1. Introduction

In this essay I look at some of the events and issues that shaped the intellectual climate, particularly in the Manchester area, and which acted to stimulate or allow the industrial revolution. The crucial questions are why this flowering of science and industry took place here and at this time. Why did it not take place in London and why were the two English universities insignificant players?  

2. Restoration and Dissent

In April 1660, Charles II made the Declaration of Breda, promising a general amnesty, except for regicides, and freedom of conscience. However, once the Cavalier Parliament was in power, the Declaration was ignored and the Royalists took their revenge on the Puritans in a series of measures introduced by the Earl of Clarendon between 1661 and 1665. These were designed to secure the supremacy of the Church of England in religion and education. Elements of the so called Clarendon Code were:

The Corporation Act, which prevented Nonconformists being in any office of national or local government including MP or army officer.

Act of Uniformity of 1662, reinforced the use of the book of Common Prayer. This forced 2000 ministers from their livings, of which 62 were in Cheshire.

Conventicle Act of 1664 made it illegal for more than five people not of the same family to meet in prayer outside an Anglican Church.

The Five Mile Act of 1665 prevented expelled priests from living within five miles of their former living.

Charles II made a Declaration of Indulgence towards Catholic and Protestant Dissenters in March of 1672 but it was withdrawn the following March. The Test Act of 1673 required holders of public office to renounce the doctrine of transubstantiation and take the sacrament in an Anglican church. It was not repealed in England until 1828-29. It required teachers and pupils at grammar schools and the two universities to be Anglican. The final abolition of all the features of the Clarendon Code did not occur until 1871 when the University Test Act abolished theological tests for the MA degrees at Oxford. The tests in Scotland were finally repealed in 1889.

At the time of the Clarendon Code, Protestant Dissenters included Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptists, Calvinists and Quakers. Charles II died in 1685 and when his Catholic brother, James II, fled, the Protestants, William and Mary, were invited to take the throne. The Act of Toleration of 1689 soon followed and this allowed Dissenters to have their own places of worship for the first time. Some, like those in Knutsford, moved rapidly and built the Brooke Street Chapel the same year. Clearly those who built this chapel were not impoverished agricultural labourers; they were men of some substance such as minor land owners, tradesmen and professionals.

Consequences of the Clarendon Code

In the short term the Clarendon Code gave the Anglican church a monopoly in organised religion. The monarch and his archbishop could pass their message via the bishops to the clergy and congregation. The Dissenters were barred from various aspects of public life. However, gradually over the next 150 years, in a way that could never have been anticipated, the code worked to the detriment of the Anglicans and in favour of the Dissenters.

Consequences for the Anglicans

"All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. " The supremacy of the Church of England led to complacency, neglect and abuses causing it to go into decline in the 18th century.

Very few new churches were built in the 18th century except where it was necessary to replace those that fell down. To build a new church required an act of parliament. This was because a parish church minister was supported by tithes on land in the parish and if the parish was split into two there would need to be an arrangement for support of the two ministries. The fabric of many churches deteriorated in the 18th century leading to the need for extensive restoration or even reconstruction in the 19th century. St. John the Baptist at Knutsford, built in 1744 came about because of the loss of the chapel of ease. Christchurch in Macclesfield, built in 1775, came about because of a need to find a new burial ground but then broke away from St. Michael's and was funded by burial fees and pew rents.

Although there was less religious intolerance in the 18th century than there had been in the 17th, there was a decline in religious observance. This was partly due to the complacence of ministers. In some cases it was for lack of accommodation as happened in growing towns where rising or shifting population made the old system of parishes inadequate for the new needs. Manchester had one church for 20,000 people in the middle of the 18th century

Ministers were widely associated with the landed gentry. Often they were younger sons of the local squire and many were also magistrates. This brought them face to face with some of their parishioners in a manner unlikely to lead to good relations. As Bishops sat in the House of Lords, it was not uncommon for them to spend more time on politics than on administering their diocese or introducing reforms. Trollope in his Barchester Towers novels describes a vicar who put a curate into his parish and then spent his time in Italy. This was not an uncommon problem. In Devon for example, in 1780, 70% of the parishes had absent ministers. Some ministers had more than one living and put in a curate on perhaps £20 a year while they lived elsewhere. The Bishop of Llandaff in the 1780s had fourteen livings. Parson Woodford's diaries show how he enjoyed a good lifestyle in the late 18th century, collecting the tithes, farming his glebe land, going on long holidays while a curate stood in for him, and engaged in a constant round of entertaining with local gentry and clergy. Woodford did little for local welfare or education and had a deep suspicion of any reformist ideas. By contrast, David Simpson, the minister at the new Christchurch in Macclesfield had leanings towards Methodism. He was an indefatigable worker for his congregation in the fields of welfare and Sunday School education.

