Beyond the 'Red Vicar': Community and Christian Socialism in Thaxted, Essex 1910-84

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The Christian socialist ministry of Conrad Noel (1868-1942) at Thaxted, Essex, is famous not least on account of the ‘Battle of the Flags’ provoked in 1921 by the hanging of both a red flag and the Irish tricolour within the parish church. Its association with the revival of morris dancing and the apparent incongruity of its rural setting, however, have encouraged accounts treating it as a product of parsonical eccentricity, Noel’s brand of socialism being portrayed as ill-suited to an Essex ‘village’, whose inhabitants could not properly engage with it. This article offers a reappraisal of both Noel’s ministry and its reception by situating them within an ongoing local tradition of Christian socialism that endured until the 1980s. It argues that this tradition was sustained as much by significant sections of the local community as by the clergy and committed ‘outsiders’, and that crucial to this was Thaxted’s status as a country town rather than a village, with understudied but distinctive cultural and social dynamics obscured by approaches which situate such communities within an undifferentiated ‘countryside’. At the same time, an exploration of the remarkably well documented Christian socialist tradition at Thaxted both illuminates the role of Anglicanism as a conduit through which major political issues were explored at a local level, and offers a case study of parochial Anglicanism in the twentieth century, an important subject which is only now beginning to attract the attention it deserves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-124
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2013


  • Anglicanism
  • Christian Socialism
  • Church of England
  • British history
  • Twentieth century
  • Essex
  • Conrad Noel
  • Thaxted
  • Clergy
  • Parish
  • Church and state


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