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Reference group
Recordites (act. 1828–c.1860) were the ‘extreme section’ (Conybeare, 256) of the evangelical party in the Church of England, so-called because of their perceived association with The Record newspaper. The term was first popularized by William John Conybeare in an article, ‘Church parties’, published in the Edinburgh Review in 1853, but has been applied retrospectively by historians to categorize evangelicals in the preceding quarter-century since The Record began publication in 1828.

The Record itself was a bi-weekly (tri-weekly from 1855) newspaper, which viewed public affairs from a trenchant evangelical perspective. Its early proprietors included Andrew Hamilton, a successful businessman, and John Stuckey Reynolds, a civil servant. After it nearly folded halfway through its first year a Scottish barrister, Alexander Haldane, emerged as the dominant influence on its policy, as ‘the Representative of the Committee of Proprietors in communication with the Editor’ (Biographical Sketch, 14). Haldane believed that the evangelicalism of the 1820s had become too comfortable, fashionable, and subject to a ‘wide-spread spirit of worldly wisdom’ (The Record, 29 Dec 1853). He was an inconspicuous figure who never held public office, but became the éminence grise of the Recordites, exerting a powerful influence both through his personal networks and his forceful leading articles in the newspaper, in which he denounced the spiritual declension of the nation's leaders, and urged evangelicals to respond with an uncompromising assertion of their own principles.

The Recordites were characterized religiously by pronounced Calvinism, biblical literalism, premillennialism, rigid sabbatarianism, and militant anti-Catholicism. Their strong sense of national Christianity made them staunch defenders of the continuance of links between church and state. Edward Irving was an important precursor and inspiration. In addition to the newspaper itself, significant seedbeds of Recordite ideas and association included the British Reformation Society, founded in 1827 to proselytize Irish Catholics, and the conferences on the interpretation of biblical prophecy hosted by Henry Drummond and Hugh McNeile at Albury in Surrey during the late 1820s.

The Recordites were initially divided over Catholic emancipation, some of them regarding it as a purely political matter that should be conceded in order to make the Irish more receptive to protestantism, whereas others believed that crucial matters of national spiritual integrity were at stake. However, in the face of the political instability that followed the passing of the measure in April 1829 and indications that the Catholics had been encouraged rather than appeased, the latter tendency gained the ascendancy. On 12 July 1830 The Record published an address ‘To the Christian Proprietors and Freeholders of Great Britain’ urging them in the imminent general election to seek the return of men who would constitute a Christian legislature, resisting an unholy alliance of Roman Catholicism, Socinianism, and infidelity, and being ruled by the Bible in their political conduct.

Members of parliament with Recordite links included Sir Andrew Agnew, seventh baronet, John Campbell Colquhoun, James Edward Gordon (1789–1864), George Finch (1794–1870), George Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Johnston (1798–1862), Henry Maxwell (1799–1868), George Montagu (1799–1855), who held the courtesy title Viscount Mandeville until he succeeded as sixth duke of Manchester, Spencer Perceval the younger (1795–1859), son of the prime minister, John Pemberton Plumptre (1791–1864), Alexander Pringle (1791–1857), George Henry Rose, and Sir George Sinclair. Significant sympathizers in the House of Lords were George William Finch-Hatton, tenth earl of Winchilsea, and Robert Jocelyn, third earl of Roden. They were not all in parliament simultaneously, however, and there is little evidence, beyond the existence of a prayer meeting in the session of 1831, that they ever formed an organized group. They were, though, rallied in debates on matters of shared concern, especially issues relating to the Irish church, education, Roman Catholicism, and Sunday observance.

