England in a general alliance of Protestant churches. The Erdington 'Concerted Action Council', founded in 1925, (fn. 238) was an early expression of this trend. In 1924 Birmingham had been the venue of the National Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship, organized and attended by members of both nonconformist and Anglican churches. (fn. 239) The twelve-day 'Birmingham Crusade' of May and June 1930 was the fruit of direct local co-operation between the Protestant churches. Its inspiration was, in the words of Dr. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, the conviction that about 80 per cent. of the adult population of the city were not directly influenced by the churches. Its sponsors were the Anglican 'Industrial Christian Fellowship' and the National Free Church Council, and it was notable for a close personal alliance between Bishop Barnes, Canon Guy Rogers, Rector of St. Martin's, and Dr. H. G. Wood, president of the council, (fn. 240) and Director of Studies at Woodbrooke from 1917. More than 100 individual churches took part, and there were 21 major open-air meetings, and more than 200 factory meetings. (fn. 241) Crusade unity was perpetuated by the formation of a Crusade Continuation Committee, later known as the Christian Social Council. Further inter-denominational 'crusades' were held at intervals. In 1937 a united mission was organized at Sparkhill. In June 1942 there was a general united mission, of which Bishop Barnes and H. G. Wood, from 1940 Professor of Theology at the University, served as joint presidents. (fn. 242) The north Birmingham industrial crusade of January 1957 united members of 22 north Birmingham churches of the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Elim, and Brethren denominations in support of a campaign of factory visitation. (fn. 243)
The migration to post-war Birmingham of some 30,000 coloured people provided the opportunity for another exercise in practical co-operation, and individual Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, and Anglicans joined, in 1956, in the founding of the 'Birmingham Friendship Housing Association' and shared in its subsequent administration. Its activities included the acquisition of houses for the immigrant families, and a large hotel in Belgrave Road for use as a hostel. (fn. 244)
The movement towards Protestant unity was also reflected in the exchange of pulpits and the holding of joint services. From 1924, when Canon Guy Rogers was appointed rector, the pulpit of St. Martin's was frequently opened to distinguished free-churchmen. A series of popular dinner-hour services were held, at which such religious leaders as Leslie Weatherhead and Dame Elizabeth Cadbury were invited to speak. (fn. 245) On Armistice Sunday in 1927, the ministers of Carrs Lane Congregational chapel and Edgbaston church, of the Wesleyan Central Hall and St. Martin's, and of Hamstead Road Baptist chapel and Aston church, spoke in each other's church. (fn. 246) In February 1931 a hundred ministers took part in a joint service of witness at St. Martin's, organized by the Anglican Evangelical Group Movement and the Free Church Council. (fn. 247) United services were held in Handsworth churches in May 1937, (fn. 248) and in Hall Green churches in June 1938. The Hall Green services were said to be 'annual' and embraced Anglicans, Baptists, Congregationalists, Friends, Methodists, and the Salvation Army. (fn. 249) In 1940 Carrs Lane and St. Martin's instituted an annual joint communion. (fn. 250) The spirit of the older Protestant churches in the middle of the 20th century was epitomized in the message of greeting sent by the Bishop of Birmingham to the Methodist Conference, meeting at Birmingham in 1953. 'I look forward', he wrote, 'to the time when our Churches will be united, and I believe that it is not too far distant as we used to think. In scholarship, as in religious outlook, we have steadily grown nearer to one another during the present century, and very likely there will come, before the century closes, a happy unity.' (fn. 251)
