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The English Protestant Churches since 1770

Politics, Class and Society

Kenneth Hylson-Smith

This book aims to describe and analyse the political and social thinking, attitudes and actions of the English Protestant churches since the late eighteenth century. It focuses in particular on how they have responded to the plight of the least privileged members of society – individuals and groups marginalised or placed at a disadvantage as a consequence of their ethnicity or socioeconomic circumstances. These have been the nation’s underdogs, the most powerless of its inhabitants, and this book explores the involvement of the churches in attempting to create a fairer society, from the anti-slavery campaign to the present day.

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Chapter 4: The churches, politics and society in the transition to the modern age: c.1870–1914

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CHAPTER 4

The churches, politics and society in the transition to the modern age: c.1870–1914

The eclipse of Victorian religiosity

The nineteenth century, and the ‘Victorian Age’, did not end with death of the Queen in 1901. It can best be thought of as extending up to the summer of 1914. It terminated abruptly at 11.00 p.m. on 4 August 1914 when England declared war on Germany. The epoch-making First World War initiated a new political, economic and social era for England, as well as for the rest of Europe and, as a knock-on effect, for many parts of the non-European world. ‘Edwardian England’ has very frequently been treated as a separate entity, and in certain respects this is justifiable. But it is better to view those early twentieth-century years as the last phase of Victorianism. During the first fourteen years of the twentieth century, we ‘can trace the breaking-up of the Victorian age, its castes, taboos, commercial methods and social habits, and the development, isolated or allied, of various movements of revolt.’1 It was the First World War that proved to be the great divide; the event above all others that acted as a watershed separating one era from another. It signalled the end of an age, and it heralded the beginning of a new age. The post-war years were to usher in a new order of life when what had preceded the war seemed far distant and...

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