Religion and Empire in Manchester, 1876-99, with particular reference to the Catholic Church

  • Stephen Cunniffe

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the interaction between religion and empire in Manchester between 1876 and 1899 with particular focus on the Catholic Church. The existing story of imperialism and religion in Manchester argues that by 1900 there existed a common imperial culture across all Churches. Whilst this is convincing, this thesis examines the Catholic story, which has not been substantially investigated before, and uncovers more varied reasons for imperial engagement, and differences in emphasis, than previously acknowledged.The struggle for elementary education has been seen as the dominant factor which led to a new confidence and political maturity amongst Catholics by the year 1900. This thesis shows how other decisions taken on a local level by Catholic hierarchies and laymen were also important. The thesis analyses the key role played by Bishop Vaughan of Salford and other clergy in the formation of the Manchester Geographical Society (MGS). The nature of the MGS is placed within the wider literature on geographical societies. The influence of religious figures on geographical societies and cultures of exploration in England, has been previously neglected. Vaughan's aims for involvement in the MGS were diverse, including the greater involvement of Catholics in civil society, a redefinition of the Catholic image, and a more closely defined role for Catholics in the British empire. The MGS emerges as a hybrid institution, of competing aims and values, rather than a commercial pressure group. The foundation by Bishop Vaughan of St. Bede's College in Manchester, for the Catholic middle class of the city, is then described. The technical and geographical education developed at the school, by Vaughan and Prefect of Studies Louis Charles Casartelli, was formulated to strengthen the commercial nature of the growing Catholic middle class, and in the longer term to aid both the assimilation of local Catholics into society, and to change the image of the faith to one which was engaged with aspects of the modern world and the wider empire. The museum at the school is also shown to have played a key role in redefining geography as a subject. Bishop Vaughan and Louis Charles Casartelli actively engaged with modern developments in Manchester, and aspects of contemporary society such as imperialism, exploration and commerce.No previous study has analysed St. Bede's College to any extent. This thesis uses the MGS Archive located at Greater Manchester County Record Office, many documents from which have never been analysed. Material is also used from the Church Lads' Brigade archive near Rotherham, and from St. Bede's College.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMax Jones (Supervisor) & Stuart Jones (Supervisor)


  • Youth Groups
  • St. Bede's College
  • Geography
  • Popular imperialism
  • Empire
  • Manchester
  • Manchester Geographical Society
  • Catholicism

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