John Jennings's Academy, Kibworth Harcourt and Hinckley (c.1715-1723)

John Jennings's academy began at Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, probably in 1715, and moved with Jennings to Hinckley in 1722. It closed on his death in July 1723. There is no firm evidence for when the academy began, but according to his former pupil Philip Doddridge, Jennings died eight years after commencing work as a tutor. Jennings's academy was seen to have been crucial for training ministers to serve dissenting congregations of the east Midlands, and after his death there was concern that the dearth of new ministers might diminish the dissenting interest in the region. In 1729 Doddridge opened his academy in Market Harborough, also in Leicestershire. It was intended to continue Jennings's work of providing ministers for the local area, and Doddridge largely followed Jennings's curriculum and pedagogy.

Jennings charged £18 a year for board and tuition and an additional guinea as an entrance fee. Students supported by the Presbyterian Fund Board were charged £17 a year, and had the entrance fee waived. Twenty-four students have been identified as having attended the academy, but this list is probably incomplete. Details of Jennings's students are sparse. After the academy closed, at least one of them, John Mason, moved to the academy in Moorfields, London, where John Eames was tutor. Mason was later to become a writer of works of practical divinity. Doddridge was Jennings's other most notable student.

Jennings did not set any doctrinal requirements for entry to the academy, though he had strict terms on which he would accept new students: he conducted a personal interview with each prospective student in order to assess his academic aptitude, and a character recommendation from 'Impartial & Competent Persons' was required (DWL, MS 12.40.122).

The course lasted four years, and was divided into eight classes. Students began with classical studies (which included the study of a range of prose authors and poets in Greek and Latin), Hebrew, French, geography, logic, civil history, and lectures on heraldry, fortification, architecture, and other miscellaneous subjects. Mathematics and natural philosophical studies, which continued until the end of the fourth half-year, consisted of algebra, arithmetic, geometry, mechanics, hydrostatics, physics, astronomy, and the use of the globes. In the fourth half-year students began the pneumatology, ethics, and divinity course which they followed for the rest of their time at the academy. They also attended lectures in chronology, Jewish antiquities, Christian antiquities, ecclesiastical history, biblical criticism, the history of controversies and, at the end of the course, lectures on preaching and pastoral care and the choice of books. They participated in 'pneumatological disputations' and disputations in divinity, delivered 'moral discourses' (which Doddridge called 'ethical sermons') and, on Wednesday evenings, participated in dramatic and musical performances. These were usually improvised and their purpose, said Jennings, was 'to form the Pupills to a proper address delivery & action' (DWL, MS 12.40.122). Lectures were given in Latin. Jennings had two textbooks printed for the students' use: one was a logic course of his own devising which follows a mathematical method and contains numerous references to John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The other was a volume of miscellaneous articles (some in English, others in Latin) on subjects including psalmody, heraldry, architecture, and chronology, and mathematical topics including notes on hydrostatics by 'J.E.' (probably John Eames).

Jennings would only accept new students into the lowest class: if a student had already begun his education elsewhere, he had to be willing to start at the beginning with Jennings for 'my Scheme is So particular, I can build upon no Mans foundation' (DWL, MS 12.40.122). Jennings's system presented theological subjects according to a mathematical method of propositions and definitions, supported (or otherwise) by demonstrations, axioms, scholia, and corollaries. He provided students with references to writings on both sides of controverted questions, and encouraged students' wide reading and freedom of inquiry. This liberal and mathematical method was quite unusual, and its suitability was questioned by Isaac Watts, though Doddridge defended it strongly and followed it himself. Jennings's tutorial work is chiefly known because of Doddridge.

The academy had two libraries: one was for the use of all students, the other, containing works of philosophy, biblical criticism, ecclesiastical history, polemical divinity, and works on the church fathers, was restricted to senior students. According to Doddridge, after Jennings's death his students purchased many of these books from his widow.

Tessa Whitehouse


Dr Williams's Library holds several documents detailing the academic and domestic conduct of Jennings's academy, and the Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies website hosts full transcriptions of these. There also are several sets of lecture notes in the Library. Further lecture notes, and a notebook owned by John Jennings in which he wrote a timetable for his academy and listed books for students and dramatic scenarios for improvisation, are part of the New College Collection. For a complete listing see under the biographical article 'John Jennings (1687/8-1723)'.

Published sources

McLachlan, H., English Education under the Test Acts: Being the History of the Nonconformist Academies, 1662-1820 (Manchester, 1931).
Nuttall, G. F., Calendar of the Correspondence of Philip Doddridge (London, 1979).
Nuttall, G. F., New College, London and its Library: Two Lectures (London, 1977).
Rivers, Isabel, The Defence of Truth Through the Knowledge of Error: Philip Doddridge's Academy Lectures (London, 2003).
Whitehouse, Tessa (ed.), Dissenting Education and the Legacy of John Jennings, c.1720 - c.1729, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies,
Wykes, David L., 'Jennings, John (1687/8-1723)', ODNB.

Tessa Whitehouse, 'John Jennings's Academy (c.1715-1723)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2011.