Bristol Baptist Academy (1720 to present)

(Historical account to 1860)

Although the academy has sometimes been regarded as originating in 1679, this dating is misleading. The academy in fact started in 1720, on the basis of the deed of gift made in 1679 by Edward Terrill (1634-1685), a wealthy scrivener involved in the sugar trade between Bristol and the West Indies and a member of Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol. Robert Bodenham (d. 1726), a sail maker in the city and another Broadmead member, brought together a variety of funds that secured the meeting house, houses for two pastors, and funds for potential students. Bodenham established a trust fund in 1715 which brought his and Terrill's wishes into effect.

Bristol Baptist Academy was unique in the eighteenth century in that it admitted only those intended for a career in the Baptist ministry. From 1720 to 1770 the institution was primarily referred to as an academy, but in the promotional material of 1770, when the Bristol Education Society was formed, the title 'Seminary' was used, a term which sometimes occurs in later reports. By 1812 it was regularly styled Bristol Baptist Academy, but from 1841 the printed Annual Reports referred to it as Bristol Baptist College.

Bristol Baptist Academy
Bristol Baptist Academy, Stokes Croft, Bristol, built in 1812 [source: S. A. Swaine, Faithful Men: or, Memorials of Bristol Baptist College, and Some of its Most Distinguished Alumni (London, 1884), plate.]

Initially students lived with the tutors in their homes at 1 and 2 North Street, opposite the Full Moon Inn in Stokes Croft, Bristol. A purpose built college, opened on the site in 1812, retained the original 'family concept' by incorporating the principal's house in the design. The lecture room, library, and museum were on the ground floor, with studies and bedrooms on the two floors above. This building remained in use until 1919, when the College moved to Woodland Road within the Bristol University campus.

The ministers at Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol, from 1720 to 1825, were also principals and tutors of the academy. An early attempt to appoint a second minister to teach students on the Terrill foundation failed because of a dispute about Caleb Jope's availability. Bernard Foskett was appointed under the Terrill Fund in 1720 and became senior pastor and principal (1727-58), with Andrew Gifford (1728-29) and Hugh Evans (1739-58) as his assistants. His successors as principal were Hugh Evans (1758-81); Hugh's son Caleb Evans (assistant 1758-81, and principal 1781-91), with James Newton (1770-90) and Robert Hall (1785-91) as assistants; John Ryland (1793-1825), with Isaac James (1796-1825) and Henry Page (1802-17) as assistants; Thomas Steffe Crisp (assistant 1818-25, principal 1825-68), with William Anderson (1825-33), Edgar Huxtable (1834-45), and Frederick W. Gotch (1845-68) as assistants.

The infant academy primarily served the West of England and South Wales, particularly after 1739 when Hugh Evans, a Welsh-speaking Welshman, joined Foskett as tutor. Welsh people seeking further theological training often lacked adequate English language skills. In the mid-eighteenth century many Welsh-speaking Bristol students were taught English at the preparatory academy at Trosnant under Miles Harry, and in the course of the century 87 Welsh students, from 25 different Welsh churches, were trained at Bristol. Two students came from Ireland, and eight Bristol-trained students settled there. London Baptists sent some students to Bristol, supporting them through two funds, the London Particular Baptist Fund and the London Baptist Education Society.

In 1770, to secure a broader base of financial support, a conscious decision was taken which allowed Baptist individuals, educational trusts, and congregations to give their support for an educated Baptist ministry. The Bristol Education Society was founded on 10 June 1770 by a public meeting of subscribers at Broadmead Baptist Church. The constituency served by the academy is best seen in the printed annual reports of the Society. They always begin with an apologia for Baptist ministerial education, followed by the Society's minutes for the past year, listing the churches from which students came, and the churches where they subsequently served. Finally, the reports contain accounts, and include a list of all subscribers from 1770 onwards. Recognising the paucity of ministerial training in London, when the initial request for funds was made, the Bristol Education Society wrote a special appeal in 1770 to 'the Gentlemen of London' for their support.

Students at Bristol are listed in a variety of sources. The exact number is difficult to arrive at, although nearly 800 can be identified as having been trained at Bristol between 1720 and 1860. In Foskett's time there were 4 in the 1720s, 16 in the 1730s, 29 in the 1740s, and 24 in the 1750s. The yearly average attending in Ryland's time was 20, with a high of 27 in 1817. When the newly built academy opened in 1812 it could accommodate 30 students. But this figure was rarely reached, for three reasons: between 1800 and 1850 overall Baptist numbers did not significantly increase; the development of liberal scholarship renewed suspicion among Baptists of an educated ministry; and with the opening of other Baptist colleges, fewer students applied to Bristol.

