Findern and Derby Academy (c.1712-1754)

There is no reliable evidence for the origins of this academy, which for most of its existence was located at Findern, five miles to the south-west of Derby. Although it was established by Thomas Hill, his successor Dr Ebenezer Latham was tutor for the greater part of the academy's history. Hill was teaching students from at least 1712, the year he was presented by the Grand Jury at the Derby Assizes for 'keeping a school for the boarding of youth within the town of Derby' (DWL, NCL/L54/2/10). The earliest historical accounts state that the academy subsequently moved to Hartshorne, eleven miles south of Derby on the border with Leicestershire. This is difficult to reconcile with the other evidence. In midsummer 1714 Hill was given a grant as minister at Findern from the Presbyterian Fund, but his students were apparently still in Derby in early August 1714 when Hill presented a volume of psalms to John Taylor. The academy probably moved to Findern shortly afterwards. There had earlier been a grammar school at Findern conducted by Benjamin Robinson while he was minister there. Despite some modern claims this was not an academy, but Robinson did briefly conduct an academy after he moved to Hungerford, Berkshire, in 1693.

Latham was teaching on his own account, probably at Caldwell (four miles south of Burton on Trent), before the end of Queen Anne's reign, for he later recorded that the studies of Matthew Bradshaw, who 'came very early under my care for Academical Literature, . . . had the melancholy prospect of being interrupted' when the Schism Act became law in 1714 (Latham, Sermon Preached at Kidderminster, 39). On Hill's death, in March 1720, Latham and Samuel Brentnal, a former student of Hill, took over the academy and the ministry at Findern. The Presbyterian Fund Board agreed to continue the allowance made to George Ault and Nicholas Warren, both students previously with Hill, provided 'they settle with Dr Latham & Mr Brentnal' (DWL, OD68, p. 362). The Board also agreed that the allowance paid to the meeting at Findern be continued to Latham and Brentnal. However, Brentnal's association with the congregation, and probably the academy, was fleeting. In 1745 Latham was appointed co-pastor of the Friar Gate Presbyterian Meeting in Derby with Josiah Rogerson, and the academy moved with him. On his death in 1754 the academy closed.

When Hill successfully defended himself after being presented at the Assizes in Derby for keeping a school without a licence, he told the Jury that he boarded young men, 'I advise them what books to read; and when they apply to me for information on anything they do not understand, I inform them' (DWL, NCL/L54/2/10). Such a statement may have been disingenuous, but by this contrivance Hill evaded the penalties for teaching without a licence. Presumably under the more favourable political conditions of George I's reign, and at the time that Latham resumed his teaching, Hill adopted a more active mode of instruction. Little is known about his teaching other than the names of the authors of a handful of text books he is said to have used. In logic he employed Jean Le Clerc, in metaphysics Andreas Frommenius, and in philosophy the texts of Le Clerc and Jacques Rohault. He also recommended to his students Richard Baxter's An End of Doctrinal Controversies (1691). One of his students, Samuel Harvey, attested to his skill in Greek. There is further evidence for the standard of classical languages taught. In 1715 Hill printed a small collection of psalms in Latin and Greek verse for his students to sing. John Taylor's copy, 'the gift of his most learned master', is in the British Library. Evidence of Hill's reputation as a classical scholar comes from Taylor's decision to complete his studies with him.

The names of only twenty-two of Hill's students are known. They included lay as well as ministerial students. A number were from local gentry families who supported dissent, such as the Rodes family of Barlborough, near Chesterfield, and the Charnells of Swepstone, Leicestershire. Others followed lay careers. Samuel Ray MD studied medicine at Leiden after he left Findern, and became a leading physician in Birmingham. Following the death of Samuel Benion in 1708 some of his students completed their studies with Hill. At least two of Hill's students, Quintus Naylor and John Jollie, subsequently conformed. His most distinguished student was John Taylor, the first theological tutor at Warrington Academy.

