The Clapham Sect

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The Clapham Sect was the name given to the main group of evangelical revivalists in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The most famous of them were Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, James Stephen, Zachary Macaulay, Charles Grant, John Shore (later Lord Teignmouth), Thomas Babington, Henry Thornton and William Wilberforce. The name arose from the fact that many of them lived in Clapham, which was then a village three miles south of London, and attended Clapham's parish church, Holy Trinity Clapham. In Parliament, however, they were often mockingly referred to as "the Saints". It is doubtful whether any other single small congregation has exercised such a far-flung influence as the Clapham Sect. Devout Anglicans, they championed religious and humanitarian causes, most notably bringing about the abolition of the slave trade.

British society in the 18th century

In his book "England Before and After Wesley", J. Wesley Bready described "the deep savagery of much of the 18th century", which was characterized by "the wanton torture of animals for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the populace, the inhuman traffic in African negroes, the [high] mortality [rate] of parish children, the universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the prison system and penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theatre, the growing prevalence of lawlessness, superstition and lewdness; the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and truculence, the shallow pretensions of Deism, the insincerity and debasement rampant in Church and State - such manifestations suggest that the British people were then perhaps as deeply degraded and debauched as any people in Christendom."[1] It was against this background, and to reform it, that the Evangelical Revival and the Clapham Sect developed.


The Clapham Sect began in the 1750s with John Thornton, a wealthy merchant who moved to Clapham from Hull, and became a close friend of the Revd. Henry Venn, who was Curate at the old parish church. Thornton used his wealth to support poor clergymen, to finance clergy training and to buy the right to appoint to parishes clergy of his choice. Thornton paid for the construction of Holy Trinity Church, on the site of the former parish church, in 1776, and in 1792 appointed John Venn, Henry's son, as Rector.


  1. Bready, J. Wesley England Before and After Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938)