Lancashire Independent College (1843-1958)

(Historical account to 1860)

Lancashire Independent College
Lancashire Independent College, opened 1843 [source: JRUL, Northern Congregational College Archives, Box No. 32/9, Item 3, Early History of Lancashire Independent College - scrapbook of George Hadfield]

Lancashire Independent College was opened to students in August 1843 after nearly five years of planning. It was the direct successor to Blackburn Independent Academy, the success of which had been compromised by its continued location in the central Lancashire town. The growth of Manchester's population and economic importance, together with the strength of nonconformity in the city, had made the relocation of the county's only institution for training dissenting ministers an increasingly attractive proposition. The new college was established in extensive premises built on a seven-acre plot at Whalley Range, Withington, on the outskirts of Manchester. The centrepiece of the building was an impressive 92 foot high gothic tower, flanked by two long wings of three stories each. While the institution was open to prospective students from anywhere in the country, its sphere of influence was regarded as Lancashire and neighbouring counties except Yorkshire, which was served by two Congregational colleges of its own. The Trust Deed on which the college was founded stated that it was for the education of those intent upon becoming Congregational ministers. However, others not of the Independent denomination could be admitted provided they were of an evangelical persuasion. Lancashire Independent College continued to exist until 1958, in which year it merged with Yorkshire United Independent College to form the Northern Congregational College.

The first students arrived at Whalley Range in August 1843, including thirteen who moved from Blackburn and seven new entrants. In the first few years the number of students fluctuated, but was generally lower than had been hoped. From 22 students in 1844, the number increased to 25 by the start of the following decade, before peaking at 30 in 1854. Numbers fell again during the second half of the 1850s, dropping to 20 in 1859. It was not until the following decade that the college began to approach the capacity of 50 young men who could be accommodated at Whalley Range. The academy was funded mainly by voluntary subscriptions, donations, bequests and collections. A significant proportion of annual income was obtained from Manchester, with over a third of the total received for the year ending 27 December 1858 coming from subscribers and congregational collections in the city. Following the end of protracted chancery proceedings in 1849, the college began to receive students supported on Lady Hewley's Fund. Unlike the arrangement at Blackburn, students did not automatically receive payment for board and lodging and those with sufficient private means to pay their own expenses were expected to do so. In 1845 a bequest from Moses Hadfield of Old Hall near Mottram was received to fund an annual prize scholarship, and in 1854 a £3,000 legacy from Eccles Shorrock of Darwen endowed three fellowships. The management of the college was placed in the hands of 30 trustees, with an annual meeting of subscribers held to fill vacancies among the trustees and to appoint an executive committee to conduct regular business during the year. A house and finance committee and an education, library and visiting committee were also appointed. The establishment of the college owed much to the energy and fundraising zeal of the Manchester attorney George Hadfield. Thomas Raffles, the prominent Liverpool minister, served as chairman from 1839 until his death in 1863, while the Grosvenor Street minister Robert Halley was also involved in the management of the college during its early years.

Three professors were appointed in 1843. Robert Vaughan, formerly professor of history at University College London, was appointed to the theology chair and became the first president of the college. Samuel Davidson was appointed to the chair of Biblical literature, having previously held a similar post at Belfast Academical Institution. The teaching staff was completed by the appointment of Charles Peter Mason to the classical chair, a department that also incorporated mathematics and general literature. Mason remained in post for six years, resigning in 1849 to be replaced by Robert Halley, son of the Grosvenor Street minister. In 1851 Halley was relieved of the responsibility for teaching classics, and for several years students attended classes delivered by Joseph Gouge Greenwood (1821-1894) at Owens College. A request in 1855 from students to increase their attendance at lectures at Owens College was met with reluctance from the Lancashire Committee. It was feared that the committee would not be able to control the behaviour of its students at external classes and would have no influence over the education they received. When Robert Halley resigned his position in 1856 the experiment of sending students to Owens College was brought to an end by the appointment of two new tutors: Theophilus Dwight Hall to teach classics, and Alfred Newth to provide instruction in mathematics, philosophy, and Hebrew.