The evidence for Latham's teaching is likewise limited. His chief skill was said by William Willetts, his brother-in-law and biographer, to have been his knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, for which he was well qualified by his acquaintance with the learned languages and his understanding of Jewish antiquities and history. From a surviving manuscript volume, 'Exercitationes Physiologica', consisting of Latham's own notes and practical exercises in shorthand, it is clear he also studied natural philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy for himself. The subjects included the chemical elements, fluids and solids, the Copernican system, and the nature of the body and sensations. The list of the text books he used with his students is incomplete. For his system of theology Latham is said to have employed Benedict Pictet's Theologia Christiana. Other texts included Adriaan Reland on Jewish antiquities and Ægidius Strauchius on chronology. In logic his students read Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. They also read Gershom Carmichael, probably his Breviuscula introductio ad logicam. In jurisprudence they used John Spavan's edition of Pufendorf's Law of Nature and Nations. Judging from the other texts, namely James Keil's The Anatomy of the Human Body Abridg'd, Le Clerc's Physica, W. J. van 'sGravesande's Mathematical Elements of Natural Philosophy, William Whiston's Elements of Euclid, and part of John Ward's The Young Mathematician's Guide, natural philosophy, anatomy, and mathematics were also covered. It is clear from these titles that Latham's students were encouraged to keep up with the latest ideas. In 1735 the Presbyterian Fund Board made a grant of £20 'towards purchasing an Apparatus for experiments' (DWL, OD69, 210).

A better indication of what was taught and the standards achieved is provided by the regulations agreed by the Presbyterian Fund Board in 1725 for the students they supported. On completing their studies the students were examined on their learning. They were expected to be able to 'render into English any Paragraph of Tully's Offices or any such Latin Classic', to read a psalm in Hebrew, to translate into Latin any part of the Greek Testament with which they were provided, to give 'a Satisfactory Accot of their knowledge in the Several Sciences they Studied at the Academy & draw up a Thesis upon any question that shall be propos'd to them in Latin' (DWL, OD69, 50-51). The students educated by Latham must have met these standards for the Presbyterian Fund Board to have continued to favour his academy.

Among Latham's notable ministerial students were William Turner of Wakefield, John Ward of Taunton, and Samuel Wiche of Maidstone, all of whom were correspondents of Joseph Priestley; Joseph Fownes, minister at Shrewsbury and one of the sources of information about Findern, who published anonymously An Enquiry into the Principles of Toleration (London, 1790); and Samuel Blyth and William Hawkes, who were ministerial colleagues at New Meeting, Birmingham, one of the most important Presbyterian congregations outside London. John Bennet after a brief period as a student at Findern later became a prominent Methodist preacher. Latham's lay students included Sir Conyers Jocelyn, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1745, Robert Newton, High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1746, and Thomas Bentley, Josiah Wedgwood's partner. As with Hill, some of Latham's students conformed and were to hold Anglican livings, namely Ralph Brook, Sawyer Smith, Ferdinando Warner, and Timothy Wylde.

There is no complete list of the students educated by Hill and Latham. The names of just over a hundred taken from a variety of sources are known. According to the historical accounts of the academy the number of students during its forty-year history was between 300 and 400. The latter figure would suggest Latham taught twenty to thirty students a year, based on a three-year course for a minister and a shorter course for lay students. This seems too high, particularly as the academy was probably already in decline by the time that Latham became assistant minister at Derby in 1745, and it is clear he had very few students during his final years. If the higher figure is true, then Findern was one of the largest academies before the nineteenth century. Certainly it was the most important academy in the Midlands in the first half of the eighteenth century, until it was eclipsed by Philip Doddridge's academy at Northampton. From the evidence that survives for his students the influence of Latham's academy was regional rather than national. There is information on the geographical origins for only three-fifths of the students who have been identified: the largest number were from Derbyshire, followed by Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire, and Leicestershire.

