The Database and Encyclopedia is based on extensive primary research conducted using a wide range of manuscript and published sources. Where available, the administrative records of an academy have been consulted to provide an accurate account of the history of an institution. Important archive collections include the New College, London collection at Dr Williams's Library, London, the records of the Northern Congregational Colleges at John Rylands University Library, Manchester, and the minutes and accounts of the Common Fund, Presbyterian Fund, and Congregational Fund Board at Dr Williams’s Library. The purpose of the database is to provide the most comprehensive and up to date account possible. It is intended to provide a history of every academy, and these will continue to be published throughout 2011 and beyond. The Database and Encyclopedia remains a work in progress, and information provided is subject to correction and revision as new information comes to light.


Academy names


Previous scholars have tended to attribute names to academies according to their geographical locations. The tendency to establish institutions in areas where there was a large dissenting population resulted in successive academies being located in the same place. This led some historians to distinguish between academies using Roman numerals. Thus names such as Exeter I, II, and III, Taunton I and II, and Manchester I and II appear in the secondary literature, often implying a tenuous, or nonexistent, continuity between different institutions. A common practice was also to describe successive related institutions as a single entity. For example, the academies run by David Jennings at Wellclose Square and by the trustees of William Coward at Hoxton have often been put under the common label of Hoxton Academy. Similarly, academies supported by the King's Head Society in Clerkenwell, Deptford, Stepney, London, and Mile End have been identified as Homerton Academy, which they preceded.


The names adopted are therefore often misleading, particularly in the case of academies that underwent frequent relocation, or where links between successive institutions are far from clear. One such example is the academy run by Thomas Rowe, which has often been regarded as a continuation of that established at Newington Green by Theophilus Gale. This has led historians to refer to the academies of both Gale and Rowe as the 'Newington Green Academy', resulting in the assertion that Isaac Watts was educated by Rowe at Newington Green or Stoke Newington. In fact, while Rowe succeeded Gale as pastor to the Independent congregation in St Andrew's parish, Holborn, it is not true that his academy was a continuation of that run by Gale. By the time Watts began his studies, Rowe's academy was probably in Ropemaker's Alley, Moorfields, London.


To break the cycle of perpetuating previous errors a new system of nomenclature has been adopted. Each academy has been assigned its own unique name, which in turn means that searches for the traditional name may not retrieve the desired results. In such cases users should search for academies under the name of their principal tutor or a known location. The following conventions have been adopted in order to make the identification of academies more straightforward:

  • Where an academy had an official name or one that was commonly used at the time, this has been given in the database. For example, Blackburn Independent Academy, Brecon Memorial College, or Homerton Academy.
  • If the above was not the case, the second preference is for the name of the sole or main (usually theological and resident) tutor, followed by up to two locations. For example, 'Philip Doddridge's Academy, Northampton', or 'Samuel Jones's Academy, Gloucester and Tewkesbury'.
  • Where the academy remained under a sole tutor, but moved regularly, just the tutor's name is given: 'Thomas Doolittle's Academy'.
  • Where there were multiple tutors in a single location, none of whom can be identified as having charge of an academy, the location has been used: 'Plaisterer's Hall Academy'; 'Moorfields Academy'; 'Warrington Academy'.

For the early period, a number of 'academies' have been identified that could more accurately be defined as the private tuition of a small number of students for the ministry. These have been identified as such, and the academy name gives just the identity of the tutor and known location, with the word 'Academy' omitted. For example, 'John Flavell, Dartmouth'. Two further types of dissenting education have been identified in the course of the project. The theological halls in Scotland provided instruction in divinity to students seceding from the established Kirk, who continued to receive the remainder of their education at one of the universities. In England and Wales a number of preparatory academies offered a course of elementary education to students prior to their entry to a full academy. These have been clearly labelled as such in the database. Where the sources do not permit a clear categorization of the level of education provided the academy type is given as ‘uncertain’.


The structure of academy entries


The database entries for academies are displayed within five tabs.


The Brief details tab displays information about the known location(s) of the academy (including links to historical maps on the Vision of Britain website), alternative names, forerunners and successors, denomination, and whether it admitted ministerial students only or lay students as well.


Those academies for which a history is provided also display an Academy history tab. These histories only cover the period up to 1860, even when the academy in question continued beyond that date. In the latter case a brief summary of the academy's later history is provided, including where applicable changes of location and amalgamation with other academies. In some cases successive, and closely related, academies are covered in a single article, with separate database entries for each phase in the history of the institution.


The following academies at present have histories:


The remaining tabs display the tutors, the students, and links to the archival sources relating to the academy in question.


Searching academies


The following fields are searchable:

  • Academy name
  • Location
  • County
  • Country
  • Funding bodies
  • Denomination
  • Forerunner
  • Successor
  • Academy type

It is possible to search within every field outlined above and the search results can be limited by start and/or end date of an academy’s existence. Under Academy type, the following can be searched: academy, preparatory academy, private tuition, theological hall.


For example, searches for academies in a specific county or country can be combined with the search for all academies of a specific denomination or funded by a specific funding body. If you are not sure of the name or the spelling, you can either search for the first part of the name, or use the wild cards '%' and '_'.