Kings Langley
Kings Langley
Local History & Museum Society
Kings Langley


Church and Chapel in mid 19th century Kings Langley

The 10 yearly government census reports naming all inhabitants started in 1841. What is, perhaps, less well known is that as part of the 1851 census two other censuses were held and organized by the same army of enumerators. One was an Education Census of which very little has survived, the other was an extant Census of Religious Worship or Ecclesiastical Census. This was the first and the last time that the government attempted to count how many people attended divine worship on a particular day. (There were, though, questions about personal religious affiliation in the 2001 and 2011 censuses.) Of the many government investigations in the Victorian era this religious census was designed to measure the effectiveness of the Christian religion in a fast growing and geographically changing population especially over the previous fifty years. There were undoubtedly flaws in the questions that respondents were given and there were often ambiguities in the answers. After much parliamentary discussion it had been decided not to make the financial and income questions compulsory. Despite such problems most clergy and ministers of those churches and chapels that could be identified responded well enough and the survey provides a remarkable record of local, regional and national religious observance at the time.

Anglican Churches

For the All Saints’ Church, Kings Langley on the stipulated day of Sunday March 30, 1851 morning attendance was given as about 350 and the afternoon attendance was about 250. These figures supplied by the Vicar, the Rev John William Butt MA, which included Sunday Scholars were, as we shall see, likely to have been rounded up. In answer to the question regarding free sittings, that is those seats or pews that were open for any one to sit in with no payment or reservation, the number was given as 267. The number of appropriated seats was 300. No detail of the pew rents for All Saints was given in this report. Some seats or pews may have been reserved by a well established custom or regarded as owned by individuals or families even when no rent was paid It was an important part of the census to establish just how many seats were ‘open’ or seats that were not reserved for any reason at the time but available to any one. This census did not attempt to establish how many seats in any church or chapel were always set aside for the poor. That it was felt important to obtain data regarding this issue reflected Establishment concern about accessibility to church attendance by all classes. Along with the census the Rev Butt added a rather fulsome additional note (dated Feb 14 1852) to his response justifying his estimate of the free seats and his willingness to answer the census questions. He referred to his trust in Lord Clarendon and the government generally in conducting such research, for others had strongly opposed this fact finding scrutiny. While the Rev Butt lived in Kings Langley he was a pluralist being also Vicar of Lakenheath in Suffolk and Domestic Chaplain to the Earl of Clarendon. This census did not ask for, nor did the Rev Butt volunteer, that as well as the many reserved seats some worshippers were segregated according to their class position in society. For then, according to Haythornthwaite (1924), the tradesmen and their assistants sat in a partitioned gallery in the north side of the parish church while opposite were the farm labourers and their families in a screened part of the south gallery. On other side of each partition spaces were occupied by boys from the preparatory schools run by Mr Jaggers and the Rev Butt. These unsightly galleries, together with one in the west tower area for adult choristers, were removed some time after 1855 when perhaps there was a little more social class mixing!

In the census for St Pauls, Chipperfield, consecrated 1838, the Perpetual Curate Henry Dennis provided more precise financial information including £5 for pew rents. The general congregation was 112 in the morning and 182 in the afternoon. Listed separately are the Sunday Scholars, 106 in the morning and 98 in the afternoon.


Both Kings Langley and Chipperfield each had an independent chapel. In Kings Langley the Zion chapel (erected 1835) was described as Independent Calvinist. Here the space for public worship was given as 30 feet by 40 feet accommodating 50 people - all free sittings. Average attendance figures over two months were given as 30 and 33 Sunday Scholars (morning), 54 and 27 (afternoon) and 44 evening. James Young and Thomas Twitchell, farmer, Bedmont (sic) were named. The Chipperfield Baptist Chapel (erected 1837) allowed for 140 free sittings and 160 other. The morning congregation was given as 90 together with 36 Sunday Scholars and in the evening a congregation of 200. William Hancock was named as minister. No financial details were given for either chapel. They were described as entire/separate and exclusive.

Rev'd William Upton's 1847 Survey

Given the very useful information produced by this official census we have, remarkably, another very similar survey for the whole of Hertfordshire that had been conducted quite independently some three to four years previously. Furthermore this directory, while providing an excellent comparison with the later government record, includes most revealing personal, often trenchant, comments regarding incumbents and the overall character of the community. The man responsible for this was William Upton, a longstanding and well respected minister at Dagnall Lane Baptist Church, St Albans, who gathered, ‘Statistics of the Religious Condition of the County of Hertfordshire, collected for use of the Herts Union’. The Herts Union, established by Baptists and Independents in 1810, was responsible for the establishment of many village chapels.