In some rural areas the local gentry family owned most or all the land in the parish and owned the church advowson. The squire may have a brother or son who was the vicar. The land owner would employ or be landlord of most of the people in the village and may also have been a magistrate and the captain of the militia or the yeomanry. The vicar may have also been the school master. This gave one family a high degree of social control. It is not surprising that when people left the countryside for the towns they were not eager to fall under such suffocating conditions again. Some became converts to Dissenting groups. In the late 18th century, citizens of the growing towns were attracted to Methodism. Eventually the Anglican Church reacted to its decline with the Evangelical Movement, which sought to reach out to the people, and later the Oxford Movement, which sought to turn the clock back to medieval times. The census of religion in 1851 showed that the combined Nonconformists outnumbered the Anglicans.

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were mainly moribund. At one stage in the 18th century no regius professor of history at Oxford had given a lecture for 70 years. In medicine it was necessary only to learn the works of Hippocrates and Galen. The latter was physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These two ancient authors were regarded as having given the last word on medicine. No contact with patients was needed and the examination involved answering verbally three questions which were known in advance.

Effects on the Dissenters.

The Dissenters suffered persecution between the Restoration and the Act of Toleration. However, the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 tended to make the state see the Roman Catholics as a threat rather than Protestant Dissenters. The latter were more likely to be supporters of the protestant Hanoverians rather than the Stuarts with their Catholicism and belief in the Divine Right of Kings.

The exclusion of Dissenters from Grammar Schools led to the foundation of a number of Dissenting Academies, often with a small number of pupils and lasting only a few years. They were usually run by Dissenting ministers, in private houses and chapel rooms. The Academies involved little in the way of capital equipment and sometimes moved with the minister if he obtained a new placement. Initially it was the intention that these academies would train men to be ministers but the curriculum was often much wider and was suitable for young men who were to go into business or other professions. People like Thomas Percival and John Aikin were educated in part at Warrington Academy while Joseph Priestley was a tutor there. It is interesting to see the papers being put forward at the early meetings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society by the Dissenting minister, Thomas Barnes, on the need for tertiary education in Manchester.

As Oxford and Cambridge excluded Dissenters, able sons of wealthier Dissenting families often went to the Scottish Universities. In the earlier part of the 18th century medical students frequently went to study at Leyden. Both the Scottish and Dutch universities admitted Nonconformists. Edinburgh set up a medical school with teachers who had qualified with Boerhaave in Holland and it became the leading medical school in the British Isles during most of the 18th and 19th centuries until reform of medical profession and medical education came about. Most of the medical men covered in my potted biographies studied at Edinburgh for at least part of their education (viz. Percival, Roget, Ferriar, White and Aikin).

Thus the Dissenters entered the much more vibrant universities of Scotland and Holland and met a range of people with a wide variety of talents and interests. They had access to a much wider curriculum. Their contemporaries who went to Oxford and Cambridge were uniformly Anglican, many the sons of the gentry and aristocracy. Their education was conservative, still largely restricted to Latin and Greek. The longer term interests of the students, perhaps following a grand tour, were likely to be in managing a country estate, politics, the law, or the church.

As Dissenters were excluded from holding public office, able men were more likely to go into professions such as the Nonconformist ministry, a branch of medicine or into a family business. There was little by way of separate education in science and engineering at this time. The former term had not even been invented; the subject was known as natural philosophy. Dissenters interested in medicine might serve an apprenticeship to become an apothecary or surgeon or go to to Scottish University to obtain the degree of MD. Among the Quakers there grew up several important business dynasties including the bankers (Barclay and Guerney) and the chocolate manufacturers such as Fry and Rowntree. Abraham Darby the steel pioneer at Coalbrookdale was also a Quaker. The Dissenters did not need acts of parliament to build their chapels; the issues of advowsons, tithes and glebe land did not occur. The congregations funded their own buildings and ministers. As a result they could respond more readily to the growth of the towns and the migration of people from the countryside as enclosure occurred.