The Recordites achieved their greatest political prominence in the parliamentary session of 1831, when J. E. Gordon led them in heated confrontations with Daniel O'Connell and others over the Irish national education proposals and the government grant to Maynooth College. In early 1832, however, they were made to seem ridiculous by Spencer Perceval's eccentric speeches proclaiming divine judgement on the nation, and further weakened when the Reform Act deprived Gordon of his parliamentary seat. In the early 1830s the Recordites were a genuinely cross-party grouping, including such whigs as Agnew, Johnston, Plumptre, and Sinclair, and even the radical Colquhoun. During the next few years, however, whig policy towards the Irish church caused most of them to gravitate to the Conservatives, losing in the process whatever distinctive political identity they had possessed. Aspirations for an independent evangelical grouping remained, and Colquhoun was perceived as a potential leader, but they remained unfulfilled. In the late 1840s Manchester and Colquhoun were key promoters of the National Club, formed ‘in support of the Protestant principles of the Constitution’ (Wolffe, 210–11), but its religious basis, including moderate evangelicals and conservative high churchmen, was much wider than that of the Recordites.

The wider application of the term Recordite is in identifying a religious tendency rather than a political grouping. In ‘Church parties’ Conybeare estimated that in 1853 2500 of the Church of England's 18,000 clergy were Recordites, but he did not explicitly name any of them (Conybeare, 357). In a letter to The Times (7 Nov 1853) McNeile, to whom Conybeare had alluded as ‘a leader of the party’ (Conybeare, 287), questioned the ‘good taste of designating your brethren … by a nickname derived from a newspaper’ and pointed out that on ‘some very important subjects I entirely differ from the Record’. The category was indeed never a sharply defined one and it is important to avoid a stereotyped perception. Nevertheless it is reasonable to identify a significant proportion of the notable Anglican evangelical clerical subjects from this period as showing some Recordite links and characteristics. These include, in addition to McNeile himself, Nicholas Armstrong (later an apostle of the Catholic Apostolic church), Edward Bickersteth and Robert Bickersteth, Richard Blakeney, Henry Blunt (who was an early writer for The Record), Thomas Pownall Boultbee, Francis Close, Edward Bishop Elliott, George Cornelius Gorham, Henry Law, William Marsh, Robert M'Ghee, John Cale Miller, Baptist Noel, Alfred Peache, John Charles Ryle, and Hugh Stowell. Some Presbyterians, such as Henry Cooke and John Cumming, were also closely associated with them. Significant lay figures were the publisher Robert Benton Seeley and the novelist Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh earl of Shaftesbury, disliked the tone of The Record and was worried by its influence (diary, 2 Jan 1844, U. Southampton L., Shaftesbury papers), but became a close friend of Alexander Haldane.

The term Recordite ceases to be appropriate after about 1860. Edward Garbett, editor of the newspaper from 1854 to 1867, moderated its tone, and it was outflanked by the more militant The Rock. By that period too the generation associated with the early history of The Record was passing. A combative evangelical tendency persisted, expressed in opposition to both ritualism and liberal theology, but the battlelines were now being drawn in different ways. The achievements and legacy of the Recordites were ambivalent. They have been perceived as diverting the attractive moderate evangelicalism of the earlier generation of William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon into narrow and negative channels. A more positive portrayal is to see them as a dynamic force that restated the essential principles of the evangelical movement in a straightforward manner that had a ready appeal to the ‘religious public’ of early Victorian England.

John Wolffe

Sources  

W. J. Conybeare, ‘Church parties’, Edinburgh Review, 98 (1853), 273–342; repr. in From Cranmer to Davidson: a Church of England miscellany, ed. S. Taylor (1999), 213–385 [ed. with intro. by A. Burns] · A. Haldane, A biographical sketch of Alexander Haldane, of the Inner Temple, barrister at law, JP, communicated to The Record of July 28 1882, with extracts and additions (1882) [attributed to A. H. Corsbie, Haldane's daughter] · S. Minton, The evangelicals and The Edinburgh: a reply to the article on ‘church parties’ (1853) · J. L. Altholz, ‘Alexander Haldane, The Record, and religious journalism’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 20 (1987), 23–31 · I. Bradley, The politics of godliness: evangelicals in parliament, 1784–1832, DPhil diss., University of Oxford, 1974 · D. M. Lewis, ed., The Blackwell dictionary of evangelical biography, 1730–1860, 2 vols. (1995) · I. Rennie, ‘Evangelicalism and English public life’, PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1962 · J. Wolffe, The protestant crusade in Great Britain, 1829–1860 (1991)