The Church of England in History 1540-1939

Submitting Institution

King's College London

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Arthur Burns' research on the history of the Anglican Church in England and Wales has had an impact on the Church, on its congregations, and on a wider public interested in genealogy and local history. The Building on History Knowledge Transfer Fellowship ensured a particular impact in London, as well as generating wider interest; the Clergy of the Church of England Database is consulted worldwide; his ongoing work on Thaxted already informs an important TV film.

Underpinning research

At King's as lecturer (1992-2002), senior lecturer (2002-6), head of department (2004-8) and professor of modern British history (2006-present), Arthur Burns is a leading historian of the Anglican church since the mid-eighteenth century. The Diocesan Revival (1999, building on his DPhil of 1990) was the first comprehensive account of the important contribution of the church's regional structures to the nineteenth-century reforms of which they were usually assumed the recalcitrant object (3.4). His 2010 edition of documents relating to Bethnal Green parish (3.2) (`My unfortunate parish'), argued for a reappraisal of one of the church's most famous responses to the complex challenges of London's urban parishes, conventionally judged to have failed in its objectives. He again reappraised key aspects of London Anglicanism as editor and contributing author of a prize-winning history of St Paul's cathedral (2004) which also explored Anglicanism's contribution to national debates and wider culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (3.3). Other writings, such as his 1999 edition of William Conybeare's seminal `Church parties' (3.5), also illuminate the dynamics of the church's response to the pastoral challenges of the Victorian era.

Since 1999 a major collaborative project, The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540-1835 (CCEd), co-directed with Profs S. J. C. Taylor and K. C. Fincham, has been central to Burns' research, Burns taking prime responsibility for the post-1750 period, but also collaboratively developing the overall database and research strategy, notably in the work involved to prepare the launch of CCEd2 in 2009, rated `outstanding' in the AHRC end of project report (3.1). CCEd, a major open access public online resource, contains well over a million records relating to Anglican clerical careers in England, Wales and overseas linked to about 150,000 persons and 15,000 places, as well as institutions, individuals (in the case of chaplains) and jurisdictions, accompanied by a considerable body of supporting material on its website. Repeatedly updated as research proceeds and in light of users' contributions, CCEd is the best available academic resource on the history of the post-Reformation clergy to the mid-nineteenth century, revealing fresh insights into the size and dynamics of this most important profession.

Burns' current research on the important tradition of twentieth-century Christian socialism at Thaxted, Essex (3.6), for the first time properly explores this tradition from the appointment of Conrad Noel to the ministry of the pioneering gay cleric Peter Elers, providing moreover key insights into other movements such as the revival of Morris dancing and the Gay Christian Movement and the lives of individuals including Joseph Needham and Gustav Holst.

References to the research

3.1: THE CLERGY OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND DATABASE 2 (CCEd2; Online Database and Web resource, 2009). URL:; submitted to REF by Arthur Burns). Incorporates the CCED1 resource (2005) submitted to RAE2008 by Arthur Burns. Codirectors Arthur Burns, Kenneth Fincham (UKC, PI), Stephen Taylor (Reading <2012/Durham); research officers Tim Wales, Mary Clayton (and CCEd1 Peter Yorke) (King's, UKC and Reading); technical team led by Harold Short & John Bradley at Dept of Digital Humanities, King's. CCEd1 funded by AHRB (£529,000, 1999); CCEd2 by AHRB (£313,963, 2004); additional small grants from the British Academy (to Taylor), the Marc Fitch Fund (£5,000 to Burns/Taylor 2010) and King's Arts and Humanities (to Burns/Vetch 2011).

3.2: Arthur Burns (ed. and introd.), `My most unfortunate parish: Anglican urban ministry in Bethnal Green 1809-1850', in S. J. C. Taylor, M. Barber and G. Sewell (eds.) From the Reformation to the Permissive Society: A Miscellany in Celebration of the 400th Anniversary of Lambeth Palace Library (Church of England Record Society, vol. 18, 2010), pp. 269-393. Scholarly edition with sole-authored introductory article submitted to REF by Arthur Burns.

3.3: Derek Keene, Arthur Burns and Andrew Saint (eds.), St Pauls: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004 (Yale University Press, 2004), includes Arthur Burns, `From 1830 to the Present', pp. 84-110. Submitted by Arthur Burns both as editor and chapter author to RAE2008; winner of WM Berger prize for British Art History, 2004.

