The Ecclesiastical Census of 1851 was one of the rare attempts to find out the level of Church going in the UK. A form was sent to each church and chapel to say how many attended the morning, afternoon and evening services (if held) on Sunday 30th March 1851. The minister was also asked to give what they considered to be their usual attendance. Figures for adults and children were given separately.
One problem is that the form was voluntary, however nearly all churches in the Dartford area replied. Alas the only two where the ministers didn't bother to answer were Hartley and Ridley. Swanscombe parish church sent back the return, but refused to say how many attended the services.
Another problem in using the information is that a lot of the people attended more than one service on a Sunday then, so just to add up the numbers of attendees would exaggerate the numbers. I have therefore included the raw figures and an adjusted figure for each parish. This is based on what the vicar of Dartford added as a note. In the morning the church had 420 adults and 265 children attending. In the evening there were 445 adults and 100 children. He said all the children and 240 (54%) of the adults at the evening service had attended the morning one. The adjusted figure therefore is therefore all the adults and children at the main service of the day and 46% of the adults at any other service held in that church.
At the time there were accusations that some churches had inflated the number of people said to attend, and it is noticeable that most of the churches in the Dartford area claimed their usual congregation was higher than those who attended on the 30th March!
The adjusted figures suggest that overall church attendance across the denominations was 39%. The parish by parish figures will not be so accurate because they may include people from other parishes. For example the minister at Ash Baptist chapel was a Mr Gilbert of Hartley.
Of church goers 59% were Anglican with the Baptists being the most numerous other denomination. What is strking was that there was only one Roman Catholic Church then in the whole district. Although the number of churches of all denominations has tended to rise since then, for example Bexley was one Anglican parish in 1851 but has now been divided into six, Dartford had just Holy Trinity church but now there are four Anglican parishes. Of course the population of the area is massively higher than the 25,249 it was on census day 1851.
For more information, see Clive D Field: CHURCHGOING IN THE CRADLE OF ENGLISH CHRISTIANITY: KENTISH EVIDENCE FROM THE SIXTEENTH TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURIES (Archaeologica Cantiana 2008).
The table shows from left to right:
1. Anglican parish
2. Population of parish in 1851
3. Total numbers from all services, all denominations
4. Adjusted figure to take account of those attending twice in one Sunday
5. Percent of people attending church on 30/3/1851 (adjusted figure)
6-7. Number attending CofE churches (adjusted figure)
8-11. Number attending Baptist, Methodist, Congregational/Independent and Roman Catholic churches (adjusted figure)