3. Freedom of Thought.

The religious considerations outlined above had implications for freedom of thought. It should not be assumed that Dissenters were necessarily more given to free thinking than Anglicans. Some of the sects were very intolerant and many were riven by bitter schisms. However, having once broken away from the Anglican church, Dissenters had shown that it was possible to break away from the social control of the ruling elite. Tolerance of Dissent led to a variety of forms of Dissent and these in turn led to the beginnings of a more tolerant pluralism.

The intellectual environment of the medieval and early modern periods had been dominated by the rigid social and religious hierarchies. Economic necessity required working people to be deferential to squire and parson. Before the Reformation, the church had a rigid centralised dogma, deviation from which constituted heresy. Galileo had to recant his finding on the motion of the planets when accused of heresy. The effects of this system on scientific advance was as damaging as the effects of a Soviet five year plan on industrial innovation. Literacy was low and communications by travel or by printed works were prohibitively expensive for most people. In science and medicine the works of ancient writers such as Aristotle and Galen were treated with biblical reverence. It was assumed that no improvement could be made on the ideas of these writers. If you made an observation that disagreed with the views of the ancients you had made the mistake. On top of this there was for many a belief in magic and mystery that allowed witches to be burned as late as the early 17th century.

The age of enlightenment affected only a small number of people in the 18th century. It included a challenge to the dominance of ancient writers and a new confidence that one could find new knowledge and use it for the improvement of mankind. There was a spirit of adventure in exploration, and an entrepreneurial spirit in trade and manufacture. The growth of towns and industries brought a new middle class of traders and businessmen less reliant on church and squire. There was improved travel as turnpike trusts improved the roads from the middle fo the 18th century. Trade was facilitated by the coming of the canals from the late 18th century. Literacy increased with the spread of National and British Schools and eventually there was a greater dissemination of information from books, papers and journals and newspapers. All these changes came alongside the industrial revolution and it is hard to say whether they were causes of it, consequences of it or all produced by an even deeper underlying shift.

Secrecy had dogged the advance of science and technology up until the middle of the 17th century. For example, the Chamberlain family of professional obstetricians kept the secret of their forceps for 150 years. The system of patents set up in the reign of Charles II set out to remedy this defect. A patent involves a contract between the inventor and the state in which the inventor has a monopoly of commercial exploitation of the invention for a fixed period of time in return for complete disclosure of how the item was made and worked. When the patent expires anyone couls use the information to sell a competitive product. The full disclosure of the nature of the invention added to the body of technical knowledge and served to inform other people, who may come along with even better inventions. The value of the patent system comes under regular attack by those opposed to big business or to globalisation but it is an undeniable fact that all developed nations protect and encourage their inventors by a patent system and where it does not exist there are few inventors. My account of the story of Richard Arkwright shows how patents were sought, used and challenged in the 1770s.

The age of enlightenment did not affect all sections of society and did not affect different groups at the same time. The experience of Thomas Henry, John Dalton, Josiah Wedgwood and James Watt, at the cutting edge of the new science and technology, would have been far from that of the unskilled factory labourer and also from the rural Anglican minister such as Parson Woodford. Enlightenment did not penetrate all areas of medicine with equal force. The Royal College of Physicians, at the end of the 18th century, restricted its membership to 100, who had to be graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. The intentions was to exclude the Dissenters graduating in Scotland. Even as late as the 1850s, this deeply conservative society required students to learn the works of Galen and Hippocrates and, perhaps by way of small concession to the modernists, included an additional writer, Thomas Sydenham, who had died almost two hundred years earlier. The current interest in mystic Meg, newspaper astrology and alternative medicine shows that the age of enlightenment has to be fought for anew in each generation. It has still not reached many sections of society and unless the fight is maintained we slip back once more into ignorance and superstition.

4. Scientific Advances.

There were relatively few advances in scientific knowledge in the 18th century compared to what was to come in the first half of the 19th century but there were one or two important ones. The main acheivement of the century was in finally throwing off the shackles of dogma that had impeded advances hitherto.

To be continued.



Return to contents of 'Men of Ideas and Action'

index button

Cheshire Antiquities
© Craig Thornber, Cheshire, England, UK.  Main Site Address:

W3C XHTML 1.0 Strict W3C CSS