Samuel Walker's Academy, Northowram (1783-1794)

When the Heckmondwike tutor, James Scott, died in 1783 the committee of the Northern Education Society invited Samuel Walker to succeed him. Walker had been a student of Scott, and became minister at Northowram on leaving the academy in 1774. The ten students who remained under the care of Scott were transferred to Northowram where they were housed in the parsonage with Walker and his family, together with the books and apparatus from Heckmondwike. The new location was suitable for an academy, since classes could be held in the small school house erected for Walker's predecessor, Robert Hesketh. When the academy closed in 1794, the remaining four students were placed under the care of William Vint at Idle. The failure of the Northowram academy led directly to the establishment of Rotherham Independent Academy in 1795 and the Independent Academy at Idle in 1800, although neither can be regarded as a direct successor.

Very little information survives about Samuel Walker's academy. In addition to the ten students who began their education under James Scott at Heckmondwike, the names of 25 others are known. The academy was managed by the Northern Education Society, and would therefore have shared the aims of the Heckmondwike establishment to train orthodox ministers to serve congregations in the northern counties of England. It can also be assumed that students would have been expected to provide evidence of their piety and orthodox evangelical beliefs, as at Heckmondwike. The main benefactor was William Fuller, a London banker to whom the academy was in debt by £545 when it closed in 1794. The number of applicants is reported to have fallen as Walker lost the confidence of both the London committee and the local community. No evidence survives of the course of study followed or the teaching methods employed by Walker. He is not known to have received any assistance in his work. The academy library was purchased by Rotherham Independent Academy for £20, and was described as having been small and in poor condition. If any scientific apparatus was transferred to Rotherham, it was not regarded as sufficient for the purposes of the new academy.

In a letter to Joshua Walker of Rotherham dated 27 July 1794, Fuller reported that as a result of the debt owed to him it was 'no longer practicable to continue the academy in its present state' and that 'Mr. [Samuel] Walker could be no longer considered as tutor to that seminary' (An Account, 11). However, it seems likely that financial problems were a symptom of a wider malaise afflicting the academy, the precise causes of which are unclear but seem to have related to the conduct of Samuel Walker. The author of An Account of the Rotherham Independent Academy (Sheffield, 1797) stated that Walker's appointment was not met with universal satisfaction, and that 'the public, and particularly the churches in Yorkshire, grew dissatisfied, and the subscriptions were considerably reduced' (An Account, 7-8). Richard Hamilton Winter, delivering An Address to the Constituents of Airedale College (London, 1831), noted that Walker had 'not very satisfactorily discharged' his duties, and 67 years after the academy folded another writer commented that it had been broken up for 'reasons to which we need not here refer' (Jones, 29). The author of the 1817 report of the Independent Academy at Idle commented that the academy at Northowram had 'been generally viewed as covered with a cloud', although he also noted that those educated there still spoke 'with becoming respect of their Alma Mater with all her imperfections' (Idle report (1817), 4).

Walker had already resigned the pastoral care of the church at Northowram when he was dismissed from the academy, and he died in obscurity in 1796. There is no direct evidence to explain the low repute in which both he and his academy were held. It is possible that there had been a change in his religious views, since the founders of Rotherham Independent Academy were anxious to ensure that subscribers to the new institution had the right to dismiss any tutor who departed from Calvinist principles. Whether this concern was a direct result of the experience of the Northowram academy is not recorded. The Rotherham founders could equally have been motivated by the difficulties experienced by the Coward Trust in the management of the academies at Daventry and under John Horsey at Northampton. There is some evidence that the relationship between Samuel Walker and the committee of the Northern Education Society had run into difficulties, and William Fuller was keen to stress that any successor institution should be managed locally and not from London.

Despite the evident failings of Samuel Walker and his academy, most of those who studied at Northowram went on to pursue ministerial careers. These included William Vint, minister and tutor at Idle, Benjamin Boothroyd, Hebraist and minister at Pontefract and Huddersfield, and William Maurice, minister at Bolton and later Fetter Lane, London. Jacob Brettell, the father of the Unitarian poet of the same name, studied under Walker and went on to become minister at Sutton in Ashfield, where he began to develop liberal views. Brettell kept schools at both Sutton and Gainsborough, where he later became minister. The testimony of one of his pupils that he was 'well versed in Arithmetic, Geography, Astronomy, Geometry, Latin, Greek and Hebrew' (Bolam, 135) suggests that Walker provided his students with a broad education.


Simon N. Dixon


No archives relating to the academy have survived.

Published sources

An Account of the Rotherham Independent Academy (Sheffield, 1797).
Bolam, C. Gordon, 'Some Account of the Annual Meeting of Presbyterian Ministers of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire: Established 1798', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 9 (194-1950) 125-45.
'Early Nonconformist Academies: Heckmondwike and Northowram', Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 6 (1913-15), 291-6.
Jones, David, Centenary Memorials of the Church and Congregation Assembling for Christian Worship at Booth near Halifax (Halifax, 1861).
Kaye, Elaine, For the Work of Ministry: A History of Northern College and its Predecessors (Edinburgh, 1999).
Miall, James G., Congregationalism in Yorkshire: A Chapter of Modern Church History (London, 1868).
Report of the Independent Academy at Idle; from June 1816 to June 1817 (Idle, 1817).
Report of the Independent Academy at Idle; from June 1823 to June 1824 (Idle, 1824), addenda.
Wadsworth, Kenneth W., Yorkshire United Independent College (London, 1954).
Winter, Richard Hamilton, An Address Delivered to the Constituents of Airedale College (London, 1831).

Simon N. Dixon, 'Samuel Walker's Academy, Northowram (1783-1794)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, June 2011.