For Kings Langley, Upton’s figures describe accommodation at the parish church as 800, but the average attendance at only 150 – much lower than the subsequent census return. The Living was recorded as £264. (Haythornthwaite (1924) stated that the Rev Butt had negotiated that ‘the value of the Benefice [be] increased £200 per annum by a charge on the wealthy Benefice of Latchingdon in Essex’.) Upton also noted that the average attendance at the Kings Langley School of Industry for girls was 40. The Infant and Boys’ Schools were said to be closed. For the Independent Chapel (Zion) the accommodation was given as 250 and the average attendance 100 and 50 attending the Sunday School. Numbers for the Episcopal Chapel at Chipperfield were accommodation 400 and attendance 300 and for The Baptist Chapel 350 and 350 respectively with a further 80 attending the Sunday School.

It is, however, the additional comments in Upton’s report, whether or not they were his own observations or those of his contacts, that reveal the considerable rivalry between the Christian denominations at the time. William Upton was a dissenting, non conformist minister but if he felt that leaders of whatever church or chapel were upright and conscientious he would give them credit, if not, he did not mince his words. The Rev Butt at Kings Langley is described bluntly, ‘Of bad character. Few will hear him’. (Compare Haythornthwaite (1924), however, who wrote, deferentially, that the Rev Butt, ‘... is said to have been a man of stately presence and of scholarly habits’). [An article, 'The Vestry versus the Vicar', describing the sensational events in Kings Langley in 1845 is forthcoming.] While at Chipperfield the Rev R Dennis was described by Upton as, ‘Pious and benevolent.’ and the Rev S Cowdy at the Baptist Chapel was said to be ‘Very effective’.

Nor did Upton make any secret of his preferred theology. At the time of his investigation the Kings Langley independent chapel (Zion) relied on a minister supplied from London and was described by him as Hyper Calvinistic. The implication from this was that although sinners were always saved by grace, Upton did not favour the doctrine of those whose notion of predestination was that the decision as to who was ‘saved’ had already been made, since that was not in keeping with Upton’s evangelising outreach. In Abbots Langley, Upton positively acknowledged that the Rev R Gee and his curate the Rev Oswald were ‘benevolent and active’, but noted disapprovingly, that they were Puseyite or Anglo Catholic High Church and also to his dismay that they were ‘… indefatigable in denouncing Dissent urging and bribing people to attend the Church …’. This personal, often illuminating, commentary on nearly all the churches, chapels and their ministers in towns and villages throughout Herts, set alongside the official census, provides a unique perspective regarding religious attendance and attitudes in the mid 19th century.

Whilst just over one third of the total population of 18 million at the time attended worship on 30 March 1851, roughly another third were deemed to have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for non-attendance, e.g. small children, the elderly, the infirm and the isolated. That an ‘ungodly’ eligible third of the population did not attend worship caused consternation then but one may not, now, infer that the non-attenders were necessarily irreligious. A specifically Establishment concern was the confirmation that while nationally the Anglican Churches received about 48% of the total attendance recorded, the figure for the combined non conformist Chapels was only a little less at 45%. Among others was the Roman Catholic proportion at 3.5%. Upton had concluded that ‘accommodation in Hertfordshire would seem to be ample … if it were equally distributed’.

William Upton’s final comment on this village reads, ‘Kings Langley is a respectable place. Houses and residents above the common order. Generally moral, but very little real religion.’

Over one hundred and sixty years later I thought that I just heard William Upton murmur …… ‘No change there then!’

Acknowledgement: Details of the Ecclesiastical Census and William Upton’s survey are reproduced here with kind permission of the Hertfordshire Record Society.

Selected References

Burg, Judith (Ed) (1995) Religion in Hertfordshire 1847–1851, Hertfordshire Record Society, ISBN 0 9523779 0 pp. vii – xxxviii, pp.47–8, pp.182–4,

Haythornthwaite, Rev J P (1924) The Parish of Kings Langley, London The Cassio Press pp.124 – 125

Lawton, Richard (Ed) (1978) The Census and Social Structure An Interpretative Guide to Nineteenth Century Censuses for England and Wales, Frank Cass, ISBN 0 7146 2965 0 pp241 - 286

This article by Mike Reveley was previously published in the KLLH&MS Newsletter 2008 (Revised)