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Defending the Faith through Education: The Catholic Case for Parental and Civil Rights in Victorian Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Eric G. Tenbus*
University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO


The struggle to provide primary education for the Catholic poor in England and Wales dominated the agenda of English Catholic leaders in the last half of the nineteenth century. This effort occurred within the larger framework of a national educational revolution that slowly pushed the government into providing public education for the first time. Although state education grants at the elementary level began in 1833, lingering problems forced the government to establish a new era of educational provision with the controversial Education Act of 1870. This act created a dual education system consisting of the long-standing denominational schools operated by the different churches and new rate-supported board schools, operated by local school boards, providing no religious instruction or nondenominational religious instruction. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the dual system grew intolerable for Catholics because local rates (property taxes) only supported the board schools and gave them almost unlimited funding while Catholic schools struggled to make ends meet on school pence and shrinking state grants, which Catholics had only had access to beginning in 1847.

Copyright © 2008 by The History of Education Society 

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7 This paper is part of a larger manuscript that examines the entire Catholic effort to provide elementary education in mid- to late-Victorian Britain, including the development of their philosophy of education, the myriad obstacles they had to overcome, the assistance of internal organizations and educational groups such as religious orders, and the political machinations this all entailed.

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15 The Catholic Poor School Committee was the organization established in 1847 by the Catholic vicars apostolic, before the hierarchical restoration, to act as the liaison between the government's Committee of Council on Education and the Catholic schools, which were now approved to receive state monies. The Poor School Committee determined grant disbursements and initiated the founding of new schools in areas where the needs were greatest. The Poor School Committee also established a Catholic training college to provide teachers for the Catholic community's expanding number of schools.

16 Howard, Edward G. F. to Charles Langdale, President of the Catholic Poor School Committee, The Catholic School (March 1855): 110111.

17 Salford Diocesan Archives (SDA), ACTA, Turner, Ad Clerum, 2 June 1858, 1. See also SDA, Turner ACTA, Ad Clerum, 30 May 1861, 1, and SDA, Turner ACTA, Ad Clerum, 20 May 1863, 1.

18 Popular Education in England,” Morris, John, Dublin Review, 50, May 1861, 67.

19 Falling away from the faith involved two levels of severity. Much Catholic literature at the time used this term “leakage” to describe a more common phenomenon, which was the cessation of regular practice of the sacraments and attendance at mass. As grave and troublesome as this was for the hierarchy, the more serious, and less frequent, occurrence was open apostasy, which was a more conscious decision to spurn the faith.

20 Tablet, 16 November 1844, 3.

21 M. A. G. O'Tuathaigh, “The Irish in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Problems of Integration,” in The Irish in the Victorian City, eds., Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan (London: Croom Helm, 1985), 25.

22 See Lees, Lynn Hollen, Exiles of Erin: Irish Migrants in Victorian London (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 180–82; Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 313–16; Connolly, Gerard, “Irish and Catholic: Myth or Reality? Another Sort of Irish and the Renewal of the Clerical Profession among Catholics in England, 1791–1918,” in The Irish in the Victorian City, 227–28; O'Tuathaigh, “Irish in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Problems of Integration,” 25–26. In his study of the Catholics in Cardiff, Hickey, John uses Easter week obligation percentages over a twenty-year span to show an even lower percentage—an average of 25.19%—of Irish Catholic practice. See Hickey, John, Urban Catholics: Urban Catholicism in England and Wales from 1829 to the Present Day (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967), 91–92. Note that these historians do not mean by these figures that poor Irish Catholics had repudiated their faith, but that regular attendance and practice of the sacraments had declined.

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24 First Annual Report of the Catholic Poor School Committee (London: Catholic Poor School Committee, 1848), 54.

25 Moore, Capes John, “Popular Education.” Rambler 10 (September 1852): 171. This article is highly critical of Catholic educational policy hitherto and provides great insight into liberal Catholic reflection on the subject. The Rambler treated the subject in greater detail than any other Catholic journal at the time. See Holland, British Catholic Press, 143–44.

