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Public Worship Regulation Act 1874

The Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 (37 & 38 Vict. c.85) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, introduced as a Private Member's Bill by Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait, to limit what he perceived as the growing ritualism of Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement within the Church of England.[4]

Public Worship Regulation Act 1874
Long titleAn Act for the better administration of the Laws respecting the regulation of Public Worship.
Citation37 & 38 Vict. c.85
Introduced byArchbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait, 20 April 1874, private member's bill[1]
Territorial extentEngland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man[2]
Royal assent7 August 1874
Commencement1 July 1875 (1875-07-01)[3]
Repealed1 March 1965
Other legislation
Repealed byEcclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures of 1963 (No.1), art.87, Sch.5
Status: Repealed

Tait's billEdit

Tait's bill was controversial. It was given government backing by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who called it "a bill to put down ritualism". He referred to the practices of the Oxford Movement as "a Mass in masquerade." Queen Victoria was supportive of the Act's Protestant intentions.[5] Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone, a high church Anglican whose sympathies were for separation of church and state, felt disgusted that the liturgy was made, as he saw it, "a parliamentary football."[6]

The ActEdit

Before the Act, the Church of England regulated its worship practices through the Court of Arches with appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Act established a new court, presided over by former Divorce Court judge Lord Penzance. Many citizens were scandalised by parliamentary interference with worship and, moreover, by its proposed supervision by a secular court. The act gave bishops the discretionary power to order a stay of proceedings.[7]

Section 8 of the Act allowed an archdeacon, church warden or three adult male parishioners of a parish to serve on the bishop a representation that in their opinion:[8]

  1. That in such church any alteration in or addition to the fabric, ornaments, or furniture thereof has been made without lawful authority, or that any decoration forbidden by law has been introduced into such church; or,
  1. That the incumbent has within the preceding twelve months used or permitted to be used in such church or burial ground any unlawful ornament of the minister of the church, or neglected to use any prescribed ornament or vesture; or,
  1. That the incumbent has within the preceding twelve months failed to observe, or to cause to be observed, the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer relating to the performance, in such church or burial ground, of the services, rites and ceremonies ordered by the said book, or has made or has permitted to be made any unlawful addition to, alteration of, or omission from such services, rites and ceremonies —
Illustration of Fr. Richard Enraght entering Warwick Prison in 1880

The bishop had the discretion to stay proceedings but, if he allowed them to proceed, the parties had the opportunity to submit to his direction with no right of appeal. The bishop was able to issue a monition, but if the parties did not agree to his jurisdiction, then the matter was to be sent for trial (section 9).[9]

The Act provided a casus belli for the Anglo-Catholic English Church Union and the evangelical Church Association. Many clergy were brought to trial and five ultimately imprisoned for contempt of court.[10]

List of clergy imprisonedEdit

These clergy were supported financially by the George Boyle, 6th Earl of Glasgow, who donated considerable sums to their defense and compensation.[13]

Prosecutions ended when a Royal Commission in 1906 recognised the legitimacy of pluralism in worship,[14] but the Act remained in force for 91 years until it was repealed on 1 March 1965 by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.[15]

Territorial extentEdit

The Act purported to extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.[2] As these were Crown dependencies, there was a separate question as to the power of Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate for them. It was a confused and controversial matter (see Crown dependencies: Relationship with the UK).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hansard HL Deb 20 April 1874 vol 218 cc786-808
  2. ^ a b Great Britain 1874, p. 419, s. 3.
  3. ^ Great Britain 1874, p. 419, s. 2.
  4. ^ Murray (2005), pp. 212–4
  5. ^ Murray (2005), p. 214
  6. ^ Jenkins (1995), pp. 383–4
  7. ^ Yates (1999), p. 237.
  8. ^ Douglas (1996), p. 396
  9. ^ Douglas (1996), p. 397
  10. ^ Yates (1999), pp. 247–75
  11. ^ Simpson 1933, p. 51.
  12. ^ Cross 1959, p. 1123.
  13. ^ Howell & Saint 2017, p. 88.
  14. ^ Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline (1906) Report of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline
  15. ^ Text of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures of 1963 (No.1), (art. 87) as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from
    Text of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures of 1963 (No.1), Sch. 5 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from


  • Great Britain (1874). The Public General Statutes passed in the thirty-seventh & thirty-eighth years of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode at the Queen’s Printing Office.
  • Bayfield Roberts, Rev. G. (1895). The History of the English Church Union 1859–1894.
  • Bentley, J. (1987). 'Ritualism and Politics in Victorian Britain: The Attempt to Legislate for Belief. ISBN 0-19-826714-2.
  • Brooke, W. G. (2007) [1874]. The Public Worship Regulation Act, 1874, with Introduction, Notes and Index. Kessinger. ISBN 0-548-69711-6.
  • Cross, F. L., ed. (1959). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Douglas, David Charles (1996). English Historical Documents. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14374-8.
  • Howell, Peter; Saint, Andrew, eds. (2017). Butterfield Revisited: Studies in Victorian Architecture and Design. Vol. 6. The Victorian Society. see William Butterfield
  • Jenkins, R. (1995). Gladstone. Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-60216-1.
  • Murray, D. L. (2005) [1927]. Disraeli. Kessinger. ISBN 0-7661-9892-8. (Google Books)
  • Nichols, A (1993). The Panther and the Hind: Theological History of Anglicanism. ISBN 0-567-29232-0.
  • Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline (1906) Report of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline
  • Simpson, W. J. Sparrow (1933). "The revival from 1845 to 1933". In Williams, Norman Powell; Harris, Charles (eds.). Northern Catholicism: centenary studies in the Oxford and parallel movements. SPCK.
  • Yates, N. (1999). Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830–1910. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826989-7.