Prior to 1770 the funding for the academy came from the generous bequests of Terrill, Bodenham, and Foskett, with further donations from individuals. Once the Bristol Education Society was formed, churches and private individuals keen to support the training of Baptist ministers were involved in funding students through the Society. Its printed reports from 1770 to 1808 indicate that 292 students were trained at Bristol, of whom 123 were financed by the Society. Their names are printed in the report, but at the end of each such listing a note states: 'The names of students upon other foundations are not inserted in this list'. The Annual Reports in the original manuscript book and in their printed form indicate that further students were supported: 42 by the London Particular Baptist Fund, 57 by the Bristol Particular Baptist Fund, 14 by the London Baptist Education Society, and 50 by churches and individuals, including John Lewis Fernandez from Serampore College, India, in 1807, who was supported by the 'Serampore Trio', William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward. A further 389 students were trained at Bristol from 1810 to 1860, which means that at least 783 students were trained between 1720 and 1860. (These numbers are provisional; further detailed work needs to be done on the Society's records, as well as on the accounts of all the financial supporting bodies.)

Initially the Broadmead Baptist Church pastor (also the principal) ensured that monies put in trust for training students by Terrill and others were so used. The formation of the Bristol Education Society at first brought no change in management. Even when the new academy building opened in 1812, management remained firmly in the hands of the principal and staff. The principal and tutors were ministers of Broadmead, maintained by Broadmead through the Terrill and Bodenham Trust Fund. When John Ryland died in 1825, the academy committee separated the academy staff from the ministry of Broadmead Baptist Church before appointing a successor. The principal and tutors were then employed full-time by the Bristol Education Society, although income from the Terrill Fund was still given by the Broadmead Church to the academy. This left both institutions free to make their own appointments. When Robert Hall accepted the Broadmead pastorate in 1827, it was on condition that he had no academy responsibilities. Thomas Steffe Crisp, who had been Ryland's assistant tutor, was appointed principal, and he remained in post until 1868. Crisp, as a Broadmead member, received an annual cheque from the church treasurer which he handed over to the Baptist College. When F. W. Gotch, a member at Old King Street Church, succeeded Crisp as principal, the College Committee and the Broadmead deacons submitted a scheme to the Charity Commissioners. It was agreed that benefactions from the Terrill, Bodenham, and Foskett Funds should be administered by trustees appointed from both bodies and income shared between them. This marked the final transition of the academy to the Trustees of the Bristol Education Society.

The aim of the Bristol Education Society, as the regularly reissued accounts made clear, was to supply destitute congregations 'with a succession of able and evangelical ministers'. Since 'an unconverted ministry, whether learned or unlearned, is the bane of religion', appropriate students should be recommended. Those applying for board as well as education should be recommended by a Baptist church, but members of other denominations applying for education only could be freely admitted (Account of the Bristol Education Society (1776), 9-10) (however there is no evidence that members of other denominations did so until the 1970s). The academy and Church both accepted the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith as their doctrinal standard until 1832, when the basis of the Baptist Union changed to admit ministers and churches who 'agree in the sentiments usually denominated evangelical' (Payne, The Baptist Union, 61).

The academy gave all students knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Foskett lectured on the philosophy of religion and psychology, ethics, music, and politics. John Collett Ryland, father of the later principal and a student of Foskett from 1744 to 1746, claimed that his studies included five languages - English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French - as well as rhetoric, logic, history, and geography. In 1745 he noted in his diary that he studied parts of the Old Testament, read through the whole New Testament three times, and studied Christian doctrine and the Baptist Catechism and Confession of Faith. The Bristol Education Society course of studies deliberately envisaged 'a liberal education'. This included English grammar, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, so that all ministers 'could examine the Scriptures in the original languages'. Logic would assist them in their reasoning powers, oratory would enable them to use language to the full, and geography, astronomy, and natural philosophy would 'enlarge and elevate their conceptions of the great and glorious perfections of the creator God.' Together with these subjects were the core themes of moral philosophy, evidences for Christianity, Jewish antiquities, ecclesiastical history, and a system of divinity that would 'improve their morals, establish their faith and enable them to instruct others by doctrine and example' (Account of the Bristol Education Society (?1770-1), xi-xii).

In 1813 it was said that 'the object of the Society is not to make men ministers, but to make young ministers, whose gifts have already been tried and testified by our churches, better scholars'. The argument behind this was that 'for our ministers to be generally inferior in point of literature to their brethren of other denominations and to many of their own hearers, must be disgraceful and highly injurious' (Bristol Education Society Annual Report, 1813). In 1815 Ryland's outline curriculum noted that all students learned Hebrew, Greek and Latin, together with theology, church history, and logic. In 1825 instruction was divided into two departments. The first was 'theological' and included Hebrew, divinity, Biblical literature, ecclesiastical history, and 'the duties of the ministerial office'. The second was 'classical and mathematical' and included Latin, Greek, and mathematics (Bristol Education Society Annual Report, 1825). In addition, there was provision for instruction in English and elocution.