In 1856 and 1857 the college became embroiled in a controversy that would result in the resignation of its two senior tutors. Samuel Davidson had long been interested in German systems of Biblical criticism, and the Lancashire committee would have known of this influence when he was appointed in 1843. In 1854 he was invited to rewrite the Old Testament volume for a new edition of Thomas Hartwell Horne's Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures. The resulting volume appeared in October 1856, and while Davidson's arguments regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch and prophetic authorship and inspiration were moderate, they were sufficiently liberal to rile elements within the Lancashire Independent College committee. In particular, there was concern that Davidson's alleged heterodoxy would deter subscribers from continuing to provide financial support. Davidson's failure to justify his position to the satisfaction of a majority of committee members led to his resignation from the Biblical literature chair in June 1857. The following month Robert Vaughan also resigned, although his decision was prompted more by personal matters and was merely hastened by the Davidson affair. The vacant theological chair was offered to Henry Rogers of Spring Hill College, who accepted. The experience of the Davidson controversy led to the committee shying away from the appointment of a new professor of Biblical studies. Thus in 1860 the tutorial staff of the college consisted of Rogers, who remained until 1871, Theophilus Dwight Hall, who resigned in 1866, and Alfred Newth, who died in post in 1875.

By 1860 a total of 128 students had entered the college, including a number who would go on to pursue prominent careers as Congregational ministers. Alexander Raleigh was an engaging preacher who became chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1868 and 1879. James Guinness Rogers of Ireland held the same position in 1874, and was later a friend of W. E. Gladstone. Rogers was a defender of Congregational orthodoxy who co-authored a pamphlet criticising Samuel Davidson with another Lancashire alumnus, Enoch Mellor. His theological stance would bring him into conflict with James Allanson Picton, also educated at Whalley Range, and one of Davidson's supporters. Picton was minister at Cheetham Hill church, Manchester, Gallowtree Gate Church, Leicester and St Thomas's Square Chapel, Hackney. He was on the opposing side from Rogers at the 1877 meeting of the Congregational Union in Leicester. He withdrew from Congregationalism in 1878 and went on to enter parliament as the Liberal member for Leicester in 1884. Other Lancashire students who would rise to prominence included David Worthington Simon, principal of Congregational colleges at Spring Hill, Edinburgh and Bradford, the historian and biblical scholar William Urwick, and the writer and son of the college's first president, William Alfred Vaughan. Several pursued notable careers overseas. William Roby Fletcher followed his father Richard to Australia where he became vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide, and an influential member of intellectual circles in the city. Robert Whitaker McAll founded the McAll Mission in Paris, while Carl Wilhelm Buch became principal of the East India Company college at Bareilly before his murder during the Indian mutiny of 1857.

The Trust Deed outlined that the curriculum to be taught should include theology, Biblical criticism and hermeneutics, ecclesiastical history, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee and Syriac languages, mental and moral philosophy, philology, logic, rhetoric, belles lettres and elocution, mathematics, natural philosophy, history, and English literature. A detailed account of the course of instruction is provided by the annual report for 1846. In Robert Vaughan's department students heard lectures on the atonement, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, church polity, discipline, and 'Pastoral Science'. They were required to produce weekly papers with evidence of their own reading and reflections upon the subjects taught. One hour a week was spent on homiletics with instruction given 'bearing immediately on the duties of the pulpit' (Report, 1847, 8-9). In Biblical literature, as well as lectures on the Old and New Testaments, Samuel Davidson delivered a course on the Lutheran Reformation up to 1555. Students in the junior class read Thucydides, Horace and Tacitus under Mason. They studied algebra, solid geometry, plane trigonometry and conic sections, as well as logic and ancient history. Those in their first year also received grounding in general grammar. Students were examined annually in each of the three departments. The full course of study extended to five and sometimes six years. Those such as Robert Alfred Vaughan who were already graduates in the arts could be admitted for the theology course only, which was of three years' duration.

