Courtesy of Mark Holland, an interesting piece in the Black Country Bugle about a 1940s Bible class photograph taken in Dudley. Of the thirty or so well-turned out lads present, only one has been identified: Duncan Edwards of Manchester United and England.
Mark points out that it was a Methodist class and that this was likely given the strength of Dissenting in the Black Country of the time.
Changes in religious belief and practice are harder to track than you might imagine. One reason why there are so many late Victorian churches and chapels in our towns and cities is that, when a survey was done in the 1850s, it was found that there were sufficient places of worship for only about half of the existing population. It follows that more than half of the population, before Darwin, had ceased to attend on any regular basis. Mayhew’s Survey is packed with instances of everyday people’s total ignorance (and ignoring) of religion.
For all that, the 1950s were the last boom time for Christian church attendance in the UK, the last time it was an unremarkable thing to do. Numbers at Easter Communion, and Anglican vocations fell off a cliff in the ’60s, and have declined at a steady rate ever since. (Individual churches have, of course, had their own stories to tell, some going in the opposite direction without being able to nudge the overall figures).
The founder of this Bible class, Bert Bissell, outlived Edwards by a full forty years. He sounds an interesting man in his own right:
Bert Bissell (1902-1998) founded the Vicar Street Bible class in 1925. On VJ-Day, 1945, he led a group of boys from the Bible class to the summit of Ben Nevis, where they built a cairn as a memorial to the new peace. The Ben Nevis Peace Cairn is now a significant landmark. Bert Bissell was a life-long peace campaigner and in 1987 he was awarded the prestigious World Methodist Peace Award.