3.4: Arthur Burns, The Diocesan Revival in the Church of England c.1800-1870 (Oxford, Oxford Historical Monographs 1999). Sole-authored monograph submitted by Arthur Burns to RAE2001; peer reviewed at publication.


3.5: Arthur Burns, (ed. and introd.), William Conybeare, `Church parties', in From Cranmer to Davidson: A Church of England Miscellany (Church of England Record Society, vol. 7, 1999), pp. 213-386. Submitted by Arthur Burns as scholarly edition with sole-authored introductory article RAE2001.

3.6: Arthur Burns, `Beyond the "Red Vicar": Community and Christian Socialism in Thaxted, Essex, 1910-84', History Workshop Journal, 75 (Spring 2013), pp. 101-24. Article in peer-reviewed journal submitted by Arthur Burns to REF.


Details of the impact

From 2005 CCEd established itself as a key source of historical information on Anglican churches and clergy; in 2009 CCEd2 made the steadily expanding body of data more readily intelligible and accessible to non-academic users. Both database and website are used by genealogists across the globe (notably in the US and Australasia), by local historians and by non-academic church historians, averaging for example roughly 8,600 unique individual monthly visitors over the first 10 months of 2013 (5.1). Users also provide data and more discursive material to CCEd, some using it as a platform for their own research (eg the Texan genealogist Sarah Reveley [5.2]). CCEd has been promoted through advertising in archives, relevant journals and websites, workshops and public conferences, and an active dialogue is maintained via email with many satisfied users (eg `your site is of enormous help to those researching and writing about local history at coalface level': local historian Paul Herrington, 21/7/2010) (5.1). Other indicators of CCEd's impact include the award of `Site of the Week' by Family Tree Magazine; an article in The Guardian; numerous links and references in genealogical publications and websites (eg Peter Towey, My Ancestor was an Anglican Clergyman, and at key repositories such as The National Archives (5.3). The value of CCEd to archives is apparent from a testimonial from an archivist at Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, Steve Hobbs, who finds CCEd `of great value to staff in a service with a diocesan archive that covers two other counties (Berks and Dorset). It has been used in the writing of parish thumbnail accounts for our Community History website which has many hits by users around the world'. (5.4) Record offices (such as Lambeth Palace Library) often refer users for assistance, or use CCEd to help explain their holdings.

On 13 August 2008 Burns appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? Patsy Kensit, for an extended sequence (also featuring CCEd , part of it accessible on the BBC website): the episode attracted 6.9 million viewers (a 30% audience share) for its first of 10 showings on the BBC; it is now available on DVD. Burns has also appeared in another major television event, his research on Thaxted underpinning a key part of a revisionist account of Gustav Holst in Tony Palmer's film In the Bleak Midwinter for the BBC (5.6) first broadcast with considerable press coverage at Easter 2011, and since issued on DVD.

Burns' further research on Bethnal Green parish following the Kensit programme (3.2) together with 3.1 and 3.3-6 informed his collaboration as co-investigator on an equal basis with PI Prof John Wolffe (OU) in the innovative AHRC-funded Knowledge Transfer Fellowship Building on History: The Church in London (2009-11), assisted by research officers John Maiden (OU) and Lucinda Matthews-Jones (King's). Working with the Diocese of London and Lambeth Palace Library, the project has significantly increased awareness among both clergy and laity of the nineteenth-century history of the Diocese as a resource for contemporary Anglicanism in London and its interactions with the wider community.

