Horton Academy (1806-1859) and Rawdon College (1859-1964)

(Historical account to 1860)

The Particular Baptist Academy at Little Horton, on the outskirts of Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire, commenced its work in 1806 in a converted warehouse, rented for the purpose by the Northern Education Society (known from 1817 as the Northern Baptist Education Society). The Society owed its existence primarily to John Fawcett, Baptist minister at Hebden Bridge, who had run an academy of his own at Brearley Hall and Ewood Hall from 1776 to 1805, and who had a life-long commitment to the training of ministers for the Baptist denomination.

Fawcett and his ministerial colleague from Liverpool, Samuel Medley, had challenged the Particular Baptist churches of Yorkshire and Lancashire to work more closely together, and this had led to the revitalisation and reconstitution of the existing Association in 1787. In 1804, partly because of Fawcett's age, and also stimulated by the example of the Independents' academies in the area and the newly formed Particular Baptist Education Society in London, proposals were brought to the Association for the creation of a similar society for the North of England. With financial support from James Bury, a calico printer from Pendle Hill in Lancashire, it was unanimously agreed that a society be formed '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, 24 May 1804). The resolution referred to the good work done by academies for training ministers in other parts of the country, specifically mentioning the Bristol Baptist Academy, at that time the only such institution among the Particular Baptists. In August 1804 the society was formally constituted at a meeting in Rochdale.

William Steadman of Plymouth Dock (now Devonport) agreed to take up the position of tutor at the Northern Education Society's institution (as it was usually called) in 1805. He combined the position of pastor of the Bradford church with his duties as tutor. He had been trained at Bristol Baptist Academy, and had experience of missionary work among the miners of Cornwall. Without any great intellectual gifts, he had a strong sense of 'the obligations of duty' and a 'passion for the useful' (Thomas Steadman, Memoir, 458-60).

Apart from accommodation for Steadman, the Little Horton premises consisted of a lecture hall and dining room, small individual studies and bedrooms that could accommodate up to eight students. The first two students began their studies at the start of 1806, and by the annual meeting of the society in 1808 there were eight - three from Scotland and five from England. Local Baptist ministers sometimes also took advantage of Steadman's assistance as tutor, staying at Little Horton for short periods. Steadman's approach to the curriculum was pragmatic, being concerned above all with preparing his students for work in the churches where they were likely to be ministers. His first priority was proficiency in preaching, and to that end English grammar was taught in the first year. Latin, Greek (both New Testament and Classical), and even Hebrew, were tackled if students showed any promise in languages. Other subjects included logic, rhetoric, composition, geography, natural philosophy, and chemistry, as well as theology and ecclesiastical history. Students had to read an essay and preach a sermon each week, and at the end of each year undertake an examination.

Academic studies were frequently interrupted by preaching engagements in local churches, sometimes involving absences of several days or even weeks. Steadman was struck by the almost boundless opportunities for village preaching, and deeply concerned about the spiritual state of the whole of northern England. He found the people poor and vulgar, and in 1806 noted that most of his ministerial colleagues 'were illiterate, their talents small, . . . their systems of divinity contracted, their maxims of church discipline rigid, their exertions scarcely any' (Thomas Steadman, Memoir, 227-8). He combined his work as tutor and pastor with leadership of a society for itinerant preaching throughout the two counties. The Minute Book (27 August 1817) records 15 students as attending in 1816-17, and by the end of that academic year a total of 23 had completed a course of training.

The academy was given a substantial boost in 1814 when John Sutcliffe of Olney bequeathed his library to the society, and two years later a donation enabled the Little Horton buildings to be purchased. A further bequest of £5,000 in 1825 helped to secure the precarious financial position of the academy. Progress of another kind was made in 1822 with the appointment of a second tutor, Benjamin Godwin. Godwin broadened the curriculum to include mathematics, and helped to raise academic standards. He too combined the responsibility of tutor with that of ministry in a local church, taking up the pastorate of a second church in Bradford in 1824.

