Much has been written in recent years about the history of childhood in Edwardian Britain. To some extent, that concentration of scholarly effort reflects a profound shift in academic concerns away from the superficially extraordinary and noteworthy to the apparently mundane and neglected that has characterized much of the so-called new social history, and from which redirection of academic attention the history of childhood in modern Britain has been only one of many beneficiaries. But perhaps to a greater extent, the outpourings of recent historiography on the changing nature and changing significance of childhood in Britain during the first decade of the twentieth century and in the years immediately leading up to the outbreak of the Great War reflect an intellectual preoccupation that would have been perfectly comprehensible to the Edwardians themselves: a preoccupation, during the first decade of the twentieth century, with the discovery of “child life,” that is, with a form of mental, emotional, and psychological life peculiar to the child.
Precisely what that life consisted in, how it was discovered, and what, having unearthed it, the Edwardians made of it, is a subject too vast to be explored here. This article draws attention to only one aspect of that life and of the Edwardian discovery of and uses of it that has been largely neglected in modern historical writing. This is the religious life, religious education, and religious development of the child, particularly of that life as it was lived, nurtured, and brought (or not brought) to fruition in the Sunday schools of Edwardian England.