Lord Kelvin vs. The Ritualists

Newspaper reports of Lord Kelvin's protest against Ritualism in National Schools.

(Who were the Ritualists...?)

The Daily News, Jun. 14, 1900, p. 3 (Non-Kelvin parts excised for brevity):—



At Wimborne House, yesterday afternoon, a special meeting took place of the Ladies' League for the Defence of the Reformed Faith of the Church of England. Lady Wimborne presided, and the gathering included [...] Lord Kelvin, [...] Lady Kelvin, [...]


Lord Kelvin, seconding the resolution, said he was present to express his cordial sympathy with the objects of the League, and his heartfelt wish for the success of its work. (Applause.) He would venture to make a slight suggestion that might produce practical results. Let them take special note of the literature—or, rather, printed matter, for literature it could not properly be called—that the Ritualists put into the hands of children. No society could spy into all that was said by word of mouth, and much teaching was therefore very difficult to counteract; but in the case of the printed page they stood on firm ground. They had the right to demand that such matter as the little books circulated by Ritualists should not be put into the hands of children in Church schools. (Hear, hear.) Members of the Church—nay, the whole nation—could make that demand. In Scotland, members of all denominations; in Ireland, both Catholics and Protestants, had a right to question what was done under the law of the United Kingdom by the Church of England. All [???] the right to demand that the Church of England should not teach doctrines and promote practices which were absolutely inconsistent with the law and order of the Church. (Applause.) It was also not only the right, but the duty, of the Education Department to look into the printed matter to which he alluded. (Hear, hear.) He had seen in it most grossly unbecoming words. He has seen poison lurking in a few sentences here, and half a line there. Superstitious doctrines were thus taught—doctrines condemned by the Church of England. He used the word "poison" deliberately, and he thought it was the duty of the bishops, the clergy, the laity, and the whole people to look into the matter; indeed, he thought there was good ground to demand an official report on the printed matter now being put into the hands of children in the schools of the Church of England, and more especially the voluntary schools aided by the Education Department. (Applause.) He trusted that that Department would make a thorough examination into the subject, and absolutely prohibit some of the little books in question. He took a very strong view on the subject. It seemed to him that the evil was best met by guarding the young from such injurious teaching, so that, in ten or twenty years, and unperverted generation would grow up. (Applause.)


The Daily News, Jun. 14, 1900, p. 5:—

in Schools.

The meeting of the Ladies' Protestant League at Wimborne House yesterday was honoured by the presence of Lord Kelvin, who made a strong speech against the Ritualistic movement in National Schools. This is a subject which excites great interest among Protestants, and it will probably be raised in some form or another when the House of Commons meets this afternoon. There is at present no legal check upon the religious teaching in denominational schools. The Government Inspectors have nothing to do with the matter, and the Conscience Clause is considered a sufficient answer to objections. But it is really not so. For these schools are now almost entirely supported by the money of the tax-payer, and the children of Protestants, including Protestant Dissenters, are in thousands of villages obliged to send their children there. The present Government have made things worse by increasing the grants to sectarian schools without putting them under any kind of popular control. There is a conscience clause in Board schools, and yet in the Board school it is not lawful to teach the distinctive formulas of any religious sect. Lord Kelvin said the nation had a right to demand that the little books circulated by Ritualists should not be put into the hands of children in Church schools. Of course, the High Church clergy or the High Church laity, have a perfect right to circulate these tracts as private individuals. But a school receiving a Parliamentary grant is not the place for them. The particular schools in which this "poison," as Lord Kelvin calls it, circulates are treated with exceptional favour, and receive money to which they would not be entitled if they were only the schools of the nation. It is surely not too much to expect that they should abstain from public affronts to the religious principles held by the vast majority of the British people. Roman Catholic schools stand on a very different footing. Protestant children do not attend them, and they have no connection with the Established Church. As Lord Kelvin says, it is the duty of the Education Department to remove this grievance, and if they have not the legal power of doing so, they should ask for it.

Footnote on page 1087 of The Life of William Thomson, by S.P. Thompson:—

Of sacerdotalism and ritualism in all its phases and forms he had an unconcealed detestation. He even went once so far as to write that the only sense in which he could regard the "High" Church as high, was the same as that in which game is said to be "high"—when it is decomposing.

At a meeting of the Ladies Protestant League, held on July 16, 1902, Lord Kelvin said :— "All well-wishers of England, and of religion in England, must lament that there has been so much of perversion allowed to pass unchecked within the Church of England, with only too feeble remonstrance on the part of the Bishops, to whom they had the right to look for the maintenance of law and order in the Church."