Trevecka Calvinistic Methodist College (1842-1906)

(Historical account to 1860)

Calvinistic Methodist College, Trevecca
Calvinistic Methodist College, Trevecca [by permission of The National Library of Wales]

Trevecka College, in the parish of Talgarth, Breconshire, was set up by the Calvinistic Methodist Association in South Wales with the express purpose of providing education for ministers. There had been strong support for Trevecka as a potential location as the idea of a denominational institution began to gain ground in the early years of the nineteenth century. Once Bala College had been established in 1837, there was a growing sense that separate provision was needed for south Wales and that it should be located at Howel Harris's old home. This would also solve the question of what to do with the premises, which had been transferred to the Breconshire monthly meeting of the Calvinistic Methodists in 1837 by the last remaining members of the 'Family', the religious community set up by Harris in 1752. The property was conveyed to the Association in South Wales in August 1853.
The new institution was regarded as a revival of the Countess of Huntingdon's College (which had reopened as Cheshunt College in Hertfordshire in 1792), although it occupied different buildings and had no direct connection with her foundation. The previous college had been housed nearby at Trefeca Isaf or Lower Trevecka, subsequently known as College Farm, whereas the second college was at Trefeca Fach or Lesser Trevecka, the home of Howel Harris and his 'Family'. The emphasis on continuity remained, however, as the planned alterations were contrived to preserve untouched Harris's study and the room set aside for the use of the Countess on her visits. When the college was formally opened on 7 October 1842, it was noted that the sermon to mark the occasion was delivered within sight of the spot where George Whitefield had preached at the opening of Lady Huntingdon's College. 'These hallowed associations' were the source of much pride (First General Report, 7). The rural location was also regarded as an advantage since it would allow students to gain preaching experience in relatively small, local congregations, placing less pressure on them.
Although Bala and Trevecka were administered separately by the two Calvinistic Methodist Associations in Wales, Trevecka was largely modelled on Bala, with David Charles moving from Bala to act as principal and sole tutor of the new College until 1862. The major difference, however, was that Trevecka was intended exclusively for candidates for the ministry among the Calvinistic Methodists. The college was under the control of a committee appointed annually by the Association in South Wales and including members from each of the southern counties, who were largely laymen, drawn from elders already serving on the monthly meetings. It was to meet at least four times a year and to report to the Association once a year. Much of the direct supervision was undertaken by a management sub-committee appointed by the college committee to carry out its resolutions relating to the premises, approve the payment of bills and to assist the tutor with any appeals or complaints. All expenses, including the tutor's salary, were paid out of the fund established through collections throughout the congregations in south Wales, with £202 collected in Jewin Calvinistic Methodist chapel in London and minor donations from Liverpool, Worcester, and Bristol in addition. £7,570 had been collected at the outset. The initial repairs and alterations had cost over £1,000, but further subscriptions meant that the fund amounted to £5,981 by 1855, with an annual income of £292 from interest on securities, annual subscriptions, and rents of cottages and fields attached to the premises. Students received their education free, although the rules stated that they would have to reimburse the money expended on them if they left the Connexion at a later date. In 1849, the Association resolved that students should be granted 3s. 6d. a week towards their board as well. Covering these expenses, along with the tutor's salary and the servant's wages, placed some strain on the annual income.
With only one tutor and limited accommodation, no more than 12 students, under the age of thirty, were to be enrolled at a time. Up to 6 'outdoor' students were also permitted, who were to be either married preachers or those over thirty who might benefit from further instruction. With only a handful of external students, however, numbers rarely exceeded 12. Students were received by recommendation from the county monthly meetings and had to have been accepted as preachers by the Connexion, as well as having demonstrated to the meetings that they possessed sufficient 'natural powers' to equip them for their studies and that they were well-informed in general knowledge (Calvinistic Methodist Archives, T 3281, 7). The tutor would have the opportunity to examine them in person to satisfy himself that they were suitable. The rules stipulated that four years was the usual course of study, although 6 of the 11 students who entered before the end of 1842 were accepted for two years in the first instance, which was later extended in most cases to at least three years. The first student to be enrolled in November 1842 was George Williams of St David's, Pembrokeshire, who had already spent two years at Bala and completed his studies in 1845. The register of students survives and demonstrates that 74 students were admitted between 1842 and 1860, although, rather alarmingly, 7 of these died before completing their studies.