26 Howard to Langdale, The Catholic School (March 1855): 111.

27 Emory University, Pitts Theology Library, Manning Collection, MSS 002, Box 11, Folder 8, Galley Proof of a message to the diocese on the “Education of the Poor,” 19 November 1865, 4.

28 Seventh Annual Report of the Catholic Poor School Committee (London: Catholic Poor School Committee, 1854), 16.

29 Aquinas, Summa Theologica II.II.10.12.

30 Aquinas, Summa Theologica II.II.154.2.

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32 Ullathorne, William, Notes on the Education Question (London: Richardson and Son, 1857), 11.

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36 Manning, A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Laity of the Archdiocese of Westminster on Education (London: Burns and Oates Ltd., 1889), 67.

37 William, Vaughan followed Turner as Bishop of Salford in 1872, succeeded Manning as Archbishop of Westminster in 1892, and continued the campaign for an equitable education solution until his death in 1903.

38 SDA, Vaughan ACTA, A Letter on the Educational Peril to Christianity (Manchester: T. Walker, 1882), 89.

39 Ibid., 8.

40 The Elementary Education Act, 1891,” in The Education Acts, 1870–1902, Owen, ed. Hugh (London: Knight and Co., 1903), 374.

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41 SDA, Vaughan ACTA, The Dangers of the Education Question, and How to Meet Them (Salford: J. Roberts and Sons, 1891), 34.

42 Ibid., 7.

43 Hansard, vol. 116 (1902), col. 582.

44 Hansard, vol. 355 (1891), cols. 1385–86.

45 SDA, Turner ACTA, Pastoral Letter (1871), 15.

46 Manning, Pastoral Letter, as cited in “Parliament and Catholic Education,” Dublin Review, 18 April 1872, 414.

47 SDA, Vaughan ACTA, The Dangers of the Education Question and How To Meet Them, 7–8.

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50 This controversy erupted when Gladstone, William, after having been defeated in 1874, briefly retired from politics and wrote a pamphlet in which he attacked the Vatican's Syllabus of Errors (1864) and the Vatican decrees, which were promulgated following the first Vatican Council in 1870.

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53 See Norman, Edward, The English Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 312.

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54 Manning, Denominational Education, 12. Manning again broached the subject in 1872 with his publication National Education and Parental Rights, 46–47. See also, Manning, Henry Edward, “Suggestions for a Common System of National Education,” in Miscellanies, Vol. 3 (London: Burns and Oates Ltd., 1888), 90; and Manning, Henry Edward, “Fifty Reasons Why the Voluntary Schools of England Ought to Share the School Rates,” in National Education (London: Burns and Oates Ltd., 1890), 5, 7.

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55 Manchester Guardian, 16 October 1884, 7.

56 House of Commons, “Second Report of the Royal Commission,” Sessional Papers 1887, 26 January 1887, 404. The Cross Commission was established by Parliament in 1886 to investigate the condition of elementary education in the wake of the changes brought by the Education Acts of 1870, 1873, and 1876. Manning served as a commissioner and helped draft the majority report in 1888.

57 Secularism in Elementary Education,” Dublin Review, 25 July 1875, 82.

58 House of Commons, “First Report of the Royal Commission,” Sessional Papers 1886, 18 May 1886, 335.

59 This education bill led to six months of acrimonious debate in 1902 and eventually to a new Education Act that abolished the several thousand school boards that had been established since 1870 and replaced them with fewer, more centralized local education authorities. The act also allowed local rates to support denominational schools in return for greater public control.

60 Hansard, vol. 113 (1902), col. 1337.

61 Ibid., col. 1343.

62 Hansard, vol. 115 (1902), col. 1231.

63 “The New Education Act, 1902,” Dublin Review, 2 January 1903, 240–41.

64 With the Education Act's Kenyon-Slaney Amendment, local educational authorities would now control all secular education, and the cost of building and repairing schools returned to the religious denomination.