"Waterloo church" is one of the names applied to over 600 churches constructed in the United Kingdom during the early to mid 19th century using funds from the Church Building Act 1818. Other names include Commissioners' Churches and "Million Act Churches", reflecting the role of a government-appointed commission appointed to administer the expenditure of £1 million (£59.6 million today)—allegedly granted as a token of the nation's thanks for victory at the Battle of Waterloo which ended the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
An alternative view of this investment was that it was designed to curb the spread of non-conformist religious denominations then associated with radical political views. With populations in industrial areas growing rapidly, politicians believed that the Church of England offered a way to stem the tide of dissent.
The Act arose following a meeting in the Freemasons' Hall, London on 6 February 1818, chaired by Charles Manners-Sutton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at which the Duke of Northumberland proposed the formation of a Church Building Society (CBS). The Society lobbied parliament to provide funding for a church building programme, and parliament subsequently passed the Church Building Act, voting £1,000,000 to the cause (the Act subsequently became popularly known as the "Million Act"), to be administered by appointed Commissioners.
In addition to this original sum of money, the programme received a further £500,000 in 1824 (after Austria repaid a £2,000,000 war loan). The Church Building Commissioners were also able to raise money by soliciting voluntary donations, through interest payments and by reclaiming duties paid on materials used in constructing the churches.
The men serving on the commission administering the funds became known as "Church Commissioners" (more correctly, they were "Parliamentary Commissioners"), but should not be confused with the modern Church Commissioners – the former were disbanded when the money ran out.
The Commission assisted the construction of more than 600 churches across the United Kingdom. Architects were required to keep costs to a minimum, so many of the so-called Waterloo churches were built of brick, with stone dressing only for window and door surrounds. They were to be built "with a view to accommodating the greatest number of persons at the smallest expense within the compass of an ordinary voice, one half of the number to be free seats for the poor".
Waterloo churches include:
These four churches were named after the first gospels of the New Testament, and were specified to have 1800–2000 sittings, vaults for burials, brick with stone dressing and a maximum cost of £13,000 each