Indiscipline among the student body, which generally grew in number to about twenty annually, was sometimes an issue that the tutors had to deal with, and three students were expelled in 1828. Another challenge was the admission of a number of Welsh students who needed extra help with English. In 1834 Godwin resigned to become full-time minister at his church. Steadman's health was also deteriorating, and he resigned the following year. James Acworth, minister of the Particular Baptist Church in Leeds, accepted the invitation to become president. By then, a total of 157 students had been through Little Horton, the majority of whom were still in ministry, at least one as a missionary with the Baptist Missionary Society. In the wider denomination, the situation had changed enormously since Steadman's appointment thirty years before. Baptist churches were growing quickly and multiplying, more than doubling in number, and the Baptist Union had become an effective body for uniting churches nationally.

Acworth provided stability to the Horton Academy following the uncertainty of Steadman's final years. Unlike Steadman and Godwin, he worked full time at the Academy and did not try to combine it with the responsibilities of ministry in a local church. He had studied theology at Bristol Baptist Academy and at Glasgow University, but his contribution was organisational as well as academic. He insisted on keeping the institution on a sound financial footing. The course was extended to five years, with Syriac and Chaldee added to the syllabus, a classical tutor (first Francis Clowes, succeeded in 1851 by Samuel Gosnell Green) being appointed to assist Acworth. Student numbers grew to thirty-six, the highest ever, in 1842. Acworth's ambition to improve the academic standards of the college, as it was often now called, resulted in affiliation to London University in 1852, which meant that students could be prepared for London degrees. The scientific aspect of the curriculum was broadened with the addition of mechanics and optics.

In 1853, Acworth began to look seriously for more suitable premises. By the following year, pressure to leave the increasingly industrialised surroundings of Bradford was increasing, and when in 1855 a gift of £5,000 to facilitate a move was received the momentum had become irresistible. Initially it seemed that Manchester would be the favoured option. By then the Baptist Association had divided into two, and the churches of Lancashire were eager for an academy on their side of the Pennines. The existence of Owens College, as well as successful Wesleyan and Congregational colleges in Manchester, were also important factors. Proposals were made for a two-track programme of training in two separate locations, one an English Theological Institution, at Horton, and a second, a Collegiate Institution, for more advanced students, and in 1856 premises were purchased in Manchester to enable this to happen.

In the end, however, this project came to nothing, possibly because of rivalry between the two counties. With the financial help of local businessmen, a 7½ acre woodland site was purchased near the village of Rawdon, north of Bradford, not far from Airedale Independent College. The new premises were built, and opened free of debt in September 1859. The premises at Little Horton were sold, having served the society for 54 years.

Rawdon College
Rawdon College

The new Rawdon College provided accommodation for a resident tutor and 26 students, each with his own study and bedroom, together with a library, lecture room and dining room. The college's fine gabled frontage faced towards the river Aire. Along its length was a broad terrace. Paths and drives were laid through the surrounding woodland. It was a sign of Baptists' aspiration for their future ministry, shut away from the noisy distractions of Leeds and Bradford. Its stone towers, gables and terraces showed that the Baptists were advancing, culturally and intellectually. The move under Acworth's leadership represented more than a simple change of accommodation. In 1862 Acworth retired, and was succeeded as president by Green.

In 1904 Rawdon became affiliated to the new University of Leeds. In 1964 it was amalgamated with the Baptist Manchester College to form Northern Baptist College, Manchester, now Luther King House, Manchester. The original Rawdon College building, after a period as a student hall of residence, became private flats.

Peter Shepherd


The Northern (Baptist) Education Society Minute Books and printed Annual Reports are in Luther King House, Manchester. The Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford, contains letters of William Steadman to John Saffery about Horton, and Benjamin Godwin's 'Memoirs', in the form of letters to his son John, with an account of his teaching.

Published sources

Barrett, John O., Rawdon College (Northern Baptist Education Society) 1804-1954: A Short History (London, 1954).
Dowson, Henry, The Centenary: A History of the first Baptist Church, Bradford (London, ?1853).
Fawcett, John, Jr, An Account of the Life, Ministry and Writings of the late Rev. John Fawcett, D.D. (London, 1818).
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).
Steadman, Thomas, Memoir of the Rev. William Steadman D.D. (London, 1838).
Underwood, A. C., 'The early Relations of Horton Academy and Rawdon College with Lancashire', Baptist Quarterly, 5 (1930), 130-6.

Peter Shepherd, 'Horton Academy (1806-1859) and Rawdon College (1859-1964), Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, October 2011.