Wednesday 26 May 2010

Radicals and religious dissenters: London Non-Conformist registers 1694–1921

by Kathryn Hadley

The names and details of half a million UK radicals and religious dissenters covering a period of 225 years have been made available online, today, for the first time. The Non-Conformist church registers include the baptism and marriage registers and burial inscriptions, dating from 1694 to 1921, of both famous British non-conformists such as Daniel Defoe (1659-1731), William Blake (1757-1827) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and 224,000 ordinary men and women. The records form part of the London Historical Records, 1500s to 1900s held at the London Metropolitan Archive.

The records include the names of Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and Congregationalists, for example, who were persecuted by the state because they refused to comply with the Clarendon Code, the doctrine of the established Anglican Church, which remained in effect until 1828. For the most part, the church registers are the only records of these people in existence because they were not recorded by the state until civil registration in 1837.

Some of these non-conformists advanced progressive causes which formed the basis of modern civil liberties and political rights. The Quakers, for example, were the first religious group to denounce slavery. The Methodists were powerful advocates of women’s rights and the Unitarians campaigned for better conditions for factory workers.

The records are the first part of a number of non conformist collections that plans to digitise and publish online. They can be accessed at

William Blake's tombstone in Bunhill Fields cemetary in Islington, which was used as a burial site for non conformists from the late 17th century to the middle of the 19th century. The memorial stone is believed to be situated approximately 20 metres away from the actual spot of Blake's grave, which became lost in the 1960s when gravestones were removed to create a new lawn.

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