John Fawcett's Academy (c.1773-1805), continued by John Fawcett Jr (1805-c.1832)

John Fawcett commenced his ministry among the Particular Baptists of Yorkshire in 1763 when he became pastor of the church at Wainsgate (near Hebden Bridge). He developed a friendship with Dan Taylor, a neighbouring General Baptist minister, and in 1769 they formed a Book Society in nearby Heptonstall. Both men had a passionate interest in educating Baptist ministers. In 1770 the Bristol Education Society was founded by Hugh Evans, minister of Broadmead Baptist Church in the city. Evans wrote to Baptist ministers throughout England and Wales appealing for their support. He was keen to expand the academy linked to Broadmead, in order to train able ministers of the Gospel. John Sutcliff, a member of Fawcett's church at Wainsgate and whom Fawcett had helped with his studies, commenced training for the Baptist ministry at Bristol in 1772. At about the same time, Fawcett began to receive men in his home in Wainsgate, to train them for ministry, extending his house for the purpose. According to Fawcett's son John his first student was Abraham Greenwood.

Eager to follow Evans's example, Fawcett and John Sandys wrote to their ministerial colleagues among the Particular Baptists in the north of England, urging the formation of an Education Society similar to the one in Bristol. The response was disappointing. There was suspicion in some quarters about an educated ministry, and Particular Baptists lacked the strength and organisation to take up the challenge. Fawcett continued to provide training in his own home, and in 1776 moved into larger premises at Brearley Hall. Situated on the main Halifax to Lancashire Road, Brearley Hall had the advantage of being more readily accessible than his Wainsgate house.

This was a period of expansion among Baptists nationally, with new churches and Associations being formed. The creation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 was a sign of this. In the north, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Association of Particular Baptist Churches was revived and reconstituted in 1787, largely as a result of the efforts of Fawcett and Samuel Medley, a minister in Liverpool. This provided an effective organisational basis for promoting the cause of ministerial education. Fawcett's educational establishment at Brearley Hall provided general education and training for young men, and was not exclusively for those bound for ministry. According to his son, Fawcett's 'catholic disposition was so well known, that persons of different denominations, without hesitation, entrusted their children to his care' (Fawcett, Reflections, 71). His objective was to impart 'the leading principles of morality and religion' into the minds of his pupils through the study of the Bible and other writings, including those of Isaac Watts. The proportion of lay to ministerial students is not known, although his son makes reference to 'the occasional admittance of a few young men, designed for the ministry' (Fawcett, An Account, 304), adding that the number of ministers trained by his father was insufficient to meet the needs of Baptist churches in the area. Moreover, according to his son the education of candidates for the ministry alongside those destined for careers in commerce was the cause of 'some degree of inconvenience' (Fawcett, An Account, 307).

In 1796 Fawcett moved again, this time to nearby Ewood Hall, which according to his son who helped him in his teaching was much more suitable as a seminary. He received financial support from London Baptists to provide training for a young man from the capital, Michael Parker. Other students who received training by Fawcett included William Ward, who became one of William Carey's associates in Serampore in India, with particular responsibility for the printing press there, and the essayist John Foster. Some, like Foster and Samuel Stennett, went on to continue their training at the college at Bristol.

About 1794 Fawcett bought a printing press, fitted up a printing office, and in 1796 engaged a printer. He published a range of works by himself and others for his students and for distribution in the neighbourhood, including poems, hymns, a monthly publication entitled Miscellanea Sacra, The Life of the Rev. Oliver Heywood, and A Summary of the Evidences of Christianity. He published the first edition of his friend Edward Williams's anthology The Christian Preacher. In 1800 he disposed of his printing concern because of his declining health.

Around the turn of the century, new institutions for the training of dissenting ministers were springing up in various places, including Yorkshire, where Congregationalists established academies at Rotherham in 1795 (with Willliams as tutor) and Idle in 1800. Fawcett, together with others of like mind - notably Thomas Littlewood (minister in Rochdale), James Bury (calico printer from Pendle Hill) and Thomas Langdon (minister in Leeds) - succeeded in persuading the Lancashire and Yorkshire Association to form a Northern Education Society in 1804. Acknowledging their debt to the example of the Bristol Baptist Academy, those attending a specially convened meeting resolved to form themselves into a Society 'for the purpose of encouraging pious young men, recommended by the churches to which they belong, persons of promising abilities for the Ministry' (Minutes of Northern Education Society, 4 May 1804). This led, in the following year, to the formation of the Horton Academy, which effectively took over the work started by Fawcett. Fawcett retired from teaching in 1805, and the Ewood Hall establishment was taken over by his son John. In 1832 the younger Fawcett published Reflections and Admonitory Hints, of the Principal of a Seminary, on Retiring from the Duties of his Station. The volume offers general religious and moral advice for young men, and gives little indication of the level of education he provided. Given the proximity of the establishment at Horton, it seems unlikely that the 'Seminary' provided ministerial training after 1804. The establishment has been described as 'one of the largest private seminaries in the north of England', with eighty-five 'inmates' in 1811 (Turner, Spring-Time Saunter, 55).

Fawcett Sr's academy was an interim solution to the problem of training ministers, until the Particular Baptists of the north could organise themselves more effectively. There are no extant records of the educational work he did or how many students he trained. His curriculum included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, to provide access to the original scriptural texts for those who were able to take advantage of it. It also included a wide range of other topics, such as literature, geography, and natural philosophy. Fawcett placed a strong emphasis on providing religious education to all of those received into his care, instructing his pupils on the importance of regular attendance at public worship. Family prayer and the reading of Scripture were also regarded as an essential part of the daily life of the academy.

Peter Shepherd


The Minute Book of the London Baptist Education Society (Angus Library, Regent's Park College, 18.c.13(c)) names several students educated by John Fawcett Sr. His role in the establishment of Horton Academy is documented in the Minute Book of the Northern Education Society (Luther King House, Manchester).

Published sources

Fawcett, John, Jr, An Account of the Life, Ministry and Writings of the late Rev. John Fawcett, D.D. (London, 1818).
-----, Reflections and Admonitory Hints, of the Principal of a Seminary, on Retiring from the Duties of his Station (London, 1832).
Sellers, Ian (ed.), Our Heritage: the Baptists of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire 1647-1987 (Leeds, 1987).
Shepherd, Peter, The Making of a Northern Baptist College (Manchester, 2004).
Turner, Whiteley, A Spring-Time Saunter: Round and About Brontë-Land, 3rd edn (Halifax, 1913).
Williams, Charles, and others, A Brief History of the Baptist Church, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire (London, 1878).

Peter Shepherd, 'John Fawcett's Academy (c.1773-1805), continued by John Fawcett Jr (1805-c.1832)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, August 2011.