Iain Riddell

2016 AFPGR Participant
Clinging to privilege, Anglican priestly families during the nineteenth century: An insight into social mobility
About Iain

Iain Riddell has come to postgraduate studies following a twenty year career in community development, leadership and engagement, working predominately in urban settings. His work has involved black-led, disabled-led and LGBT projects along with faith-based initiatives in the West Midlands and Gloucestershire.

He is blogging about his research at http://www.kinshipcollation.net/

About the Research

Anglican priestly families during the nineteenth century, An insight into social mobility emerged from a dual processes of genealogical reconstruction, covering 10,000 people and 15,000 official records and; kinship collation which is an innovative method of working with massive networks of people who are biologically and legally linked to explore how their relationships impacted the structure of society and the nature of power within it.

These processes have revealed intersecting relationships of a series of landowning, politically influential Anglican priests, such as Bankes of Corfe Castle, the Hanham Baronets, Rice of Dyvenor, Sweet of Bradnich, Sweet-Escott of Hartrow stretching across multiple generations. These families consistently provided men for church service in Holy Orders whilst some of their daughters and sisters inter-married with the families of bishops and patronage wielding landowners; whilst ultimately not amongst the narrow national elite, these families maintained a constant voice in parliament and at the heart of Anglican institutions.

Research Context 

For over a century the professionalization of the historian’s craft has seen a divergence from that of the archivist and a suspicion of the antiquarian-genealogist. A consequence of this is an enduring wariness’s about the amateur genealogist and the outputs of their armchair enthusiasm. This is unfortunate as the combination of digitization of records and a sustained public interest in the histories’ of their families has over the last fifteen years produced a huge number of reconstructed family-genealogies.

Increased sophistication, co-operation and technological improvements have greatly boosted the reliability of these reconstructions which actual are a vast data-processing exercise that has transformed government data into a web of past social relationships. These social relationships when mapped against time and geography and then against the great trends of British and global history question the western emphasis upon nuclear family-households. It is in this space that my research approach of kinship collation sits as it asks three core questions

1. What does the reconstruction of genealogies of past people of all classes, done to the greatest possible depth, reveal about the British cultural attitudes to family and kin?

2. What is exposed by these reconstructions in regard to the history of British communities home and abroad?

3. What methodologies and techniques can be developed to ensure that this vast pool of reconstructed data is not wasted?

Key Research Results

Clinging to privilege was initiated from a comment about an Edwardian woman who put her family’s security at risk by refusing to curtsey to her husband’s employer leading to the unpicking of a well off, socially connected kin group that clearly supported each other’s opportunities. An analysis of essentially freely available digitised information regarding these families reveals modi operandi and social values such as…

  • resistance to opening the universities to non-Anglicans
  • the use of patronage to benefit extended familial groups
  • avoidance of service in the cities and industrial towns
  • funding rural church building
  • continued absenteeism from their parishes
  • use of local patronage and appointments as financial instruments
  • resistance to democratic change and confessional pluralism
  • co-option of daughters for social network planning
  • retention of rights of patronage like parish advowsons for familial stability

…across the nineteenth century which according to Anglican historiography was a period of radical change that resulted in a stronger church structure that was more responsive to the changed times

These influential priestly families were not only able to ride out the impact of reform to the church institutions they were able to mitigate the impact of these changes on their lifestyles, authority and position in the church and wider elite society. The evidence of the linkages to members of the House of Bishops from the Hanoverian , Law of Bath and Wells through the mid-Victorian Moberly of Salisbury his successor Wordsworth and right through to the inter-wars Burrows of Chichester signifies that there was no ostracising based upon anachronistic practices and values that were being challenged across the Anglican systems. 

This strongly suggests that it was networking behaviour through the medium of kinship that functioned to sustain the stability of these Anglican priestly families on the fringe of the English elites. The families under consideration were not only able to avoid downward social mobility in a changing environment but their stability of socio-economic status supported diversification into new high status positions within the expanding governmental bureaucracy and new financial industries.

Future Direction

The core of my PhD thesis is to use kinship collation as a tool for an in depth exploration of east Aberdeenshire’s rural society in the nineteenth century. Kinship collation reveals the development of economics, democracy and the changing status of women in a patriarchal culture as well as enduring nature of kin connectivity stretching beyond nuclear families, the relationships of siblings and most certainly the household. The thesis will establish a British context for kinship into the early twentieth century, which is more attuned to European approaches, that cannot be separated out from the other functions and pressures within society.

Presenter_Iain Riddell
Iain discussing his poster with a judge at the 2016 Festival of Postgraduate Research

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