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The priest and the parson of Hartlepool: Protestant-Catholic conflict in a nineteenth-century industrial town

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2016

Jonathan Bush
Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham, DH1 3RS, UK. Email:


This article examines the role of Protestant-Catholic conflict in the English town of Hartlepool, a hitherto unknown centre of religious conflict during the nineteenth century. It will demonstrate how a combination of unique structural forces and the conduct of religious ministers created a culture which, in terms of ferocity and longevity, rivalled other sectarian centres in Britain. It also provides an important case study for examining the role of Catholics themselves in generating anti-Catholicism. It therefore has important implications for understanding the nature of religious conflict, how it develops, and how it is sustained over the longue durée.

Research Article
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2016. Published by Cambridge University Press 

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I am grateful, as always, to Dr Sheridan Gilley for proof reading earlier drafts of this article. Fr Michael Sharratt’s card catalogue of the Lisbon College collections at Ushaw College also proved immensely valuable in drawing my attention to the correspondence of Fr William Knight.


1 Corvan, Norman, The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O! in Allan’s Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs and Readings, with Lives, Portraits and Autographs of the Writers, and Notes on the Songs (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Thomas & George Allen, 1891), 419-421 Google Scholar.

2 For a more detailed study of the legend of the Hartlepool monkey, see Screaton, Paul, Who Hung the Monkey? (Wolviston: Printability, 1991)Google Scholar.

3 Darlington and Stockton Times, 27 October 1860.

4 Hickman, Mary J., Religion, Class and Identity: The State, the Catholic Church and the Education of the Irish in Britain (Ashgate: Aldershot, 1995)Google Scholar, 43.

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6 McDonnell’s aggressive assertiveness has obvious parallels with Knight of Hartlepool, although the former’s involvement in radical causes, particularly Irish nationalism, tended to be more of a source of consternation within his own Church rather than a vehicle for local Protestant-Catholic animosity. Champ, Judith F., ‘Priesthood and Politics in the Nineteenth Century: The Turbulent Career of Thomas McDonnell’, Recusant History 18 (1986): 289303 Google Scholar.

7 See in particular, Neal, Frank, Sectarian Violence: The Liverpool Experience, 1819-1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988)Google Scholar; Gallagher, Tom, Glasgow: The Uneasy Peace: Religious Tension in Modern Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987)Google Scholar; Millward, P., ‘The Stockport Riots of 1852: A Study of Anti-Catholic and Anti-Irish Sentiment’, in Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley, eds. The Irish in the Victorian City (London: Croom Helm, 1985), 207-224 Google Scholar; and Lowe, W. J., The Irish in Mid-Victorian Lancashire: The Shaping of a Working-Class Community (New York: Peter Lang, 1989)Google Scholar.

8 Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism, 21.

9 Sir Sharpe, Cuthbert, History of Hartlepool. . ..being a re-print of the original work, published in 1816, with a Supplemental history, to 1851, inclusive (Hartlepool, 1851), 198 Google Scholar.

10 The correspondence between Knight and Lisbon College is part of the Lisbon College Archive housed at Ushaw College. Lisbon Correspondence: William Knight to Edmund Winstanley, 3 February 1834, Ushaw College Library, LC1196.

11 McCord, N., & Rowe, D. J., ‘Industrialisation and Urban Growth in North-East England’, International Review of Social History 22, 1 (1977): 35 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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14 Durham County Advertiser, 12 April 1834.

15 Sharpe, History of Hartlepool (supplement), 68-9.

16 Ibid., 69.

17 Ibid., 69.

18 Sharpe, History of Hartlepool, 108.

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21 Knight to Winstanley, 3 February 1834.

22 Knight to Charles Le Clerc, 12 April 1834, LC/C1202.

23 Ibid.

24 For a history of Lisbon College see Croft, Canon, Historical Account of Lisbon College (Barnet: St. Andrew’s Street Press, 1902)Google Scholar.

25 For an example of the effects of this transformation in Manchester and Salford, see Connolly, Gerald, ‘The Transubstantiation of Myth: Towards a New Popular History of Nineteenth-Century Catholicism in England’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 35 (1984): 78-104 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Vicariates Apostolic of England, Monita et Statuta (London 1838).

27 Dunne, Thomas A., The Catholic Church in Hartlepool [(1920)], 4 Google Scholar.

28 The Revd Robert Taylor was the incumbent of St. Hilda’s from 1834 until his death in 1867.

29 Knight to Winstanley, 3 February 1834.

30 Knight to Le Clerc, 12 April 1834.

31 Knight to Winstanley, 3 February 1834.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Knight to Winstanley, 11 March 1835, LC/C1240.

37 Knight to Winstanley, 10 April 1836, LC/C1281.

38 For an analysis of church rate disputes in the nineteenth century, see Ellens, J. P., Religious Routes to Gladstonian Liberalism: The Church Rate Conflict in England and Wales (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

39 Fr. McDonnell of Birmingham was also involved in church rate politics. See Champ, , ‘Priesthood and Politics’, 292-293 Google Scholar.

40 Newcastle Journal, Church Rate Conflict at Hartlepool (Newcastle: Newcastle Journal, 1838).

41 Ibid.

42 Quoted in Sharratt, Bernard C., The Catholic Church in Hartlepool and West Hartlepool (Glasgow, 1965), 6 Google Scholar.