The Bristol Education Society encouraged student participation, and in 1826 reported that Crisp gave lectures, examined the students on them, and listened to their weekly essays. It is clear that Crisp saw his task as the successful imparting of knowledge to students who would produce it in their examination results. His assistant, William Anderson, was a brilliant linguist who had an extensive knowledge of Scripture and the classics; unlike Crisp he sought to sharpen and discipline his students' minds. Within a few years external examiners were appointed to test and report on the students. In 1841 the College (as it was now called) decided to associate with the new University of London and was accepted. This meant that the students sat the University examinations, with the College curriculum adapted to meet the demands of the syllabus. In 1842 Bristol students attended lectures delivered at the Bristol Philosophical Institution, which later developed into the University College of Bristol.

The Bristol Academy Library grew from a number of significant gifts. Initially it belonged to Broadmead Baptist Church and in December 1722 comprised 198 volumes, with a further 9 volumes belonging to Foskett. The formation of the Bristol Education Society led to country-wide fund-raising by Caleb Evans, which in turn attracted the donation of three large libraries to the Society. A printed catalogue of all the library books was published in 1795. It listed Andrew Gifford's 1784 bequest of 3,500 divinity volumes, manuscripts, scientific apparatus, paintings, coins, and maps. Thomas Llewellyn, a former Bristol student, bequeathed his substantial classical library to Bristol in 1784. In 1790 the Revd James Newton, a part-time tutor at Bristol, donated 300 volumes on practical divinity. Morgan Edwards, involved in establishing a Baptist College at Providence, Rhode Island, USA, encouraged Bristol to donate 149 volumes to Brown in 1785.

The Bristol College Museum originated with the Gifford Collection, with a special interest in manuscripts, books, and printed Bibles. This valuable collection was received by the Society after Gifford's death in 1784. There were thirteen manuscripts, and among the printed books were four Caxtons. The English printed Bibles included Tyndale's New Testament (1525) and Pentateuch (1530), and many other first editions of Bibles. Gifford, a sub-librarian of the British Museum and a numismatist, gave £100 to Bristol in 1780 'to erect over the former library a new room for a museum, to be a repository for the valuable library, pictures, busts etc., of the Gifford family, as well as items from other benefactors of the institution' (Champion, Farthing Rushlight, 89). Gifford's will (1782) asked Robert Robinson and John Ryland to examine what he proposed to leave to the Society, preserving what they thought appropriate and destroying the rest.

Among many distinguished alumni, John Ash and Caleb Evans produced the first comprehensive Baptist hymn-book in 1769. Benjamin Beddome's hymns obtained a world-wide reputation, and John Rippon's Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (1787) remained in use for over a century. Caleb Evans supported the American colonists and vigorously attacked Wesley on the issue. In 1781 John Collett Ryland published his own edition of Dr. Cotton Mather's Student and Preacher, a book he first met with in Hugh Evans's study in Bristol between 1744 and 1746. From 1785 to 1831 Robert Hall had significant ministries in Bristol, Cambridge, and Leicester. His Apology for the Freedom of the Press (1793) gave him a national reputation. His Terms of Communion (1815) advocated 'open communion' against the existing 'closed communion' practised in Baptist churches.

Bristol was the sole Baptist denominational college for ministerial training until 1806. The Bristol Education Society pioneered a voluntary method of support that was widely adopted among Baptists. The Northern Education Society was established in 1804; William Steadman, a former Bristol student, was the first tutor of the Baptist academy at Horton, Yorkshire. Other former students played a prominent part in Baptist education in Britain and the world: in Wales, Micah Thomas was principal of the Baptist College, Abergavenny; in the United States, Morgan Edwards was a founder of the Baptist College at Rhode Island, later Brown University, and William Staughton was president of Columbian College, Georgetown, later George Washington University; in Canada, Charles Spurden was principal of Fredericton College, New Brunswick; in the West Indies, Joshua Tinson was president of Calabar College.

Although entirely independent, the Baptist academy always co-operated with the wider Baptist community: it trained missionaries for the Baptist Missionary Society, founded in 1792, and from 1812/3 provided ministers for United Kingdom Baptist churches on behalf of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A significant number of former Bristol students worked in the Baptist Union and the Baptist Missionary Society. James Hinton, John Ryland, and Frederick Trestrail were successive secretaries of the Baptist Missionary Society from 1815 to 1869. Three former Bristol students, Joshua Marshman, John Mack, and John Trafford, were principals of Serampore College, India.

