Introduction: Research Areas

Administration of the Catechism

The principal method employed by the eighteenth century clergy of establishing a basic knowledge of the doctrines of the Church of England was through catechizing. The view that the catechism had largely died out by the end of the century is no longer accepted, and it is now regarded as having maintained an important place in the pastoral work of the clergy.107 In Wiltshire in 1783 over two thirds of parishes still had some degree of catechizing during the year. The importance attributed to the church catechism by Bishop Clagett is reflected in the detailed enquiries he made of his clergy in 1744 on the subject. Clagett wanted to know at what times and how frequently the children of the parish were catechized. He also enquired whether those children and servants who had not learned their catechism were sent to be instructed. The revised form of questions in place by 1779 were rather less exacting, asking simply 'At what Times do you catechise the Youth of your Parish?' In the deanery of Holsworthy in 1744 the children of eight parishes were catechized during the summertime only, of one during lent, three catechized 'as oft as ye children are sent', and the remainder 'on divers Sundays' or 'frequently'. In 1764 the parishes in the deanery catechized 'in Lent', and by 1779 three parishes had extended the period of catechizing back to the summer.108

In the deanery of Moreton all 12 parishes for which returns survive returned some degree of catechizing in 1744, seven during the Summer, two during Lent, one throughout the year and two on some Sundays or 'when the days are long and I find any number of Children fitt for it'.109 By 1779 all but one of the 14 parishes for which the returns survive catechized at some time during the year, nine in the summer, and two all year round. Catechizing had ceased in Teigngrace owing to, 'the Neglect of the Parishioners in sending the few Children' in the parish.110 In the deanery of South Molton, 29 returns survive for both 1744 and 1779. Excluding the tiny extra-parochial area of Highleigh, all but one of the incumbents reported catechising the children of the parish some part of the year. The only exception on both occasions was Cruwys Morchard, the reason given each time being the failure of parishioners to send their children to be catechized. The overall impression of the returns is that the vast majority of clergy regarded catechizing as part of their parochial duties, and the occasional failure in this regard was a consequence of a lack of children or servants sent for the purpose.

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  1. Gregory, Restoration, Reformation and Reform, 235-235; Warne, Church and Society, 48-49. [back]
  2. Warne, Church and Society, 48-49. [back]
  3. The quote is from 1744 returns, Hennock. [back]
  4. The number of families in Teigngrace in 1779 was just 15. [back]