43 Letter from Knight to Winstanley, 14 May 1838, LC/C1346.

44 Wolffe, Protestant Crusade, 153.

45 Gateshead Observer, 1 February 1840.

46 Knight, William, A Sermon on True Christian Charity, Preached in the Catholic Chapel, Hartlepool, March 8 th 1840 (Hartlepool, 1840)Google Scholar.

47 The Rev. W. Knight’s Reply to the Rev. Brabazon Ellis. To Which is Prefixed the Rev. B. Ellis’s Letter Itself (Hartlepool, 1840).

48 This statement was probably influenced by Maria Monk’s ‘revelations’ of convent life in Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: or, the Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed (1836). This was a sensationalist anti-Catholic work widely circulated in Britain and America during this period.

49 British Reformation Society, Full Report of the Proceedings of a Public Meeting Held in the Wesleyan Chapel, Hartlepool, on Monday Evening, March 9 th , 1840, to Establish an Auxiliary in Aid of the British Reformation Society (Sunderland, 1840).

50 Taylor, Robert, Pagan and Popish Priestcraft Identified and Exposed, and Popery Proved to be Satan’s Systemized Opposition to the Work of Redemption (London, 1847)Google Scholar.

51 Knight, William, A Few Remarks on the Rev. R. Taylor’s Recent Publication, Entitled ‘Pagan and Popish Priestcraft, & c.’ (Hartlepool, 1847), 5 Google Scholar.

52 Wolffe, Protestant Crusade, 100.

53 Protestant Association, Penny Protestant Operative, 1 May 1841: 39.

54 Ibid., 40.

55 The historian John Wolffe has noted that the anti-Maynooth campaign of 1839-41 resulted in a low number of signatures on petitions which was indicative of either “the product of individual effort or the protest of a particular congregation”, Wolffe, Protestant Crusade, 100.

56 Kerr, D. A., Peel, Priests and Politics: Sir Robert Peel’s Administration and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, 1841-1846 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 224 Google Scholar.

57 Norman, Edward, Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968), 40 Google Scholar.

58 Brown, Richard, Church and State in Modern Britain: 1700-1850 (London: Routledge, 1991), 277 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

59 Sunderland Herald, 19 April 1845.

60 Durham Chronicle, 8 June 1855.

61 The Papal Aggression episode has been extensively researched. See, for example, Klaus, R. J., The Pope, the Protestants, and the Irish: Papal Aggression and Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987)Google Scholar.

62 The church was the first in the north of England to have a peal of bells. Sharpe, History of Hartlepool (Supplement), 104.

63 Sunderland News, 19 July 1851.

64 A. H. Lamb, Popery Opposed to the Laws of Nature and Revelation (London, 1854), 11.

65 The anniversary of the victory of King William III over James II in 1690 is celebrated by Irish Protestant Orangemen annually on the 12th July, often resulting in serious rioting between Orangemen and Catholics.

66 Teesside Archives, Hartlepool Watch Committee Constables’ Book, 20 August 1851.

67 Letter from Nicholas Wiseman to William Knight, quoted in Gooch, Persecution Without Martyrdom, 307.

68 Bulwark, December 1854.

69 Sunderland Herald, 2 October 1857.

70 Tablet, 17 April 1852.

71 Bulwark, December 1854.

72 Harrison, Brian, ‘Philanthropy and the Victorians’, Victorian Studies 9 (June 1966): 356 Google Scholar.

73 British Protestant, (May 1853), 69.

74 Sunderland Herald, 29 June 1849.

75 For an analysis of the activities of the London City Mission, see Gilley, Sheridan, ‘Protestant London, No Popery and the Irish Poor, 1830-1860: Part I’, Recusant History 10 (1970): 210-223 CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Gilley, Sheridan, ‘Protestant London, No Popery and the Irish Poor, 1850-1860: Part II’, Recusant History 11 (1971): 27-40 Google Scholar.

76 Dickey, Brian, ‘“Going About and Doing Good”: Evangelicals and Poverty, c.1815-1870’ in John Wolffe, ed. Evangelical Faith and Public Zeal: Evangelicals and Society in Britain 1780-1980, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1995), 42 Google Scholar.

77 Quoted in Sharpe, History of Hartlepool (Supplement), 114.

78 This reflects the national trend. Gilley, ‘Protestant London’: 28.

79 B. T. Ord, The Beginning of the End and A Blue Book: or, an Exposition of the Manner in which the Priesthood Plunder and Devour their Flocks (Hartlepool, 1865).

80 Ibid.

81 Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism, 189.

82 Hartlepool Free Press, 30 November 1861.

83 Ibid.

84 Arnstein, Walter L., ‘The Murphy Riots: A Victorian Dilemma’, Victorian Studies 19 (1975): 51-73 Google Scholar.

85 For an examination of the Flynn Riots, see Bush, Jonathan, “Papists” and Prejudice: Popular Anti-Catholicism and Anglo-Irish Conflict in the North East of England, 1845-70 (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 212-222 Google Scholar.

86 See the obituary in the Tablet, 21 March 1874.

87 See, for example, Sharratt, The Catholic Church in Hartlepool and West Hartlepool; Dunne, The Catholic Church in Hartlepool.

88 For a transnational comparative study, see Wolffe, John, ‘A Transatlantic Perspective: Protestantism and National Identities in Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain and the United States’, in Ian McBride and Tony Claydon, eds. Protestantism and National Identity in Britain and Ireland, c.1650-c.1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 291309 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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