“The Cave Dwellers of Puritanism” An examination of the social class and political stance of the members of the Seceding Churches in Leith 1820 -1845

McIntosh, Martine Leigh (2020). “The Cave Dwellers of Puritanism” An examination of the social class and political stance of the members of the Seceding Churches in Leith 1820 -1845. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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From the eighteenth century, churchgoers in Scotland who opposed the undemocratic procedure of patronage left the Established Church to set up alternative places of worship. The body of literature describing these schisms has concentrated on the formation of the Free Church in 1843, but study of the two earlier divisions which formed the Associate Presbytery and the Relief Churches is a much-underworked area. This dissertation aims to extend the knowledge by investigating the social class and political standing of the members of their congregations in the town of Leith during the period 1820-1845.

The secondary literature is in general agreement that those attending worship in Seceder Churches were largely composed of skilled workers and tradesmen, whilst the Established Church retained both the rich and the poor. Using details from the Baptismal Registers from both the Established and the Seceding Churches, together with the 1841 Census, the occupations of these church members were used to establish the social composition of the congregations. The findings did not concur with the secondary literature; both the Established and Seceding Churches showed a similarity in the number of tradesman and skilled artisans attending and many poor attended the Seceding Churches.

Scottish dissenters were already outside the political and religious establishment and were therefore more likely to adopt a more radical attitude. The secondary literature adds little to an understanding of any political involvement by these individuals. In this study, evidence of involvement in two political campaigns was sought from contemporary newspapers and books. It was found that the Secession Church was active with regard to the campaign for Repeal of the Corn Laws, a cause which resonated with their belief in an equal society. The Established Church remained neutral; ministers standing to gain should corn prices remain high. Chartism had little appeal to either denomination in the study, possibly because of the fear that violence would be used to achieve its aims.

In summary, the social composition of the early Seceding Churches needs to be reconsidered. A more nuanced picture of their members has emerged with an analysis of their involvement with contemporary political campaigns.

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