The Birmingham tradition of co-operation between the churches is nowhere better evinced than in the history of the Selly Oak Colleges, whose influence and reputation is world-wide. The first college at Selly Oak was Woodbrooke, Bristol Road, which was opened in 1903 as a residential settlement for religious and social study for Friends, in the former home of George Cadbury the elder. The inspiration was chiefly that of George Cadbury the younger, who had become interested in a similar Quaker venture at Cleveland, Ohio, (fn. 252) and there were six Cadburys on the first Woodbrooke committee of twelve. The idea of the new college encountered early resistance in some quarters, particularly among those Friends who suspected a veiled attempt to establish a theological college for a paid ministry, and Woodbrooke did fill a position in some sense analogous to that of the religious training colleges of other denominations. It soon became clear, however, that the committee intended the college principally to carry on the ideals of the annual Bible summer-school movement, begun, in 1897, largely under the inspiration of John Wilhelm Rowntree. It offered facilities for Quaker teachers, for Adult-School leaders, Sunday-school teachers, and Home and Foreign missionaries, and from 1907, when the Woodbrooke Extension Committee was created, week-end lecturing to Adult Schools became an important feature of the settlement's work. Between 1907 and 1914 the college was enlarged by the addition of Holland House, a men's hostel, a new wing for Woodbrooke, and a new common-room. In the early years there were generally from 30 to 40 students in residence, and it was estimated that, by 1922, more than 400 foreign students and 1,250 British students had passed through the college; only about half of these students belonged to the Society of Friends. (fn. 253)
The Woodbrooke syllabus attracted a considerable number of Quaker missionaries on leave and missionary candidates, and in 1905 a separate missionary college was established at Westholme, the house of J. W. Hoyland, moving the following year into permanent quarters at Kingsmead, Bristol Road. Kingsmead became a training college of the Friends' Foreign Mission Association (later the Friends' Service Council), which had previously conducted a centre at Islington, London. In 1912 a men's hostel was built, and, about the same time, a number of 'furlough houses' for practising missionaries and their families. In 1915 the Women's Auxiliary of the United Methodist Church began to send candidates for missionary work to Kingsmead, and an increasing proportion of the students began to be drawn from the Methodist Connexion. By 1931 the Methodists had added Queen's Hostel for women and a new lecture-hall. There was then accommodation for 45 students. Later, in 1946, the minority of Quaker students moved to Lower Kingsmead, which they left, in 1952, for Woodbrooke. Kingsmead thus became entirely a Methodist institution. (fn. 254)
Westhill College was created in 1907, as a result of gifts by Mr. and Mrs. Barrow Cadbury, as a training institute for Sunday-school workers; its first principal was Mr. G. H. Archibald, who had previously had charge of the Sunday school at Bournville. In 1912 direction was handed over to a council representing the Free Churches, and in 1931 organizations of the Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Friends, and Presbyterians were using the college, together with the Sunday School Union. Courses were planned for the benefit of those active in religious and social work among youth. New buildings, accommodating 20 students, were erected in 1914, on a site given by George Cadbury. (fn. 255)
Fircroft working-men's college was originally conceived as a place of training for Adult-School workers, and its first principal, Tom Bryan, was a founder leader of George Cadbury's class at Bristol Street. The broadening of its aims and its syllabus to those of a working-men's college are considered elsewhere. In 1909 The Dell, a vacant house near Woodbrooke, was renamed Fircroft and opened with twelve young men in residence. Closed during most of the First World War, the college was reopened in 1919, when Clare Cottage, formerly Bryan's house, was acquired as additional premises. After alterations in 1922 Fircroft offered accommodation for 28 students, with a lecture-hall for 200. (fn. 256) A new library block with extra classrooms was completed in 1930. (fn. 257) In 1957 the college moved to Primrose Hill, George Cadbury's old home on Bristol Road, which was renamed Fircroft, altered, and enlarged. (fn. 258)
Carey Hall, Weoley Park Road, was opened in 1912 as a joint venture of the Baptist Missionary Society, and the London Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church of England, for training women missionary candidates. It was a converted house, with accommodation for 30 students. (fn. 259) By 1931 a second house had been equipped as a hostel. (fn. 260)