Burns' research was disseminated through a wide range of activity, summarised in the project report (5.7) sent to all bishops and training officers in the Church in England as part of a wider dissemination strategy which also saw seminars held for dioceses in the south east (Lambeth Palace 2011), the south west (Salisbury 2011), and the midlands (Birmingham 2011) and coverage in the church press (5.8): i) more than 30 events organised at deanery level for clergy and laity where presentations offered specific contexts for current work; ii) special events such as a `Parish history day' (at which an audience of more than fifty amateur researchers and clerics from across the country were advised on resources for and approaches to writing parish histories — including the DVD resource The English Parish Church, to which Burns contributed — which the team repeated for the London Metropolitan Archives outreach programme) and Schools events, one of which stimulated innovative use of a church as a teaching resource at Christ Church Primary School, Hampstead; iii) Contributions to local and community events, such as Burns' lecture at the 2011 anniversary celebrations of St Matthew Bethnal Green; iv) a website which continues to offer papers by the project team and other resources including a detailed account of relevant material in Lambeth Palace Library (effectively a new front end, for which Burns led development), and advice directed both at parish historians and those planning church work; v) work with ordinands in the diocese, demonstrating how the history of their parishes could lead them to see their own challenges in a new light. Burns' work on Bethnal Green was among that which attracted most interest among key diocesan personnel, the Bishop of London singling it out both in his foreword to the project report and citing it in his Pentecost sermon in 2009 (5.7).

The team's work with senior clergy (bishops, archdeacons, and the director of ordination training) resulted in the development and implementation of a History `Audit' in the diocese's approach to Mission Action Planning, described on the diocesan website (5.10), which is now under consideration in at least one other diocese (Ely) for implementation there; a booklet describing the approach has been published in the Grove pastoral pamphlets series aimed at clerical CPD, and the diocese's director of ministerial training, Neil Evans, testifies that he has `seen a number of parishes benefit [from this] already' (5.8). Elsewhere reaction to the project was extremely positive, the vicar of St Mary Magdalene Enfield and director of post-ordination training for the Edmonton area, the Rev. Gordon Giles, describing its contribution to his post-ordination training programme in Tottenham as `a fantastic day', and noting how attendance at the Parish History day helped his parish come to a proper understanding of the historic importance of his church, knowledge that underpinned a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £50,000, making vital restoration work possible. (5.8) The director of Libraries, Archives and IT for the National Church Institution of the Church of England, Declan Kelly, notes that before the project Lambeth Palace Library was `a very insular and inward looking'; thanks to Building on History, `now the library sees very clearly the benefits of partnerships ... the project itself is something that is now littered across the Lambeth Palace Library website, from the home page right the way through'. (5.8) Contacts formed during the project helped underpin ongoing relationships which will ensure continuing interaction between Burns and the partner institutions.

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1: Mary Clayton, Report on email traffic at CCED 2008-11 for Reading university; website usage statistics for CCEd compiled in Dept of Digital Humanities, King's (both available on request).

5.2: Sarah Reveley, `Samuel Reveley, vicar of Crosby Ravensworth, Westmorland 1757-1809: an exiled cleric':

5.3: Links/references to CCEd in genealogical and other publications: Peter Towey, My Ancestor was an Anglican Clergyman (Society of Genealogists, 2006, ISBN 1903462908);; Lambeth Palace Library.
Http://; `Seek and ye shall find', article by Lucy Ward, The Guardian, 19 May 2009.

5.4 email from archivist at Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, 21 March 2013

5.5: Who Do You Think You Are?: Patsy Kensit
( for involvement and web legacy; for screenings on BBC (also shown on digital channels such as Yesterday).

5.6: Tony Palmer's In the Bleak Midwinter:
Indicative press/blog coverage:;

5.7: Outputs from Building on History project: Engaging with the Past to Shape the Future:
The Experience of Building on History: The Church in London
(2011): downloadable at; John Maiden and Neil Evans, What Can Churches Learn from their Past? (Grove Pastoral Series 2012), ISBN 9781851748419; project website

5.8: Contacts and Statements: Bishop of London, Diocese of London, Church of England (contact); Director of Libraries, Archives and IT for National Church Institutions of the Church of England (contact); Archivist, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (contact); Director of Ministry and Warden of Licensed Lay Ministry, Anglican Diocese of London (statement); Vicar of St Mary Magdalene, Enfield and director of Post-Ordination Training, Edmonton Area, Anglican Diocese of London (statement and also in Transcript of Building on History Impact Meeting, 1 July 2013 (OU)).

5.9: `History is for today: A new way of looking at Church history', article in The Church of England Newspaper 1 Oct. 2010 (accessed 20 Nov 2010).

5.10: The History Audit: in the London Diocese Mission Action Planning model:; John Maiden and Neil Evans, What Can Churches Learn from their Past? (Grove Pastoral Series 2012), ISBN 9781851748419.