CFP volume of essays examining the urbanisation of Catholic communities in England in the generation after the Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791. (18 George III c. 60 and 31 George III. c. 32.)
The great majority of this post-Relief generation of lay Catholics lived by profit made in trade and manufacture, or in the provision of professional services. The number of the Catholic gentry was declining to a few hundred, and old missions on their estates were in many cases being transferred to towns.
By 1840 there were over 700 Catholic missions in England, almost all in towns- county towns, ports, leisure towns and, most frequently, industrial towns. They each had a good-even handsome- church, a presbytery, Sunday schools and charity schools. Their chapels stood on the High streets, alongside the new chapels of the Methodists, the Baptists and the Independents, and in their Classical architecture asserted their pride in the one true faith. These were paid for by the middle class of the town missions, in the same way as their fellow townsmen who were Church of England or nonconformists, supported their new churches, chapels and schools.
This generation of English Catholics, replaced old habits of getting along with a new assertion and pride. Catholic life was conducted within the hortus conclusus of home, church and school, secure in the conviction that the Catholic Church was the only true church. Catholics became- and remained well into the 20th century -a fortress church, defending themselves against the not infrequent outbursts of local popular anti-Catholicism, and strengthening their networks of support.
The work of John Bossy, Leo Gooch, and Michael Mullet has transformed understanding of the laity in this period but to take the work further there is need to dig deeper into the experience of Catholic lay men and women of the poor, working and middle class. This requires a collection of specialist local studies using the tools and techniques of social and local history, as well as ecclesiastical sources. Much work of this kind has been done in the last twenty-five years, but published only locally or in unpublished Ph.D. theses.
Possible topics for such essays could include
- Catholics, their occupations, relationships, wills.
- Church buildings, sacred space, architecture, finance, location in the town.
- Ritual, prayer, services other than Mass, Mass attendance in towns.
- Church music, at weekly services and for special occasions.
- Catholic social events, publications, printers and bookshops
- Social conditions and circumstances of the Catholic poor, location in the town.
- Sunday schools, Charity schools, education, middle class schools.
Interest is already being shown by contributors concerning towns in the North West and Midlands but such a volume should include London and towns in the North East and South.
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