Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700-1950

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700-1950

Article excerpt

Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700-1950. By K. D. M. Snell. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 541. $110.00.)

A typical contemporary gravestone might refer to "John Smith, a Much-Loved Husband, Father, and Grandfather." Around 1850, the reference might have been to "John Smith, of this Parish." Observations like this have led K. D. M. Snell, professor of Rural and Cultural History at the University of Leicester, to reflect on the declining importance of community in England and Wales since about 1870 and the all-importance of the nuclear family. His book consists of a series of long essays focused on the parish as the principal focus of rural community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and its subsequent marginalization.Tlie central theme is the multifaceted role of the parish, civil as much as ecclesiastical, in the earlier period, and the subsequent narrowing down of the parish into a purely ecclesiastical unit. About half of the book is devoted to the Poor Law. Here Snell gives special attention to the laws of settlement, which determined where those in need of poor relief were entitled to obtain it.Among the most innovative sections of the book are studies of marriage patterns and gravestone inscriptions as indicators of identification with the parish. The results of these two studies are similar. Parish endogamy was increasing in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, reached a high point in the middle decades of the latter century, and declined steeply from about 1880. References on gravestones to the deceased as being "of this Parish" or as coming from a specific place peaked around 1870, and also fell rapidly thereafter. So far as endogamy is concerned, changing levels of village populations must have been a factor. However, Snell suggests many other reasons for the weakening sense of rural community. He argues that the impact of social change on people's ways of thinking and behaving in the period of industrialization has been exaggerated, whereas the importance of changes during the last quarter of the nineteenth century has often been underestimated. …

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