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The Role of Methodism in Cornish Cultures, c.1830-1930

The Role of Methodism in Cornish Cultures

Kate Leyshon, Adrian Bailey, David Harvey.

Key findings

  • Methodist religious identities were forged as part and parcel of a Christian social movement, given expression through communal celebrations and pioneering institutions for mutual improvement.
  • The several sects of Methodism, well represented in Cornwall, competed and collaborated around issues such as the 1902 Local Education Act and the temperance movement until the main sects unified in 1932.
  • Methodism was striving to establish itself as a national church to rival that of the Church of England by directing the energies of the industrial working class around specific visions of embodied moral virtue and rational recreations.


A common perception is that Methodism was teetotal, yet the research discovered that total abstinence from alcohol was a contested and much debated topic within Methodism. Those Methodists who supported abstinence did so out of concern for the negative social and economic impacts of alcoholism on lives throughout Cornwall. The temperance movement found ready support amongst Methodists in Cornwall in the 1830s and very quickly the rationality of temperance was cast within the doctrines of Christian faith in relation to temptation. Within Methodism, however, total abstinence became a source of conflict as it interfered with long held traditions of Communion (i.e. Eucharist). Doctrinal disagreements led to open revolt between ministers and laity, with ministers closing chapel doors against their congregants in some instances. Institutional innovations that arose from the temperance movement, such as Bands of Hope, were adopted by Methodism as an extension of their Sunday School activities and became a novel way for Methodists to extend their influence beyond the ritual spaces of the chapel. Bands of Hope became important vehicles of socialisation through which children’s lives were shaped. Of interest to the research team were the notion of the ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ that were constructed through these temperance activities. The paper ‘Disciplining Youthful Methodist Bodies in Nineteenth-Century Cornwall’ explores the entanglement of pastoral theological convictions and social ideologies of Methodist leaders in the drive for temperance in Cornwall.’

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