Leaf Square Academy (1811-1813)

Shortly after the closure of William Roby's Academy at Manchester in 1808, a resolution was passed by the annual meeting of the Lancashire Congregational Union stating that it was 'highly expedient that an academical Institution for the education of young men for the ministry' be set up to serve the counties of Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire (Surman, 'Leaf Square', 107). In June 1809, a small group was appointed to develop a plan for the proposed institution, consisting of William Roby, Rev. Noah Blackburn of Delph, Rev. Joseph Fletcher of Blackburn, and the Manchester cotton merchant Robert Spear. At the same time, a circular was issued to all congregations in the three counties calling for financial support. The following month, Roby presented a general meeting of the county union with proposals to establish a grammar school for the education of the sons of dissenters, to be incorporated with an academy for training ministers. Any excess income from the grammar school would be used to fund the academy. The new institution was to be established at Leaf Square in Pendleton, near Salford, and the surviving minutes give its name as 'Leaf Square Academy & School for young Ministers & Lay Scholars'. Care was taken at the outset to reassure Edward Williams that it would not encroach upon the activities of Rotherham Independent Academy, where he was tutor. The experiment at Leaf Square was short-lived, and by December 1813 the academy was dissolved due to lack of funds. A number of members of the committee were instrumental in the establishment of the Blackburn Independent Academy three years later.

In June 1811 Isaac Lowndes, William Lees, and John Morris were admitted as the first academy students at Leaf Square, and in November 1812 they were joined by a fourth, Thomas Chesters. While the grammar school seems to have flourished, with as many as 50 pupils at a time, no further ministerial students were accepted. Lowndes, Lees, and Morris were boarded privately at first, until the academy house was ready to receive them in November 1811. Adjacent premises for the school and academy were rented from a Mr Leaf at Leaf Square, Pendleton. It was resolved that a matron should be appointed to oversee the domestic management of the institution on an annual salary of 20 guineas. Miss Ann Hough held the post until March 1812. When her successor, Miss Luckman, was appointed it was agreed she should have the authority to hire and dismiss all other domestic servants.

The academy did not last long enough for any of the students to complete the projected three year course, which could be increased to four years at the discretion of the committee. During the first year, they were expected to take courses in English and Latin Grammar, composition, elocution, and Jewish and Christian revelations. Second year students would study Latin, the principles of composition applied to sermon plans, Greek, logic, moral philosophy, and theology with particular reference to a review of doctrines and controversies. The final session included further classes in Latin, composition and elocution, together with Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, Biblical studies, and general and ecclesiastical history. An appeal for library books was issued in October 1810, and a committee was appointed to purchase books, 'at their discretion as they may from time to time have opportunity of procuring them cheap' (JRUL, Leaf Square Minutes, 10 Oct. 1810). Thanks were given to Robert Spear for the loan of books, probably from the library he had provided for the use of William Roby's students at Mosley Street, Manchester. In August 1812 £13 was spent on an air pump and other scientific apparatus.

The Leaf Square committee minutes do not always make clear whether members of teaching staff were involved in both the school and the academy, or just one of the two. In June 1810 George Phillips was appointed as president of both branches of the institution on a salary of £200 per year with board and lodging. Phillips had studied at Wymondley Academy and Glasgow University, and does not appear to have held a permanent ministerial post prior to his appointment at New Windsor Church, Salford, where he was ordained in 1811. Shortly after the admission of the first ministerial students he was forced to resign from the academy due to illness, and he died on 24 October 1811. The management committee had already decided to separate the superintendence of the school from that of the academy, and in July 1811 the Wrexham tutor Jenkin Lewis was appointed to become theological and resident tutor at Leaf Square. In 1812, John Reynolds was recommended by John Pye Smith to take on the running of the school and office of classical tutor. Reynolds had studied at Westminster School and Oriel College, Oxford, and was a former Royal page, War office official, and commissioned officer in the North Lincoln Militia. In October 1813 he was replaced by John Clunie, who had studied at Hoxton Independent Academy and Glasgow University. Clunie had been ordained at Guildford in 1809 where he was briefly pastor, before spending two years as a private tutor in Kensington. A number of assistant tutors were associated with the academy and school at Pendleton. The most noteworthy was the celebrated scientist and former Manchester New College tutor, John Dalton, who served as a part-time mathematical tutor from 1811 until 1813. Dalton probably had some association with the academy, but others named in the minutes are more likely to have assisted in the grammar school alone. These included a Mr Wiedman, Joseph Wadsworth of Rishworth near Halifax, James Pridie, and French tutor M. Chevalier de la Radière. It has been suggested that some of the junior tutors were also students in the academy, although when Pridie asked to be admitted for ministerial training in 1812 he was advised to find an alternative institution.

By the beginning of 1813, concerns were being raised over the financial state of the academy, and the lack of support received from local congregations. While the grammar school was attracting a steady supply of pupils, it was not generating sufficient income to subsidise the training of ministerial candidates. An appeal for financial support circulated by the Lancashire Union was unsuccessful, and by the end of the year a total debt of £1314 6s 9d was owed by the school and academy. While it was agreed to confer with John Clunie over plans to continue the school it was resolved, 'That the reduced state of finances and many discouragements which the Academy labours under compel this meeting to dissolve it' (Surman, 'Leaf Square', 112). The school was later sold to Clunie, who continued to run it as a private concern for a number of years. There is some evidence that there were other problems. The author of an obituary of Jenkin Lewis published in the Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle described Lewis's time at Leaf Square as 'the most trying season of his life' and suggested that he disapproved of the management of the institution ('Jenkin Lewis', 512). None of the academy students who entered in June 1811 had finished their course by December 1813, and all went on to study elsewhere. Isaac Lowndes completed his studies under David Bogue at Gosport, William Lees entered Rotherham Independent Academy in 1814, and John Morris went to Hoxton. Thomas Chesters left in November 1813 without the permission of the committee to become minister at Sandbach in Cheshire. Lowndes was appointed to the Greek Mission of the London Missionary Society, and published a series of English and Greek lexicons. Lees became minister at Dogley Lane, Huddersfield, and Morris held several ministerial posts, including at Glastonbury, where he died in 1866.

Simon N. Dixon


The minute book of Leaf Square Academy and Grammar School (1809-1816) is held at the John Rylands University Library as part of the Northern Congregational College Archives. It provides a detailed account of the management of the institution from the planning stages until the sale of the grammar school to John Clunie in 1815. It also contains the early minutes of Blackburn Independent Academy.

Published sources

Kaye, Elaine, For the Work of Ministry: A History of Northern College and its Predecessors (Edinburgh, 1999).
R., J., 'Memoir of the Late Rev. Jenkin Lewis of Newport, Monmouthshire', Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle, n.s. 9 (1831), 509-12.
Robinson, W. G., William Roby (1766-1830) and the Revival of Independency in the North (London, 1954).
Surman, Charles E., 'Leaf Square Academy, Pendleton, 1811-1813', Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 13 (1937-9), 107-17, 77.

Simon N. Dixon, 'Leaf Square Academy (1811-1813)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, June 2011.