The first Anglican college at Selly Oak was opened in 1923, when the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel established a training institution for women missionaries in the original home of Westhill College, close to Selly Oak church. In 1929 a larger and specially equipped new building, the College of the Ascension, was opened in Weoley Park Road. (fn. 261)
The Y.W.C.A. College began work in 1926 in one of the missionaries' furlough houses, before moving into newly-built premises in College Walk, (fn. 262) the gift of Mrs. George (later Dame Elizabeth) Cadbury. It was used for training leaders and secretaries for work in Britain and abroad. (fn. 263) From 1941 to 1949 the college was in Hampstead, London, but it was moved back to Selly Oak in 1949, and continued to be used for full-time training until 1952. From 1952 it was used as a hostel for Birmingham University students, and Y.W.C.A. courses were held only during vacations. (fn. 264)
The colleges were given an even wider denominational complexion in 1931 by the accession of the Churches of Christ Theological College, which was moved from Park Road, Moseley, to Overdale, Bristol Road. In 1947 and 1958 Overdale was open to students of other denominations who wished to take advantage of the Selly Oak courses. (fn. 265)
In 1940 Hillcroft residential college for working women, normally at Surbiton, Surrey, moved into The Beeches, Selly Oak, (fn. 266) and remained there during the Second World War. The Beeches, built by George Cadbury before 1914, was used from 1925 to 1933 as a holiday home for nonconformist ministers and their wives, and from 1933 to 1939 as The Beeches Educational Centre for Women, under the auspices of the National Council of Social Services. The Educational Centre provided short courses for unemployed women who were members of Mutual Service clubs, and of the clubs connected with occupational centres. After the war The Beeches was taken over by Cadbury Bros. Ltd. as a trade college. (fn. 267)
A second Anglican college, St. Brigid's, moved to Selly Oak in 1942 and after sharing premises for four years with the College of the Ascension, was established in St. Brigid's House, Weoley Park Road, in 1946. Founded in London in 1923, St. Brigid's existed to provide a preparatory training and testing course for girls intending to become Anglican missionaries. (fn. 268)
From 1954 to 1956 the Anglican Industrial Christian Fellowship Training College was also situated in Weoley Park Road. The average number of men resident was twelve, and students were prepared for the examination of the Central Reader's Board. (fn. 269)
In 1947 St. Andrew's College, a united men's missionary college with the support of the Conference of British Missionary Societies, was opened in Elmfield, a private house provided and converted by Dr. Edward Cadbury. In 1956 the college acquired Lower Kingsmead as an extension of its premises. (fn. 270)
Within a few years after the founding of Woodbrooke formal educational courses for a recognized qualification became a feature of the Selly Oak curriculum. When the Birmingham University Social Study Diploma was created in 1908, Woodbrooke students were permitted to take part of their preparation at the university, and part at Selly Oak. (fn. 271) From before 1923 students at Westhill were being prepared for the examinations of the National Froebel Union, (fn. 272) and in 1916 a training scheme was begun at Woodbrooke for the Cambridge University Diploma of Education. It was partly these growing responsibilities that led, in 1919, to the formation of a central council of representatives of the governing bodies of the colleges, and the appointment of 'central' lecturers, common to all the colleges, of whom there were seven by 1923. (fn. 273) There were twelve 'central staff' posts in 1958, and, in addition to the colleges' own qualifications, students were prepared for the Froebel Teachers' Certificate and the Birmingham University certificates in youth service and education. (fn. 274) Co-operation between the colleges was expressed in the creation of many other joint facilities. In 1922 George Cadbury gave extensive playing fields, on which a pavilion was erected in 1928. The Rendel Harris Reference Library, named after Woodbrooke's first director of studies, was opened in 1925, and included central offices, classrooms, and lecture-rooms. (fn. 275) A new library building was opened in 1932. (fn. 276) The George Cadbury Assembly Hall, built by Mrs. (later Dame Elizabeth) Cadbury was opened in 1927, (fn. 277) and an adjacent block of missionaries' furlough flats was made available in 1928. (fn. 278) The total number of students in residence at the colleges has remained fairly constant, varying from about 200 in 1922 (fn. 279) to 300 in 1931 (fn. 280) and 325 in 1954. (fn. 281)
