Homerton Academy (1769-1850)

The origin of Homerton Academy can be traced to 1730 when an association of laymen, known as the King's Head Society (from their place of meeting), wished to revive among Baptists and Independents 'a zeal for orthodox opinions' (Congregational Year Book (1846), 131), i.e. strict Calvinism. They were dissatisfied with the developments at Moorfields Academy, controlled by the Congregational Fund Board, where, although Thomas Ridgley, the theological tutor, was orthodox, John Eames, who made the Academy outstanding in mathematics and science, was regarded as placing too great an emphasis on reason. The King's Head Society placed young men of piety and talent under the tuition of several ministers in London and its neighbourhood, who were responsible for the Clerkenwell, Deptford, and Stepney Academies. Those whom it supported were expected to sign Ten Articles of a Calvinistic character. The Congregational Fund Board later joined with the King's Head Society to form a joint committee to train candidates for the ministry, the Board taking responsibility for supporting those engaged in theological studies and the Society those receiving tuition in classical and general learning. In 1754 they opened a large house in Mile End as their academy, with the Revds John Conder, Thomas Gibbons, and John Walker as tutors. The institution moved in 1769 to a copyhold mansion, bought by the committee in 1768 and enlarged for the purpose, in Homerton, a village in a strongly dissenting neighbourhood to the north-east of London. In the 1780s several students were expelled for their opposition to subscription to the Ten Articles, several of whom subsequently became Unitarian ministers. There were also divisions over political loyalties, accentuated by the French Revolution, and eventually in 1796 John Fell, the classical tutor appointed in 1787, who was a republican despite being doctrinally orthodox, was dismissed because of his quick-tempered altercations with students.

Homerton Academy
Homerton Academy, 1825 [source: DWL, MS NCL L64/1/3]

In 1801 John Pye Smith, a student from Rotherham Academy, was appointed to be classical and science tutor, and he remained for fifty years; from 1806, when he became theological tutor, Pye Smith was effectively the principal. The academy was enlarged in 1811, and six years later the King's Head Society was dissolved and replaced by the Homerton Academy Society, now solely concerned with the support and government of the academy. Subscription to the Ten Articles as a condition of membership of the Society and entry to the academy was dropped. A further rebuilding took place in 1822-23 at a cost of nearly £10,000, and the name was changed from academy to college. Its object was stated to be 'to support twenty young men of decided and approved piety, who possess suitable talents and are desirous of devoting themselves to the service of Christ, by pursuing a course of study adapted to qualify them for the intelligent and honourable discharge of the said office' (Congregational Year Book (1846), 131). The course lasted six years: the first two were devoted to classics and mathematics, and the remaining four to classical, theological and philosophical studies. The examinations were public at the time of the annual meeting of subscribers at the beginning of June. In July 1840 the college received a royal warrant to issue certificates to the candidates for the degrees of BA, MA, BL and LLD in the University of London (transcribed in the Congregational Year Book (1846), 139-40). By 1850 one Congregational minister from Homerton had been awarded an MA, one a BL, and six BAs. The tutors in 1846 were the Revds Dr John Pye Smith and Dr William Smith (editor of the Classical Dictionary), together with Professor Robert Wallace, Professor Maurice Nenner, and B.H. Smart, Esq. Notable former students included the Liverpool minister Thomas Raffles, prominent supporter of the Lancashire Independent College; the missionaries Edward Stallybrass (to Siberia) and Robert Cotton Mather (to India); Robert Halley, later principal of New College; and John Daniel Morrell, educational writer. In 1850 Homerton joined with Coward College and Highbury College to form New College, London.
Those who supported the college in the early nineteenth century reflected the changes in London Congregationalism since the mid-eighteenth century. They were silk and hosiery manufacturers, stockbrokers, bankers, and men of business. One particular family was important for the long-term future of Homerton. John Morley was co-founder of the firm of I. & R. Morley, stocking-knitters and underwear manufacturers, and he became treasurer of Homerton in 1841. His son, Samuel Morley, became the sole proprietor in 1855, and also succeeded his father as treasurer. When the college was merged with Coward and Highbury in 1850, Samuel, who was also treasurer of the Congregational Board of Education, secured the college buildings for the Board, and gave it a new lease of life as a college to combine the separate teacher-training institutions run by the Board for male and female teachers respectively. Eventually this Homerton college moved to Cambridge in 1894, and became a college of the university with a Royal Charter in 2010.
David Thompson


The main archival sources for Homerton are held by the Congregational Library and Dr Williams's Library.The following library catalogues and loan registers held in Dr Williams's Library have been entered into Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System:
Shelf list, 1793 (L87). Barcode prefix in VLS: hom1793
Author catalogue, 1815 with changes to 1844 (L86/1). Barcode prefixes in VLS: hom1815, 1824, and 1834
Loan register, 1815-1819 (L77)
Loan register, 1830-45 (L78)

Published sources

Congregational Year Book (1846), 130-1; 139-40.
A Declaration as to Some Controverted Points of Christian Doctrine (London, 1732).
Nuttall, Geoffrey F., 'Homerton Academy and the Beginnings of Sub Rosa', Journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 5:2 (July 1993), 80-85.
Simms, T. H., Homerton College 1695-1978: From Dissenting Academy to Approved Society in the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1979).

David Thompson, 'Homerton Academy (1769-1850)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, March 2012.