David Jennings's Academy, Wellclose Square (1744-1762)

On 17 July 1744, David Jennings was appointed by the Coward Trust to teach the ministerial students supported by the Trust who had previously been educated by John Eames at Moorfields Academy. On 27 August 1744 the Congregational Fund Board, which had supported students at Moorfields, chose to send them to Zephaniah Marryatt at Plaisterer's Hall rather than to Jennings. In the same month a building in Wellclose Square, Wapping, London, was chosen for the academy, the rent of which was paid by the Coward Trust, who also fitted it with a library. The academy opened on 17 September 1744. Samuel Morton Savage, a former student of Eames, was appointed Librarian and Keeper of the Apparatus and as such lived in the academy building; after Jennings's death in 1762, he became principal tutor of the successor academy at Hoxton.

Students came to the academy from a wide geographical area, including Lancashire and Wales, and did not necessarily remain in London after their education had ceased. Eighty-six students entered the academy, though not all completed the course. Five students supported by the Presbyterian Fund Board attended the academy. Seventy of the students had their tuition paid by the Coward Trust, which also paid the salary of the assistant tutor of £20 a year. In 1753, six students with Coward exhibitions entered the academy, though the usual number was two or three per year. Students were examined by the Trustees before being granted exhibitions and on completing the course; if successful (which was usually the case), they were granted a gift of £10 to spend on books.

The connection between the Trust and the academy was very close: David Jennings was both head of the academy and one of the four Coward Trustees. Disciplinary matters involving Trust-supported students were referred to the Trustees. While the express aim of the Coward Trust was to fund candidates for the Congregational ministry, students from other denominations were also educated at the academy, and several became Presbyterian or Baptist ministers. Notable students include Abraham Rees, the encyclopedist and a future tutor at Hoxton Academy and New College, Hackney, and the historian of dissent Joshua Toulmin.

David Jennings was the theological tutor and Savage assisted him. The length of the course was five years. The academy was not residential; students and tutors gathered each morning at ten o'clock for prayer and a reading from the New Testament with exposition from Jennings. Junior students received lectures from Savage on classical literature, mathematics and logic, and attended a weekly class in which Jennings took them through his book An Introduction to the Use of the Globes, and the Orrery (1739) and gave remarks on their translations from Lampe's Synopsis historiae sacrae (1721). Students then attended Jennings's weekly lectures on Jewish antiquities for four years. These took Thomas Goodwin's Moses and Aaron (1625) as a textbook. Twice a week for three years students attended Jennings's divinity lectures which were based on Marck's Christianae theologiae medulla (1690). This text was chosen because Jennings considered that it introduced all the key areas for study. At the end of the course, Jennings gave a short series of lectures on preaching. He also gave lectures on miscellaneous topics including medals, architecture and heraldry, though it is not clear precisely when these took place.

The library and apparatus were important features of the academy, whose location was chosen for its suitability for storing them, and the care of which was Samuel Morton Savage's official task. John Eames, the tutor at Moorfields who had been an esteemed natural philosopher and mathematician, left the Coward Trust his apparatus for conducting natural philosophical experiments. The bequest from Eames was supplemented by the purchase of an orrery and 'an Instrument to show the Spheroidical figure of the Earth' (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 76).

Jennings's work as a tutor was disseminated via his published teaching texts on globes, medals, and Jewish antiquities. A longhand manuscript copy of his preaching lectures, bound with a set of Philip Doddridge's lectures on the same topic, was kept in the library of Bristol Baptist College. Few manuscript teaching materials from the academy itself survive, so it is difficult to determine the precise nature of the theology course. Joshua Toulmin questioned the use of Marck's Medulla as the principal textbook, and though he praised the standard of teaching at the academy, he suggested that Jennings's strict orthodoxy drove students away. Jennings died on 16 September 1762, just after the academy had re-opened for new session. The students continued at Wellclose Square under Savage until the academy moved to Hoxton in 1764.

Tessa Whitehouse


The most important evidence for the life and management of the academy is the Coward Trust Minutes in the New College Collection held at Dr Williams's Library (DWL, MS NCL/CT1). They contain detailed information about the start and end of the academy, the process of admitting and examining students, and the Trustees' involvement in disciplinary matters. The minutes are missing for the period October 1744 to April 1752. Lists of students compiled by Joshua Wilson (also in the New College Collection) provide additional names of students (DWL, MS NCL/L54/1-4), as does the list of dissenting academies, tutors and students held at Birmingham University Library (MS 281). A letter from David Jennings to Philip Doddridge held at Yale University Library gives insight into Jennings's personal view of the academy (DWL, MS NCL 54/3/59 is an extract copied by Joshua Wilson). A manuscript copy of Jennings's lectures on preaching is held at Bristol Baptist College (G 93).

Published sources

Jeremy, W. D., The Presbyterian Fund and Dr Daniel Williams's Trust (London, 1885).
Nuttall, G. F., A Calendar of the Correspondence of Philip Doddridge (London, 1979).
Thompson, John Handby, A History of the Coward Trust: The First Two Hundred and Fifty Years 1738-1988 (London, 1998).
[Toulmin, Joshua], 'J. T.', 'Life and Writings of David Jennings', Protestant Dissenter's Magazine, 5 (1798), 81-89, 121-7.

Tessa Whitehouse, 'David Jennings's Academy, Wellclose Square (1744-1762)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2011.