Labour Church

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Miscellaneous items: handbills, hymn sheets, reports, 1891-1910.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Labour Church was founded in 1891 by Rev. John Trevor. Its first service was held in Manchester in 1891, with Trevor attacking the lack of support given to the working classes by the traditional churches and calling for a new type of religious movement. By the second Sunday, the congregation was overflowing the hall, and support for the church continued to grow rapidly through the industrial North. The strongest centres of the movement were in the industrial centres of Lancashire and Yorkshire - however, the movement had also spread as far afield as Birmingham, South Wales, and parts of Scotland. The Labour Church's main characteristics were its spontaneity, its reflection of local conditions, and the absence of any strong centralised direction. There was a strong connection between the Church and the Independent Labour Party but this relationship was close without being exclusive.

In 1892 Trevor founded the Church's monthly journal, the Labour Prophet. Annual conferences followed in 1893. Due to ill-health, Trevor resigned from the editorship in 1896, but continued his involvement by becoming chairman of the Labour Church Union. At its height, the Union numbered 25 churches, nearly all in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The central idea behind the Labour Church movement was to add a spiritual dimension to the idea of the emancipation of labour, but Trevor's views on this subject brought him into conflict with other church members, and with the ILP, which he believed failed to recognise this aspect. Trevor's hopes that the Church would generate a new and lasting religious idealism were also not to be fulfilled. After 1900, the movement entered a rapid decline. Between 1891 and 1910 about 120 were in existence - but only one or two of these survived the First World War. Whilst the 1906 election produced an increased interest in Socialism and the ILP, and saw the foundation of 20 new Labour Churches, these were much more secular and political in outlook, and very much removed from Trevor's early ideals.

Reference: Richard Storey in Joyce M. Bellamy and John Saville (eds.), Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol. 6 (London, 1982)

Conditions Governing Access

Access : Open

Archivist's Note

The collection supplements the working papers of Rev. G.W. Brassington on Rev. John Trevor, founder of the Labour Church (MSS.143) An authority file exists for the Labour Church (GB 152 AAR0757), and for Rev. Brassington (GBR 0152 AAR0755) and Rev. Trevor (GBR 0152 AAR0756).

Custodial History

The collection was deposited with the Centre in 1977 and 1986 by Mr. H.O. Roth, Deputy Librarian of the University of Auckland. The material was originally the property of H.A. Atkinson, at one time General Secretary of the Labour Church.