The academy at Findern was to overshadow its neighbours and to benefit from the closure of its rivals. John Reynolds kept up an academy in Shrewsbury with Dr John Gyles for two or three years, but it closed in 1718 after many of the students migrated to Samuel Jones's academy at Tewkesbury and Hill's at Findern. John Wadsworth's academy at Sheffield, the successor to Timothy Jollie's academy at Attercliffe, because of the competition from Findern, had only a few students. The academy at Findern also benefitted from the death of Samuel Jones and the closure of Tewkesbury in 1719. Among the students who migrated, Samuel Harvey was at Shrewsbury under Reynolds until the academy closed. He then moved to Tewkesbury, only to move again to Findern on Jones's death. Ralph Brook also migrated to Findern when Tewkesbury closed. Thomas Perrot and Daniel Phillips both moved from Carmarthen Academy on the death of the tutor, Perrot's uncle Thomas Perrot, in December 1733. Likewise William Peard Gillard migrated from Bridgwater Academy on the death of John Moore jun. in 1747. After studying with Latham at least ten students completed their studies in Scotland, mainly at Glasgow, another five at Leiden and a further two at Utrecht. In the case of the Dutch universities they went to study mainly medicine.

An examination of the early careers of the ministers educated at Findern suggests a similar regional pattern. The majority of students in their first ministry served a congregation in Derbyshire, Worcestershire or one of the neighbouring counties. According to Joseph Hunter, Hill and Latham were also responsible for having educated many of the ministers who served the Presbyterian congregations in Yorkshire in the mid-eighteenth century. The location of the academy undoubtedly explains the strength of Presbyterianism in Derbyshire in the second half of the eighteenth century, with the survival of many small congregations because they were still able to obtain the services of a minister.

A few details are known about the academy's domestic arrangements. Latham's wife appears to have been responsible for the running of the household. The academy at Findern was housed in a building in Doles Lane, later converted into a row of cottages which still exists. The students probably lodged with members of the congregation. Thomas Bentley, later Josiah Wedgwood's partner, lodged with Mrs Massey, who thirty years later became Wedgwood's housekeeper.

The academy under Latham was supported principally by the Presbyterian Fund, which funded three students under Hill and thirty-four under Latham, usually for three years, sometimes for four, and often for a final year of study elsewhere with an experienced minister. In November 1725, the Board resolved to support the academies only at Findern and Taunton in England and Carmarthen in Wales, and to reduce the two English academies 'to One as soon as shall be thought Convenient' (DWL, OD69, p. 50). It was Findern that received their support, but not all the trustees were satisfied with Latham as tutor. In 1729 John Barker persuaded the Board to write to Latham about a report that he and his students attended 'the worship of God once in a Lord's Day' in the parish church, but Latham's reply satisfied the managers (DWL, OD69, p. 102). Eight out of the thirteen students supported by the Presbyterian Fund Board in 1730 were studying at Findern, more than at any other academy. Latham's students were still being supported by the Fund twenty years later. The 1725 resolution was confirmed as late as March 1747, and only amended in April 1750, when, on Barker's motion, it was agreed that the Board's students in England should be placed at Findern, Kendal, 'or such other Academy in England, as the managers of it shall approve' (DWL, OD70, p. 45). Yet one reason given for the decline of Latham's academy in 'An Account of the Dissenting Academies' was said to be the greater financial support received by the rival academy at Northampton.

Latham's academy was open to both lay and ministerial students without religious subscription. Many of his students became Arians. They included Joseph Fownes, Hugh Worthington, and Thomas Hartley. A few even became Unitarians, notably Paul Cardale, William Turner, and John Wiche. As early as 1732 a hostile critic in 'A View of the Dissenting Interest' was blaming the increase in heterodoxy among ministers in London in part upon Latham's academy, though Latham's direct responsibility for the spread of Arianism, particularly amongst the ministers in the Midlands, has almost certainly been exaggerated. The growing reputation of Philip Doddridge at Northampton, together with criticism of Latham's abilities and heterodoxy, led to a decline in student numbers. Probably as a consequence in 1745 Latham became Josiah Rogerson's assistant minister at Derby, taking the academy with him. During the later years his reputation as a teacher appears to have declined. By 1750 the criticism was not of Latham's lack of orthodoxy, but, in John Barker's words, of his lack of competence as a tutor. Such criticism may be no more than the orthodox Barker's dislike of Latham's heterodoxy. On Latham's death in 1754 the academy closed, by which time the number of students was very small.

