Pastor's College was one of Charles Haddon Spurgeon's earliest educational and social initiatives following his settlement in 1854 as minister at New Park Street Baptist Church, Southwark. First named after its founder, the college provided basic training for ministerial candidates with a limited educational background and meagre financial resources. Its unpretentious origins can be traced to the effective but ungrammatical street preaching in Southwark, at Tower Hill and Billingsgate Market, of a young Bermondsey rope-maker, Thomas W. Medhurst. Medhurst was one of Spurgeon's first London converts, whose communication skills (and mangled English) were soon brought to his minister's attention. Recognising Medhurst's gifts and extremely poor education, Spurgeon (only four months his senior) taught him on Saturday mornings each week. He paid for Medhurst's preparatory studies under C. H. Hosken (the Crayford Baptist minister) at Mill Road Collegiate School, Bexleyheath, from July 1855, believing it to be 'excellent . . . preparation for the ministry'. Spurgeon clearly anticipated further students, telling Medhurst that, 'for those who may come after' he was assembling 'a good Theological Library for young students in years to come . . . You see, I am looking forward' (Letters of Spurgeon, , 142-3). In March 1857, he sent Medhurst, along with a second student, to live with a more conveniently located tutor, George Rogers, minister of Albany Road Congregational Chapel, Camberwell. Rogers, a former Rotherham student, became the college's first principal, so remaining until his retirement in 1881.
In the first five years student numbers grew to sixteen, all fully involved in the work of the New Park Street church and accommodated in the homes of its members. Students were accepted irrespective of their financial resources and it was common for the college to meet not only the full cost of tuition and accommodation, but also of clothing, books, and medical and incidental expenses. Initially, the cost of maintenance and training (£50 p.a. per student) was borne personally by Spurgeon, largely from the income he derived from the publication of his sermons in America. When his forthright condemnation of slavery led to dramatically reduced sales, a weekly college offering was introduced at the church, supplemented by individual donations.
With Spurgeon as president, the college was self-governing and, although primarily serving Baptist churches, it was not narrowly denominational. Rogers was a committed paedobaptist, though he shared Spurgeon's evangelical Calvinism, and the earliest students included some from other denominations. There was no entrance examination but, in addition to appropriate references, prospective students were required to have had two years' preaching experience. Spurgeon interviewed all applicants; in the opening years, almost half were his own church members. He also made himself personally responsible for every student's settlement in a pastorate, often in churches they had helped to establish during their training. Its two-year course provided a basic general as well as theological education, including biblical languages. From the beginning Spurgeon had a weekly teaching session. The earliest curriculum detail is in George Rogers's Outline of the Origin of the Pastor's College (1867).
From 1861, increased numbers met for lectures in the newly built Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington Butts. In 1868 a small correction was made to its name, from Pastor's to Pastors' College. From 1874 the college was housed in non-residential, purpose built premises in nearby Temple Street, and by the close of its founder's life in 1892 over 800 students had been trained. On moving to its present location on South Norwood Hill in 1923, it became known as Spurgeon's College.
Spurgeon's College archives include annual reports (with occasional detail about courses) published with the Metropolitan Tabernacle's monthly magazine, The Sword and Trowel, lecture notes and student records for the period after 1860 but no documents from the first five years of its history.
Bebbington, David W., 'Spurgeon and British Evangelical Theological Education' in Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition, ed. D. G. Hart and R. A. Mohler, Jr. (Grand Rapids, 1996), 217-34.
Nicholls, M., 'Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Educationalist: The Principles and Practice of Pastors' College', Baptist Quarterly, 32 (1987), 73-94.
------, Lights to the World, A History of Spurgeon's College 1856-1992 (Harpenden, 1994).
Pike, G. H., The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 6 vols. (London, ), II, 228-34, 330-35.
------, The Metropolitan Tabernacle: or a Historical Account of the Society, from its First Planting . . . to the Present Time (London, 1870), 169-79.
Randall, Ian M., A School of the Prophets: 150 Years of Spurgeon's College (London, 2005).
Rogers, George, Outline of the Origin, History, Method and Success of the Pastor's College,Metropolitan Tabernacle (n.p., 1867).
Spurgeon, Charles H., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Compiled from his Diary, Letters, and Records by his Wife and his Private Secretary [ed. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald], 4 vols. (London, 1899), II, 141-52; III, 56-58, 125-59; 352-56. This is the best account of the earliest years of the college.
------, Lectures to my Students:a Selection from Addresses Delivered to the Students of The Pastors' College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, 3 vols (London, 1875-94).
------, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Collected and Collated by his Son, Charles Spurgeon (London and Edinburgh, ).
------, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Selected with Notes, ed. Iain H. Murray (Edinburgh, 1992).
------, The Metropolitan Tabernacle: its History and Work (London, 1876), 96-103.
Raymond Brown, 'Pastor's College, 1857 to present', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, March 2012.