New College, London (1850-1977)


(Historical account to 1860)

New College, London
New College, London [source: DWL, MS NCL/460]

New College, St John's Wood, London was formed in 1850 from a union of Homerton and Coward Colleges with Highbury College, the foundation stone being laid on 11 May 1850 by John Remington Mills, Esq. Lectures were held in an adjacent house, temporarily hired for the purpose, until the new building was complete. The college was formally opened and consecrated on 1 October 1851, when the principal, Dr John Harris, former resident tutor at Cheshunt College, gave a lecture on 'Inspiration'. The new building had a frontage of 250 feet, with a central tower above 80 feet high. It was in Tudor style, containing 'some eight or ten lecture rooms, a library, a museum and a laboratory' (Congregational Year Book (1851), 247). The library had space for 20,000 volumes, and there was also a Council Room on the first floor. At the north end was the principal's house. The architect was Mr Emmett of Hatton Garden, and it cost around £20,000, donated by private benefactors, to build.

The college brought together teachers and council members from the three uniting institutions. There were two treasurers, Joshua Wilson (from Highbury) and Thomas Coombs. The professors who comprised the Faculty of Theology were Harris, who taught systematic and pastoral theology; John Godwin (from Highbury), who taught criticism and interpretation of the Greek Testament; Philip Smith (from Cheshunt), who taught ecclesiastical history; and Maurice Nenner (from Homerton), who taught Hebrew and oriental languages, and the criticism and interpretation of the Old Testament. Those who comprised the Faculty of Arts were Dr William Smith (from Highbury and Homerton), who taught Greek and Latin languages and literature, and Dr Edwin Lankester, who taught natural sciences, together with Philip Smith, who taught mathematics, Godwin, who taught mental and moral philosophy, logic, and English literature, and Nenner, who taught German language. Dr John Pye Smith (formerly principal of Homerton) was listed as an honorary professor. In 1855 Samuel Newth, tutor at Western College, Plymouth, was appointed professor of mathematics and ecclesiastical history. On Harris's death in 1856 Robert Halley, formerly of Highbury College, was appointed principal. Newth succeeded Halley as principal in 1872.
The essential principle of education at New College was 'that Students for the ministry of the Gospel should be aided to acquire as high a degree of sound scholarship and general information as their time and abilities will permit, but that the pursuit of secular knowledge must not be allowed to interfere with those special duties which bear more closely upon the work of the ministry'. Furthermore all instruction was to be characterized 'by that religious element, by that homage to the majesty and laws of God, by that reference to the harmonies of truth revealed in Scripture with those learned from history and science'. The point was reinforced by the statement that, while due encouragement would be given for seeking London University degrees, the preparation for them 'must not intrude upon the time devoted to the Theological Course' (Congregational Year Book (1850), 206-7). The course was divided into a literary course of two years and a theological course of three years, save that the former might be abridged or dispensed with, if students were found to possess the proficiency in learning which entitled them to enter the theological course, later defined as having completed a BA elsewhere or being competent in classical literature. Ministerial candidates, who had to be over sixteen years of age, were required to present testimonials from their pastors and church concerning their personal and ministerial qualifications; by 1856 this was made more specific and candidates were expected 'to be a member of some Congregational church' (Congregational Year Book (1856), 247).There was a matriculation examination in English grammar, elements of Greek and Latin grammar with translation, outlines of Greek, Roman and English history, the practice and principles of arithmetic, and the first book of Euclid's Elements. The Congregational Year Book for 1850 contained a list of the questions to be answered by candidates before admission (which included one asking their opinions respecting the subjects and mode of baptism, and respecting the constitution and government of Christian churches). There was a detailed scheme for the financial support of students (with the suggestion that the churches from which they came should support them), limiting the number receiving support to fifty, the maximum being £40 for no more than 25 students, and partial support of £30 (15 students) and £20 (10 students). Students were initially expected to reside in houses approved by the New College Council, but this restriction was withdrawn in 1853. There would be a welcome for students for overseas missionary work.
As a result of the number of the teaching staff, and in particular the completeness of the Arts Faculty in the combined institution, New College also made provision for what was described as 'a new class of pupils', namely the children of parents who wished for the higher education of their sons on Christian principles without an intention of entering the Christian ministry. Presumably this was the result of dissatisfaction with the secular nature of University College, and the Anglican character of King's College, London. The principles of education were the same, and a minimum age limit of sixteen was required (later reduced to fifteen); it was expected that such students would reside at home, but a register of approved houses would be kept for those who could not do so. There was a college matriculation fee of £2 and a sessional fee, depending on the number of classes taken; fees were also specified for each class, generally £5 per session although some were as low as £2. The annual session of the college began on the last Thursday in September and ended on the last Thursday in June, with a week's recess at Christmas only. It is not clear how many lay students there ever were at New College. Ironically the opening of Oxford and Cambridge Universities to dissenters for undergraduate degrees in 1854 and 1856 respectively probably weakened its appeal. The published detail available for New College (Congregational Year Book (1850), 205-15) is significant as an indication of where Congregationalists judged theological education was going in mid-century; the similarity of the syllabus and regulations to those of the older universities and the new University of London is a sign of institutional confidence, reflecting a feeling that this new institution was more solidly based than its predecessors. 
A strong appeal for endowments was made, so that it should not be dependent on 'precarious supplies of subscriptions' (Congregational Year Book (1851), 247. By 1860, as well as the initial exhibitions of £20, £30, and £40 per session, there were three Pye Smith scholarships of £30 for three years (one awarded each year), one Mills scholarship of £30 for three years, one Henry Forster Burder scholarship of £30 for three years, one John Yockney scholarship of £25 for three years, and one Harris scholarship of £60 for two years. There were forty-three theological students, eleven lay students, and fourteen from Regent's Park (Baptist) College.
When the Faculty of Theology of London University was founded in 1900, New College, with Hackney College (formerly Hackney Theological Academy), became constituent parts of the Faculty, and the two colleges joined in 1924 as Hackney and New College in Finchley Road, Hampstead, London. The separate existence of New College, London, as it was renamed in 1936, ended in 1977, at a time of general reorganization of the colleges in the University of London. Its library, which by then had gathered to itself the libraries of a number of former academies (Northampton, Daventry, Wymondley, Mile End, Homerton, Coward, Hoxton, and Highbury), is preserved at Dr Williams's Library, London – and was commemorated at that time in an invaluable pair of lectures by its most distinguished historian, Geoffrey F. Nuttall.
David Thompson 


The New College archives and surviving books are held at Dr Williams's Library. The archives, together with those of the Coward Trust, were catalogued by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, and the catalogue (3 vols) scanned by the National Archives NRA 13042 is available online at
Some material is also held by the Congregational Library. The surviving New College books have been entered in Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System

Published sources

Congregational Year Book (1850-61).
Garvie, A. E., 'Nonconformity in the Universities: III London', Congregational Quarterly, 1 (1923), 325-30.
Medway, John, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Pye Smith (London, 1853).
New College, London: The Introductory Lectures delivered at the Opening of the College, October 1851 (London, 1851).
Nuttall, Geoffrey F., New College, London and Its Library (London, 1977).
Stoughton, John, Reminiscences of Congregationalism Fifty Years Ago (London, 1881).

David Thompson, 'New College, London (1850-1977)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, March 2012.