Communities of Dissent

Religious dissent, its impact and changing role, is the focus of a new research project for family and community historians.

This is the latest major venture of the Family and Community History Research Society (FACHRS), established in 1998 by former Open University students. It has continued independently of the OU with current membership of over 250. Previous themes have included Swing riots against agricultural mechanisation in the 1830s, allotments, and almshouses for the elderly.

Now our attention is turned to the local history of Nonconformity, and I am acting as the Project Director of the Communities of Dissent Project. Researchers will begin by assessing the presence of religious dissent in their chosen locality during the heyday of Nonconformity from 1850.

In the following period ‘Chapel’ was a widespread and significant feature of local and national life, often drawing on proud earlier antecedents, but now with enhanced status and scale. To be ‘Chapel’ was an important source of choice and identity for individuals, families and groups. It touched not only on the spiritual but also the social, educational, political and cultural aspects of people’s private and public lives. The presence of Nonconformity gave a distinctive character to many communities.

The Communities of Dissent project will involve participants in two phases of research. Phase One ( February-September 2017) will produce a  profile of local dissent, recording its buildings - chapels, schools, Sunday schools, meeting rooms, institutes, ministers' houses- and making an initial assessment of the Nonconformist culture of which they were part. A range of ‘universal’ records, including the 1851 religious census; population census; directories; newspapers; standing buildings; large-scale OS and other maps; 1910 Domesday; denominational magazines will provide a shared basis for comparative local profiles of Nonconformity.

This profiling will also reveal the extent of surviving evidence for local chapels and lead into Phase Two of research (2017-18) which will involve the in-depth use of chapel records, links to other sources and analysis on topics chosen from a range of possibilities according to researchers’ interests and the available source material. Research guides, case studies and a dedicated website will be provided.

The FACHRS spring conference at the University of Leicester, 6-7 May 2017, will feature plenary contributions from Kate Tiller and project participants and a project workshop.

Researchers have now been recruited in 50 locations. Two of them are in the ownership of Historic Chapels Trust: Bethesda Methodist Church, Hanley Stoke on Trent and Cote Baptist Chapel in rural Oxfordshire  - Kate Tiller

Dr. Kate Tiller is Research Director of the Communities of Dissent Project. She is a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford University and author of the Guide to Cote Chapel published by Historic Chapels Trust.