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'The enemy within?': the clergyman and the English school boards, 1870-1902

Smith, John T.


John T. Smith


This paper seeks to ascertain the attitudes to, and work on, English school boards of clergymen from the three main Churches which had taken an active interest in education in England in the nineteenth century - the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Were the clergy 'the enemy within', attempting to subvert the cause of non-denominational education? Little has previously been written about this work. The research has used a variety of primary sources, among them annual HMI reports on the educational provision in their areas and the pronouncements made by the leaders of the three Churches about their own representations on the boards. A variety of qualitative data has been accessed on the clergy influence in certain areas in the North of England using extant school board managers' minutes. The picture that emerges from the evidence studied is of a significant and growing influence for Anglican clergy in rural areas. They undoubtedly had self-interests in their membership, to ensure religious teaching in schools, to protect their own institutions and in part to assert their own status within society. In large towns and cities, boards proved to be independent of clergy control, with much authority given over to the headteachers. Roman Catholic priests often became board members and in doing so were in a position to defend their own schools. Throughout, the one group that did not share the influence on boards was the Wesleyan ministers, who were constrained by their own itinerant ministry. It is hoped that this will encourage further studies of individual communities, where School Board Managers' Minutes survive, to add further qualitative evidence and further analysis of the direct influence of the clergymen of the three Churches discussed.


Smith, J. T. (2009). 'The enemy within?': the clergyman and the English school boards, 1870-1902. History of education, 38(1), 133-149.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Jan 9, 2009
Publication Date 2009-01
Deposit Date Nov 13, 2014
Journal History Of Education
Print ISSN 0046-760X
Electronic ISSN 1464-5130
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 1
Pages 133-149
Keywords School boards; Victorian; Clergymen; Methodist; Catholic
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