At the same time as the established sects have been drawn closer together, new religious bodies have gained converts and founded churches in Birmingham whose history does not follow an identical pattern. There were already, in 1892, two meetings of Spiritualists in Birmingham, and in 1957 there were several churches affiliated to both the national Spiritualist federations. (fn. 282) The Jehovah's Witnesses registered their first Birmingham meeting for public worship in 1910. (fn. 283) The Christian Scientists' first place of worship was registered in 1906, and in 1957 the denomination had four Birmingham churches. (fn. 284) The Christian Community had a meeting in 1942, and 'Sanctuary Rooms' of the Order of the Cross were registered in 1956. (fn. 285)
The period from 1930 was characterized by a resurgence of fundamentalism, inaugurated by a spectacular healing and revival campaign conducted by George Jeffreys for the Elim Four-square Gospel Mission. At a series of meetings at the Bingley Hall in April and May 1930 Jeffreys was reported to have baptized 1,000 people and obtained 8,000 converts to the Elim Church. (fn. 286) The revivalist tradition at the Bingley Hall was an old one. Built, originally, for Birmingham's annual cattle show, the hall was capable of accommodating more than 8,000 persons seated, and a further 2,000 standing. (fn. 287) It was used by Moody and Sankey in January 1875 during a fortnight's mission for which 4,400 converts were claimed. (fn. 288) At the beginning of 1904 Torry and Alexander made the hall the headquarters of a four weeks' mission to Birmingham, at the end of which 7,700 men, women, and young people were said to have professed conversion. (fn. 289) The Elim mission, however, unlike its predecessors, resulted in the founding of a new church in Birmingham, to which there were said to be 2,500 adherents in 1934. (fn. 290) In 1957 there were nine Elim churches in Birmingham with a total membership of more than 1,000. (fn. 291)
The smaller fundamentalist bodies, or pentecostal, holiness, and evangelistic groups, have also made progress. The Seventh Day Adventists had established a Birmingham meeting by 1901, although their first place of meeting was not registered until 1941. (fn. 292) There was a meeting-place of the Apostolic Faith Church in Birmingham in 1919, (fn. 293) and a 'pentecostal' church was registered in 1933. (fn. 294) A church of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches was in existence in 1934, (fn. 295) and a meeting of the Apostolic Church in 1939. (fn. 296) The first Holiness mission was registered for public worship in 1939, (fn. 297) and the first meeting-place of the Assemblies of God in 1941. (fn. 298) The Full Gospel Testimony Believers have been in evidence since 1945, (fn. 299) and the Churches of God since 1952. (fn. 300) In 1956 the Bible Pattern Fellowship bought and reopened a former Congregational chapel at Warwick Road, Acock's Green. (fn. 301) Many of the new modern denominations are of American origin, and their development may owe something to the presence in Birmingham, from 1941 to 1946, of co-religionists in the American forces.
Despite the 'closing of the ranks' of the older churches, despite the repeated and vigorous 'crusades' and evangelizing missions, despite the élan of the new fundamentalist churches, statistics indicate that Birmingham nonconformity has suffered a serious decline during the 20th century. At the time of the union of 1932 membership of the Birmingham Methodist circuits was reported as 13,351; in 1951 the same circuits returned a membership of 9,989. (fn. 302) Membership of the Baptist churches in Birmingham was said to be 6,693 in 1931 and 4,953 in 1951, (fn. 303) and of the Congregational churches 6,285 in 1911, and 3,847 in 1951. (fn. 304) A comparison of such figures with the growth of Birmingham's population reveals an even more pronounced relative decline.
The history of some of the smaller churches confirms the general trend. Membership of the Birmingham Churches of Christ, which stood at 554 in 1956 was, at one time between the wars, 1,100. (fn. 305) The total of worshippers attending the main Sunday meeting of each Birmingham congregation of Quakers in 1892 was 2,379. (fn. 306) In 1954 the total of the average attendances at the Birmingham Meetings was estimated as 434. (fn. 307) Some denominations do not make membership figures public. (fn. 308) It is safe to say, however, that in 1957 there cannot have been more than 30,000 members of nonconformist churches in Birmingham, with a population in excess of 1,100,000.