Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

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Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
Abbreviation SPCK
Formation 1698
Founder Thomas Bray
Type Church of England
Blue Coat School
Christian media
Headquarters 36 Causton Street
United Kingdom

The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) is the oldest Anglican mission organisation. It was founded in 1698 by Thomas Bray (an Anglican priest), and a small group of friends. The most important early leaders were Anton Wilhelm Boehm and court preacher Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen. Today, the SPCK is most widely known for its publishing of Christian books.

The Society was founded to encourage Christian education and the production and distribution of Christian literature. SPCK has always sought to find ways to communicate the basic principles of the Christian faith to a wider audience, both in Britain and overseas.


In its first two hundred years, the Society founded many charity schools for poor students in the 7 to 11 age group. It is from these schools that the modern concept of primary and secondary education has grown. It was also an early provider of teacher training.[1]


Thomas Bray believed passionately in the power of the printed word and from its earliest days SPCK commissioned tracts and pamphlets, making it the third oldest publishing house in England. (Only the Oxford and Cambridge University Press have existed longer.)

Throughout the eighteenth century SPCK was by far the largest producer of Christian literature in Britain. The range of its output was considerable—from pamphlets aimed at specific groups such as farmers, prisoners, soldiers, seamen, servants and slave-owners, to more general works on subjects such as baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, the Prayer Book and private devotion. Increasingly, more substantial books were also published, both on Christian subjects and, from the 1830s onwards, on general educational topics as well.

SPCK's publishing team currently produces around 80 titles per year, for audiences from a wide range of Christian traditions and none. Books range from the academic to the popular, from devotional literature and works on spirituality to books addressing contemporary issues in the Church and society.

Distribution (bookshops)

SPCK's early publications were distributed through a network of supporters who received books and tracts to sell or give away in their own localities. Large quantities of Christian literature were provided for the Navy, and the Society actively encouraged the formation of parish libraries, to help both clergy and laity. By the nineteenth century, members had formed themselves into local district committees, many of which established small book depots—which at one time numbered over four hundred—these being overseen by central committees such as the Committee of General Literature and Education.

In the 1930s a centrally co-ordinated network of SPCK Bookshops was established, offering a wide range of books from many different publishers. On 1 November 2006, St. Stephen The Great Charitable Trust took over the Bookshops but continued to trade under the SPCK name under licence from SPCK. That licence was withdrawn in October 2007. However, shops continued trading as SPCK Bookshops without licence. After October 2006 SPCK itself no longer owned or operated any bookshops.

Overseas mission (worldwide)

SPCK has worked overseas since its foundation. The initial focus was the British colonies in the Americas. Libraries were established for the use of clergy and their parishioners, and frequent shipments of books were sent across the Atlantic throughout the eighteenth century. By 1709 SPCK was spreading further afield: a printing press and trained printer were sent out to Tranquebar in East India to assist in the production of the first translation of the Bible into Tamil done by the German Lutheran missionaries Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Pluetschau from the Danish-Halle Mission. For its time this was a remarkably far-sighted example of ecumenical co-operation, and SPCK has continued to work closely with churches of many different denominations, whilst retaining a special relationship with churches within the Anglican Communion.

As the British Empire grew in the nineteenth century, so SPCK developed an important role in supporting the planting of new churches around the world. Funds were provided for church buildings, for schools, for theological training colleges, and to provide chaplains for the ships taking emigrants to their new homes.

Today SPCK's overseas mission concentrates on providing free study literature for those in a number of ministerial training colleges around the world, especially in Africa, and supporting translation in India through its sister organisation there, ISPCK.

Prominent members

See also


  1. "Schooling before the 19th Century". Living Heritage. UK Parliament. Retrieved 1 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Allen, William Osborne Bird & McClure, Edmund (1898) Two Hundred Years: the History of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1698-1898
  • Clarke, W. K. Lowther (1959) A History of the SPCK. London: SPCK
  • Smout, T. C. (1985), A History of the Scottish People, Fontana Press, ISBN 0-00-686027-3
  • Grigg, John A., “‘How This Shall Be Brought About’: The Development of the SSPCK’s American Policy,” Itinerario (Leiden), 32 (no. 3, 2008), 43–60.
  • Threinen, Norman J. (1988) Friedrich Michael Ziegenhagen (1694–1776). German Lutheran Pietist in the English court. In: Lutheran Theological Review 12, pp. 56–94.
  • Threinen, N. J. (2008) Friedrich Ziegenhagen: the London Connection to India and America. In: 'Grabbe, Hans-Jürgen (ed.) (2008) ´Halle Pietism, Colonial North America, and the Young United States. USA-Studien; Band 15. Stuttgart; pp. 113–134.

External links