Established in 1859, the Church Defence Institution was formed as ‘an association of Clergy and Laity for defensive and general purposes’. With such a broad remit, individual records are often fairly nebulous, particularly in the Institution’s early days, but the archive taken as a whole reveals a strive towards greater unity within the Church of England and a desire to protect it from decline – topics that continue to resonate strongly within the Church today.
The CDI existed on a national scale, with the Executive Committee meeting in London and managing various sub-Committees (which governed its finances, publications and sub-organizations), but was also active locally. Local branches were encouraged to pay subscriptions to the national Institution, hold lectures, produce literature and to generally promote and protect the role of the Church in society. This page taken from the National Church, a monthly publication produced by the CDI, shows the importance of this local action in its work.
Issues of national importance were tackled by the CDI from its London Committees, and campaigning against Welsh Disestablishment was its focus for many years. An example of this can be seen in the leaflet below highlighting the financial difficulties disestablishment would cause, reproductions of which were distributed to all dioceses c.1913-14; just one of many books and pamphlets they produced. Indeed, the Central Church Committee (founded in 1893 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson), which was formed solely to fight against Welsh Disestablishment, merged with the CDI in 1896. The two bodies together became known as the Church Committee for Church Defence and Instruction, and later, in 1908, simply the Church Committee for Defence and Instruction.
The need to defend the established Church can be also seen in the CDI’s moves to resist legislation reforming church rates, education, tithes and burials. Many of these Bills were instigated by nonconformists, whose influence was growing in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, spearheaded by the Liberation Society which aimed to separate Church from State.
The CDI continued to work to protect the Church’s role in society until 1923 when it appears it to have been incorporated into the National Assembly, which was later to become the General Synod of the Church of England.
The records of the Church Defence Institution have been catalogued by the Church of England Record Centre and are available for research – please visit here to view the archive catalogue records. The CDI’s publications, The National Church and the National Church Almanack are listed on the printed books catalogue
 Church Defence Institution: A Sketch of Its Origin, History and Progress, by the Revd. H Granville Dickson, p. 2