Prior to the construction of the Whalley Range building, the committee consulted widely on the most suitable domestic arrangements for the college. A circular letter was issued in March 1839 and sent to tutors and others with experience of theological colleges in the British Isles and America. The majority of respondents favoured a residential system over one where students boarded out. As a consequence, an invitation to architects was issued for a building to accommodate 50 students, each to have a study and a bed in a dormitory with two spacious houses for resident tutors. In addition, accommodation was to be provided for a dining room, library, three lectures rooms, kitchens and servants' quarters. The library that was transferred from Blackburn consisted of 2,000 volumes and was considered deficient in most respects. An appeal for gifts was issued, and by the time the college opened the number of books was nearer to 4,000. This was still regarded as inadequate and regular appeals were made to improve it.

The controversy relating to the views of Samuel Davidson was the most serious of several to affect the college during the early period. In 1844 a proposal for Robert Vaughan to become editor of the British Quarterly Review would bring the long involvement of George Hadfield in ministerial education in Lancashire to an end. Vaughan had not been Hadfield's preferred choice for president of the college, and the political radicalism of Hadfield contrasted with the conservatism of Vaughan. Hadfield's failure to obtain the support of the Lancashire committee for a resolution against Vaughan resulted in his resignation from the committee in November 1844.

Despite concerns of the college committee during the 1840s and 1850s over low student numbers, Lancashire Independent College was successful during this period in its stated goal of training Congregational ministers. Exactly three quarters of the 128 students admitted to the college before 1860 spent at least some of their later careers in the ministry. This included seven who subsequently conformed to the Church of England. Sixteen made some contribution to education as teachers, tutors or academics. The managers and teaching staff of the college were concerned to maintain high academic standards among the student body, and those who failed to demonstrate sufficient ability were dismissed at the end of their probationary period. A number of prizes were awarded to Lancashire Independent College students by Owens College during the 1850s. Robert Whittaker McAll reflected upon his time at Whalley Range as 'happy days', and looked back with satisfaction at the course of study pursued there (McAll, Robert Whittaker McAll, 64-71). However, Henry Griffin Parrish, a student at the time of the Davidson episode, was rather more critical. In 1863, two years after completing his studies, he published the anonymous From the World to the Pulpit, providing a thinly veiled, and often unflattering, account of his time at the college. After 1860 the college entered a period of stability and prosperity. In 1867 the relationship with Owens College was re-established on a more permanent basis, and an increase in student numbers led to the extension of the college building in 1878.

Simon N. Dixon


The administrative and financial records of Lancashire Independent College survive in the John Rylands University Library. A scrapbook kept by George Hadfield provides a valuable account of the early history of the college (JRUL, Northern Congregational College Archives, Box No. 32/9, Item 3, Early History of Lancashire Independent College - scrapbook of George Hadfield). The college minutes for 1857 contain a full account of the Davidson controversy (JRUL, Northern Congregational College Archives, Box 33).

Published sources

Catalogue of the Library of the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester (Manchester, 1885).
Davidson, A. J., The Autobiography and Diary of Samuel Davidson (Edinburgh, 1899).
Hadfield, George, An Address Intended to Have Been Delivered on the Occasion of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of Lancashire Independent College (Manchester, 1842).
Kaye, Elaine, For the Work of Ministry: A History of Northern College and its Predecessors (Edinburgh, 1999).
Mcall, Elizabeth S. H., Robert Whitaker McAll Founder of McAll Mission, Paris (London, 1896).
Parrish, Henry Griffin, From the World to the Pulpit (London, 1863).
Raffles, T. S., Memoirs of the Life and Ministry of the Rev. Thomas Raffles (London, 1864).
Reports. . . of the Lancashire Independent College (1841-60).
Rogers, J. Guinness, An Autobiography (London, 1903).
Thompson, Joseph, Lancashire Independent College 1843-93 (Manchester, 1893).
Tomes, F. Roger, '"We are Hardly Prepared for this Style of Teaching Yet": Samuel Davidson and Lancashire Independent College', Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 5:7 (1995), 398-414.


For further images of the Lancashire Independent College building see Kaye, For the Work of Ministry, 70, and search Whalley Range site is now occupied by the British Muslim Heritage Centre whose website contains a virtual tour of the building in its current state. Note that the building was much altered in the 1870s.

Simon N. Dixon, 'Lancashire Independent College (1843-1958)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, June 2011.