The Bristol Baptist Academy was the first serious attempt to provide a facility for Baptist theological education in the British Isles. It was 1770 before the gathering of nationwide financial support became possible through the means of the Bristol Education Society, but within fifty years that method had led to a further seven regional institutions. The Bristol tradition has retained its loyalty to evangelical theology, but its determination to provide intellectually able ministers has involved it in wrestling with biblical criticism and the post Darwinian scientific scene, as well as providing ministers and missionaries able to meet the challenge of two World Wars. This challenge was met by the appointment of principals such as James Culross (1863-96) and William J. Henderson (1896-1922) in the second half of the nineteenth century, and Arthur Dakin (1924-53) and Leonard Champion (1953-72) in the twentieth.

Roger Hayden


The earliest evidence for the college is found in the minutes of Broadmead Baptist Church from 1640 to 1868, held at the Bristol Record Office (Reference BRO 30251/Bd/M1) together with a variety of church correspondence and accounts. These records contain significant information about the academy, including staff and students, from 1720 to 1860. The Bristol Education Society's complete set of printed reports from 1770 to present day is held in Bristol Baptist College. The college also holds manuscript minutes of the Bristol Education Society from 1770 (B/01/01-4), account books (B/03/01; B/02/02-05; B/01/01/01[0.S]), and extracts from wills of donors from 1699-1823 (B/04/01). Not all the material in the original minute books and accounts is in the printed annual reports. The Bro. Bodenham Trustees Estate Book for Students, 1753-92, recording the annual income and disbursements, is in the college library. The minute and account books of the Particular Baptist Fund are held by the Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford.

The following catalogues held in Bristol Baptist College have been entered into Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System:
List of Edward Terrill's books, 1722 (no call number). Barcode prefix in VLS: bri1722
Shelf list and author catalogue, 1835 (C/01/04 and C/01/05). Barcode prefix in VLS: bri1835
Loan register for students/tutors, 1851-1892 (CL/01/02)

Published sources

An Account of the Bristol Education Society: began 1770 (Bristol, ?1770-1), G96 Box M [copy in Bristol Baptist College].
An Account of the Bristol Education Society: Begun Anno 1770 (Bristol, 1776).
Champion, L. G., Farthing Rushlight: The Story of Andrew Gifford, 1700-1784 (London, 1961).
Dakin, Arthur, Bristol Baptist College: 250 Years, 1679-1929 (Bristol, 1929).
Foreman, Henry, 'The Early Separatists, The Baptists and Education, 1580-1780', unpublished PhD thesis, University of Leeds (1976) [copy in Bristol Baptist College].
Gouldbourne, Ruth and Cross, Anthony R., The Story of Bristol Baptist College: Three Hundred Years of Ministerial Formation (Eugene, Oregon, 2022).
Hall, C. Sidney, and Mowvley, Harry, Tradition and Challenge: The Story of Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol from 1685 to 1991 (Bristol, 1991).
Hayden, Roger, Continuity and Change: Evangelical Calvinism among Eighteenth-Century Baptist Ministers trained at Bristol Academy, 1690-1791 (Chipping Norton, 2006).
-----, (ed.), The Records of a Church of Christ in Bristol, 1640-1687 (Bristol, 1974).
Manchee, Thomas John, The Bristol Charities, 2 vols. (Bristol, 1831).
Moon, Norman S., Education for Ministry: Bristol Baptist College, 1679-1979 (Bristol, 1979).
Moon, Norman, Champion, L. G, and Mowvely, H., The Bristol Education Society, 1770-1970 (n.p., n.d.).
Payne, E. A., The Baptist Union: A Short History (London, 1958).
Rippon, John, A Brief Essay towards an History of the Baptist Academy at Bristol, read before the Bristol Education Society, at their Anniversary Meeting, in Broadmead, August 26th, 1795 (Bristol, 1796); abridged in Rippon, The Baptist Annual Register, for 1794, 1795, 1796-1797 (London, 1797), 413-56.
Sherring, William, Bristol Baptist Fund (Bristol, 1844).
Trestrail, Frederick, Reminiscences of College Life in Bristol, during the Ministry of Revd Robert Hall (London, 1880) [relating to 1828-31].
Valentine, T. F., Concern for the Ministry: The Story of the Particular Baptist Fund, 1717-1967 (London, 1967).


Swaine, Stephen Albert, Faithful Men: or, Memorials of Bristol Baptist College, and Some of its Most Distinguished Alumni (London, 1884), contains an etching of Stokes Croft College, built 1812, by 'my friend, Dr T Johnston English, of Brompton, ... which gives an accurate representation of the front of the College building and President's house' (xi, xx). The College has oil portraits of all the principals and some of the tutors between 1727 and 1860.

Roger Hayden, 'Bristol Baptist Academy, 1720 to present', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, August 2011.