Moorfields Academy (1712-1744)

Following the death of Isaac Chauncey in 1712, Thomas Ridgley and John Eames were appointed respectively principal and assistant tutor of an academy in Moorfields. When Ridgley died in 1734, Eames, who was a layman, became principal tutor, and was assisted by Joseph Densham. Following Eames's death in 1744, the academy divided: the three students supported by the Congregational Fund removed to Zephaniah Marryatt's academy in Stepney, while those funded by the Coward Trust (numbering thirteen in April 1744) went to a new academy led by David Jennings in Wellclose Square, Wapping.

The academy was primarily intended as a place of education for ministerial students in London, a considerable number of whom were supported by the Congregational Fund. Others were funded privately by the Congregational philanthropist William Coward, and then by the Coward Trust: the minutes of the first meeting of Coward's Trustees on 16 May 1738 lists twelve students under the care of John Eames at the time of Coward's death in 1738. It is impossible to determine the total number of students educated at the academy, and numbers for the earlier period are particularly uncertain as Congregational Fund Board minutes are lost for the period from 1704 to 1738. From 1738, the Congregational Fund Board funded between three and seven students a year, and the Coward Trust usually supported twelve students. In the winter of 1739-40 a total of twenty-one students received exhibitions. Other students, privately funded, also attended: in June 1744, a student gave up his exhibition, 'he having lately had a consi[dera]ble Legacy left him' (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 75). Two students are known to have received grants from the Particular Baptist Fund (Isaac Kimber and Meredith Townsend). At least forty-three students entered the academy between 1739 and 1744. The tutor's salary of £30 a year was paid by the Congregational Fund, and the Coward Trust paid Joseph Densham's salary (also £30 a year). Each fund also purchased books and equipment for the academy.

The Congregational Fund Board and Coward Trust also played a significant role in the administration and discipline of the academy. Students were examined before being awarded an exhibition, at the end of each academic year, and on completion of the course. Students who had misbehaved were reported to the Trustees, and students who failed to attend lectures had their exhibitions discontinued. Though it began as an institution for training Congregational ministers, the academy accepted students of other denominations, and not all students became ministers. A number of dissenting tutors were educated at the academy, including David Jennings, Samuel Morton Savage, John Conder, and Evan Davies. John Howard, the prison reformer, John Mason, the author of works of practical divinity who had previously attended John Jennings's academy, and the philosopher Richard Price were also students at Moorfields. Thomas Secker, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Amory were among the students who attended the academy for a short period to study experimental science under John Eames.

As assistant tutor, Joseph Densham lectured on logic, geography, algebra, trigonometry, physics, and conic sections. Additionally, students were sent to him 'to be finished in the learned languages and instructed in the initiating Academical Sciences before they are sent to Mr Eames' (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 9). The nature of the theology course at the academy is not known, though parts of Thomas Ridgley's two-volume work A Body of Divinity (1731-33), an exposition of the theology of the Westminster Larger Catechism designed to be read in families, may have come from his academy lectures. The ministerial education certainly also included lectures on Jewish antiquities (for which the text-book was Goodwin's Moses and Aaron (1625)), chronology, and ethics. When John Eames was principal tutor, his lectures on ethics drew on Isaac Watts's works on the passions, as well as the theories of Descartes and Henry More. The Coward Trust instituted a requirement that lectures be delivered 'on the discipline of the Congregational Churches' in April 1744, though it is not known whether any such lectures were delivered before the academy closed in July 1744 (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 41). Eames also lectured on anthropology, which was made up of pneumatology and somatology, and bears resemblance to what would now be called anatomy. His lectures on trigonometry, mechanics, projections of the sphere, and 'celestial mechanics' were used by other tutors. Eames had a collection of apparatus for conducting natural philosophical experiments which he bequeathed to the Coward Trust. In his lifetime, the Coward Trust purchased a pair of globes for the use of the academy. It also financed a library from 1741. This library, which was housed in a building on Forth Street, was not in the same place as the academy.

The rule imposed by the Congregational Fund Board that once a year, the tutors should visit the houses where students lived and inquire as to the students' domestic and devotional habits, indicates that the academy was not residential. Students received Congregational Fund Board exhibitions for up to four years, which was the usual length of the course.

Contemporaries praised the learning of the Moorfields tutors, and the academy appears to have had a high reputation. The mathematical and scientific curriculum was highly respected, thanks to the teaching of John Eames, who was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Lectures from Moorfields were in use at other academies, sometimes much later in the eighteenth century, indicating that the influence its tutors had on dissenting education reached beyond the students they personally taught. The paucity of extant sources for the curriculum of the academy (particularly under Ridgley), and the absence of contemporary records of students for a considerable period of its history, make it impossible to gain a clear and comprehensive sense of what education was offered and who received it at this important academy.

Tessa Whitehouse


The principal archival sources for Moorfields academy are the incomplete Congregational Fund Board Minutes, held at Dr Williams's Library (MS OD403), and the Coward Trust Minutes in the New College Collection (DWL, MS NCL/CT1). Some lecture notes attributed to Ridgley (DWL, MS NCL/L6/16) and a brief account of Densham's teaching (DWL, MS NCL 56/2) also form part of the New College Collection. Lecture notes attributed to Eames are held by the British Library (Add. MS 14053, Add. MS 59842 and Add. MS 60351, on celestial mechanics, mechanics and anthropology respectively) and the Congregational Library (MS I.f.27-28); notes of his lectures on ethics, chronology, and algebra are in Dr Williams's Library (MS NCL/L232). Versions of Eames's lectures in use at Hoxton academy are in Dr Williams's Library (MS 69.26).

Published sources

Doddridge, Philip, The Correspondence and Diary of Philip Doddridge, ed. John Doddridge Humphreys, 5 vols. (London, 1829-31), I.
Jeremy, W. D., The Presbyterian Fund and Dr Daniel Williams's Trust (London, 1885).
McLachlan, H., English Education Under the Test Acts: Being the History of the Nonconformist Academies 1662-1820 (Manchester, 1931).
Thompson, John Handby, A History of the Coward Trust: The First Two Hundred and Fifty Years 1738-1988 (London, 1998).
Waddington, John, Congregational History Volume 3: 1700-1800 (London, 1873).
Wilson, Walter, History and Antiquity of Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses, 4 vols. (London, 1808-14), II, 73-4, 267.

Tessa Whitehouse, 'Moorfields Academy (1712-1744)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2011.