Latham's academy was notable for the open doctrinal principles on which it was conducted and the length of its existence. Although established by Hill, the academy at Findern, and later at Derby, was largely the work of Latham. It reached its peak during the 1720s and 1730s, no doubt assisted by the closure of many of its competitors. In turn it was to be surpassed by the rise of the greatest of the mid eighteenth-century dissenting academies, Doddridge's academy at Northampton.

David L. Wykes


No records for this academy survive. The main sources are a series of related eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century manuscript accounts derived directly or indirectly from Noah Jones's collections: principally 'An Account of the Dissenting Academies from the Restoration of Charles the Second' (DWL, MS 24.59, fos. 27r-28r, 30r, 34r, 54r-59r); Joshua Wilson's notes on the Derbyshire academies of Mr Hill and Dr Latham (DWL, NCL/L54/1/18, fos. 20r-21v; NCL/L54/2/2-4, 6-10). An important source of student names is 'A View of Academical Institutions founded by Protestant Dissenters in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries' (c.1801-27) (University of Birmingham, Special Collections, MS 281, pp. 50-54, 68). There is evidence that two former students, John Taylor of Norwich and Joseph Fownes of Shrewsbury, provided information on the students under Hill and Latham, some of which was collected by Josiah Thompson (c.1724-1806), but this information is not recorded amongst the surviving Thompson manuscripts at DWL. A further useful source is 'Collectanea Hunteriana: Vol. VIII, being Memoirs to serve for a History of Protestant Dissent' (BL, Add MS 24,442, fos. 70v-71v). References to the academy, including payments made to students, can be found in the Presbyterian Fund Board Minutes (DWL, MS OD68; MS OD69; MS OD70; MS OD71). See also [E. Latham], 'Exercitationes Physiologicae A Domino Trano Traditae' (Derby Local Studies Library, MS 3368) and 'A View of the Dissenting Interest in London of the Presbyterian & Independent Denominations, from the year 1695 to the 25 of December 1731, with a Postscript of the present state of the Baptists' (DWL, MS38.18, p. 90).

Published sources

Calendar of the Correspondence of Philip Doddridge, DD (1702-1751), ed. Geoffrey F. Nuttall (London, 1979), 326, 331.
The Correspondence and Diary of Philip Doddridge, D.D., ed. John Doddridge Humphreys, 5 vols., (London, 1831), V, 157.
Hunter, Joseph, The Rise of the Old Dissent, Exemplified in the Life of Oliver Heywood, One of the Founders of the Presbyterian Congregations in the County of York. 1630-1702 (London, 1842), 426.
Latham, E., A Sermon Preached at Kidderminster, November 28, 1742. On Occasion of the Much Lamented Death of the Late Reverend Mr Matthew Bradshaw (London, 1743).
Letters of Josiah Wedgwood, 1772 to 1780, II, ed. [Katherine Euphemia, Lady Farrar] (London, 1903), 2.
McLachlan, Herbert, 'Ebenezer Latham, M.A., M.D. (1688-1745), and the Academy at Findern, Derbyshire', in Herbert McLachlan, Essays and Addresses (Manchester, 1950), 147-64.
Sermons on Various Subjects, by the Late Reverend Ebenezer Latham, M.D., Faithfully Transcribed from the Author's Own Notes, ed. W. Willetts (London, 1774).
W[illiams], J[ohn] B[ickerton], 'Original Letter from Dr Ebenezer Latham' [March 1708], London Christian Instructor or Congregational Magazine, 7 (1824), 637-38.

David L. Wykes, 'Findern and Derby Academy (c.1712-1754)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, June 2011