Welsh Church Act 1914
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to terminate the establishment of the Church of England in Wales and Monmouthshire, and to make provision in respect of the Temporalities thereof, and for other purposes in connection with the matters aforesaid.
Citation4 & 5 Geo. 5. c. 91
Territorial extent United Kingdom
Royal assent18 September 1914
Commencement31 March 1920
(see Suspensory Act 1914)
Other legislation
Amended by
Relates to
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

The Welsh Church Act 1914[1] is an Act of Parliament under which the Church of England was separated and disestablished in Wales and Monmouthshire, leading to the creation of the Church in Wales. The Act had long been demanded by the Nonconformist community in Wales, which composed the majority of the population and which resented paying taxes to the Church of England. It was sponsored by the Liberal Party (a stronghold of the Nonconformists) and opposed by the Conservative Party (a stronghold of the Anglicans).[2]


The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was significant landmark legislation which introduced a religious legal difference to Wales. Welsh university colleges were formed in Cardiff and Bangor in 1883-4 and Welsh issues were prominent in the parliament of 1886-92. The introduction of the Welsh land commission of 1892 and the formation of the University of Wales in 1893 were driven by Welsh Liberals, supported by Welsh Liberal David Lloyd George with prime minister William Gladstone later becoming more supportive and voting in favour of disestablishment. The two men contributed to Welsh disestablishment and acknowledged the Welsh national consciousness. After 1886 the sentiment of Cymru Fydd developed, with more politicians moving in view towards a Welsh home rule similar to Ireland's, including T. E. Ellis, who also supported disestablishment as a return of religion in Wales to the native order. Whilst the Irish nationalist movement focused on home rule, the Welsh movement focused on disestablishment. The Rosebery government eventually gave in to pressures from Welsh Liberals and Cymru Fydd, and introduced a Welsh Disestablishment Bill 1894. This was rejected; it was followed by another Bill in 1909 which was also rejected. Another Bill was introduced in 1912 and despite rejection from the House of Lords, the Bill was passed in 1914 after the Parliament Act allowed overriding of the Lords.[3]

A 70-year continuous campaign for Welsh disestablishment culminated in the passing of the Welsh Church Act in 1914; it came into force in 1920, having been delayed by the First World War. The campaign was motivated by a desire for freedom of religious expression as well as legal and civil equality for Welsh nonconformity. The matter also became associated with a wider movement for the recognition of the Welsh national identity, Welsh distinctiveness and culture and the Welsh language. Although Welsh Liberals were divided on the issue of Welsh home rule in the 1890s, they were united on disestablishment in Wales.[4]

The Act was controversial, and was passed by the House of Commons under the provisions of the Parliament Act 1911, which reduced the power of the House of Lords to block legislation. The main financial terms were that the Church no longer received tithe money (a land tax), but kept all its churches, properties and glebes. The Welsh Church Commissioners were set up by the Act to identify affected assets and oversee their transfer.[5]

The Act was politically and historically significant as one of the first pieces of legislation to apply solely to Wales (and Monmouthshire) as opposed to the wider legal entity of England and Wales.[6]

Owing to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the Act was given royal assent on 18 September simultaneously with another controversial bill, the Government of Ireland Act 1914. In addition, royal assent was given to the Suspensory Act 1914 which provided that the two other Acts would not come into force for the remainder of the war. On 31 March 1920 most of the Welsh part of the Church of England became the Church in Wales, an independent province of the Anglican Communion, with (originally) four dioceses led by the Archbishop of Wales. However, 18 out of 19 church parishes which spanned the Welsh/English border overwhelmingly voted in individual referendums to remain within the Church of England.[7][8]

The Welsh Church Act and the Government of Ireland Act were (together with the Parliament Act 1949) the only Acts enacted by invoking the Parliament Act 1911 until the War Crimes Act in 1991.[9]


English author G. K. Chesterton, an Anglican who would be received into the Catholic Church in 1922, ridiculed the passion that was generated by the Bill in his 1915 poem Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode, repeatedly addressing F. E. Smith, one of the chief opponents of the Act.[10]


An analysis published by Wales Humanists at an event in the Senedd in 2020, reflecting on 100 years of disestablishment in Wales, identified the Welsh Church Act 1914 as a critical component in the development of Wales' distinctively pluralistic and secular approaches to governance in the era of devolution.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "Welsh Church Act 1914". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  2. ^ Glanmor Williams, The Welsh Church from Reformation to Disestablishment, 1603-1920 (U of Wales Press, 2007).
  3. ^ Morgan, Kenneth O. (1981). Rebirth of a Nation: Wales, 1880-1980. Oxford University Press. pp. 36–186. ISBN 978-0-19-821736-7.
  4. ^ Evans, Geraint; Fulton, Helen (18 April 2019). The Cambridge History of Welsh Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 361. ISBN 978-1-107-10676-5.
  5. ^ Taylor, Simon J. (May 2003). "Disestablished Establishment: High and Earthed Establishment in the Church in Wales". Journal of Contemporary Religion. 18 (2): 227–240. doi:10.1080/1353790032000067545. ISSN 1353-7903. S2CID 143966134. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  6. ^ Jenkins, P. (1992), A History of Modern Wales 1536–1990.
  7. ^ The First Report of the Commissioners for Church Temporalities in Wales (1914–16) Cd 8166, p 5; Second Report of the Commissioners for Church Temporalities in Wales (1917–18) Cd 8472 viii 93, p 4.
  8. ^ Roberts, Nicholas (2011). "The historical background to the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010". Ecclesiastical Law Journal. 13 (1): 39–56, fn 98. doi:10.1017/S0956618X10000785. S2CID 144909754. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  9. ^ "The Parliament Act: a century on". TotalPolitics.com. 10 August 2011. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  10. ^ Chesterton, Gilbert Keith, "Antichrist, or the Reunion of Christendom: An Ode", Poems, retrieved 19 May 2023
  11. ^ "Wales Humanists launches report on 100 years of disestablishment". Humanists UK. 7 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.

Further reading