Hoxton Academy (1764-1785)

Hoxton Academy came into existence following the death of the tutor David Jennings in September 1762, which left his assistant, Samuel Morton Savage, in charge of the students of the academy at Wellclose Square. Abraham Rees, a senior student at the academy, was appointed by the Coward Trustees as an interim assistant to Savage in November 1762; they and the students continued at Wellclose Square while a suitable building was found and made ready. This process took longer than anticipated, and it was not until September 1764 that the academy moved to Daniel Williams's former residence in Hoxton Square. It remained there for the next twenty years.

The academy attracted students from around the country, from different traditions within dissent (including one Quaker, Henry Hanbury Beaufoy, who later conformed to the Church of England) and from other academies. Students moved to Hoxton from Warrington, Taunton, Exeter, and Carmarthen academies. Many students were funded by the Coward Trust, which was a Congregational foundation, but entry was not restricted to Congregationalists, and many students developed heterodox views during their studies or later became Unitarians. George Cadogan Morgan, originally a member of the Church of England, who had spent two years at Jesus College, Oxford, prior to his four years at Hoxton, later became a tutor at New College, Hackney, as did Thomas Broadhurst. The author William Godwin was also a student the academy. Seventy-eight names (including Coward-supported students) are listed in a compendium of dissenting academies made in the early nineteenth century held in Birmingham University Library. Some of this information is said to have been provided by former students of the academy, and can therefore be viewed as reasonably accurate. Fifty-seven students were awarded exhibitions by the Coward Trust. The course was five years for ministerial students, and there were around a dozen students at the academy at any one time.

The Coward Trust paid for the lease on and improvements to the building in Hoxton Square, paid the tutors' salaries, and provided exhibitions for many of the academy's students. Some candidates for exhibitions were recommended by tutors at the academy, and all successful candidates had passed an examination into their learning, religion, and conduct by the Trustees, though doctrinal tests were not imposed. The Trustees were also closely involved in the day-to-day operation and discipline of the academy. Indeed, finance and discipline were closely related. The Trust paid £18 per year per student to Abraham Rees (the resident tutor) for board and lodging. In 1766, after a meeting with Rees, it was decided that a Trustee should pay a monthly visit to the academy 'to Enquire into the Conduct and Demeanor of the Pupils and to receive such Reports from the Librarian as may be for the Good order and Well government of the Academy' (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 200). Several students were expelled from the academy for non-attendance at lectures and poor behaviour.

Samuel Morton Savage led the academy and was the theological tutor. He probably based his lectures on Philip Doddridge's interconnected course of pneumatology, ethics, and divinity lectures. Notes on ethics lectures based on those of John Eames and delivered at Hoxton survive. Abraham Rees was classical and mathematics tutor, librarian, and resident tutor. His mathematical lectures (based on those of John Eames, and written in Latin) covered algebra, trigonometry, mechanics, and mathematical and perspectival drawing. Andrew Kippis was the philological tutor and gave lectures on belles lettres and the history of eloquence and chronology, some of which were based on Joseph Priestley's A Course of Lectures on the Theory of Language, and Universal Grammar (1762) and John Ward's A System of Oratory (1759). Savage's salary was £80 a year, Kippis's £60, and Rees's £50. All the tutors were paid by the Coward Trust.

The library from David Jennings's Academy was brought to Hoxton Square, where it joined that of Henry Miles, the writer on science and Coward Trustee who bequeathed his library to the Trust for the use of the academy in 1763. The 'apparatus for making Experiments in natural Philosophy' which John Eames had bequeathed to the Trust and which went to Wellclose Square also moved to Hoxton Square (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 75). Other equipment included a pair of globes, an orrery, and 'an Instrument to show the Spheroidical figure of the Earth' (DWL, MS NCL/CT1, p. 77). Following the closure of the academy in 1785, the library and scientific equipment remained in the unoccupied building in Hoxton Square. In 1790, the orrery was sent to John Horsey's Academy, Northampton. Apparently the library remained at Hoxton throughout the 1790s (measures were taken to protect the books from a leaky roof in 1793). The Coward Trust minutes, 19 August 1799, indicate that the books were later transferred to Wymondley.

There appear to have been tensions among the tutors and with the Trustees: in 1779, Samuel Morton Savage and Abraham Rees both tendered their resignations to the Coward Trustees. Savage claimed not to be aware of Rees's decision, and complained that the students 'have most of them learned to consider the Divinity Tutor as superfluous' (DWL, MS NCL/CT2, p. 4). Both men were persuaded to stay on for an additional year and were, along with Kippis, thanked for 'their Diligent and Truthful Instruction of the Pupils' (DWL, MS NCL/CT2, p. 6). All the tutors remained in post for several years longer, perhaps following the Trustees' warning to Kippis that 'if the necessity of a New election into the Resigned Departments should take place it may probably unhinge the whole' and the academy might close (DWL, NCL MS 187/2/1, f. 10). In March 1784 Kippis communicated his intention to resign at the end of the academic session. Rees and Savage both resigned soon after, but remained in post until Midsummer 1785, sharing Kippis's duties between them during the final year. The students were all invited to Daventry academy; Savage retired and Kippis and Rees both became tutors at New College, Hackney. William Godwin noted the prevalence of heterodox theological opinions at the academy, and commended the tutors, especially Rees, for their willingness to debate with students.

The building in Hoxton Square remained empty until 1791, when it was leased by the Coward Trustees to the managers of the Hoxton Independent Academy. The two institutions had no connection in terms of staff, students, curriculum, or management.

Tessa Whitehouse


The Coward Trust Minutes in the New College Collection held at Dr Williams's Library provide the most important evidence for the life and management of the academy (DWL, MS NCL/CT1-2). The minutes 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 New College Collection also contains some correspondence of Joseph Paice, a Coward Trustee. Manuscript notes of lectures delivered by Rees and Kippis are held in Dr Williams's Library. Lists of students complied 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 (MS281).

Published sources

Kegan Paul, Charles, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 2 vols. (London, 1876), I.
McLachlan, Herbert, English Education Under the Test Acts: Being the History of the Nonconformist Academies 1662-1820 (Manchester, 1931).
Morris, A. D., Hoxton Square and the Hoxton Academies (London, 1957).
Rees, Abraham, A Sermon . . . Upon Occasion of the Much Lamented Death of the Rev. Andrew Kippis (London, 1795).
Thompson, John Handby, A History of the Coward Trust: The First Two Hundred and Fifty Years 1738-1988 (London, 1998).
Waddington, John, Congregational History 1700-1800 (London, 1876).
Williams, John, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Thomas Belsham (London, 1833).
Wilson, Walter, The History and Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches and Meeting Houses in London, Westminster and Southwark, 4 vols. (London, 1808-14), IV.

Tessa Whitehouse, 'Hoxton Academy (1764-1785)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2011.