The general examination at the end of each session tested the students on their study of English composition, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, 'mental science with the History of Philosophy', physical science, mathematics, history and 'evidences of Christianity, with theology' (Second General Report, 7). The Welsh language did not figure in the syllabus until after the college was reopened in 1865, but even then it was taught as a subject similar to Latin and Greek rather than used as a medium of instruction, although it would have been the first language of the majority of students. Students were to retreat to their bedrooms no later than 11pm and to rise at 6am between March and October and at 7am during November to February. Fines were imposed for drinking, smoking tobacco, missing the morning or evening worship, loitering in the kitchen, and interrupting the servant in her work. A portion of the garden was set aside to be cultivated by the students, who might make use of the produce. They were granted a few days' vacation for Christmas and Easter and eight weeks in the summer, between early June and early August.
Strict rules also governed library loans, under the supervision of a librarian selected from the sub-committee, but more directly under the control of a deputy librarian appointed from among the students. The extent of the library is not clear, but a fair proportion of its stock seems to have derived from donations from supportive individuals and also from the British and Foreign Bible Society who presented the College with twenty-four Hebrew Bibles and twenty four Greek New Testaments, along with single copies of the Arabic, Moldavian, Slavonian, Gaelic, and Dutch Bibles, as well as single copies of the Arabic, Manx, Georgian, Guajarati, Laponese, Malay, Armenian, Catalonian, Irish, and Danish Testaments. Further individual donations included the entire works of John Calvin, volumes by Richard Baxter, Walter Cradock, Matthew Henry, Philip Doddridge, Jeremy Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards, along with a few Welsh works, including popular devotional manuals, translations of John Bunyan, and a volume of William Williams's hymns. Two globes were purchased for £10 from the college fund, whilst the Merthyr district Sunday schools donated a microscope, David Jones of Bristol presented the College with a six-foot 'Newtonian' telescope, and David Charles of Carmarthen, the principal's relative, donated further 'electrical apparatus' (Second General Report, 19-20).
The college fund proved inadequate to finance more than one tutor, placing considerable strain on the principal. Controversy arose in 1862 when no external examiner had been appointed to mark the end of year examinations in June and David Charles intended to take on the role himself. Rumours that Charles had opposed the appointment of Dr John Harris Jones as examiner led to a student strike, with the register noting that all twelve students had 'rebelled' (Calvinistic Methodist Archives, T 3281, 31-32). Charles tendered his resignation and the college closed temporarily, but reopened in 1865 with Revd William Howells as principal and Dr John Harris Jones as classics tutor. The college fund would be enhanced in future by regular donations from the south Wales area, with a target of 10s. a year from each congregation.
Trevecka seems to have gained a solid reputation, based on the respect afforded to David Charles and his family connections. Although only a limited number of students were educated there, the availability of a Calvinistic Methodist college in south as well as north Wales was a great convenience. The major problem was the somewhat inadequate funding, which was addressed after Charles's resignation. The college was moved to Aberystwyth in 1906 and was subsequently amalgamated with Bala Calvinistic Methodist College in 1922 to form the United Theological College in Aberystwyth. Trevecka was re-opened in 1906 in a new guise as a preparatory school, concentrating on preparing students for theological colleges, until its eventual closure in 1964.
Eryn M. White


The college archives are held by the National Library of Wales (NLW): Calvinistic Methodist Archives, Trevecca College MSS 1-707; Calvinistic Methodist Archives, Trevecka MSS 3281-3293, 3313-7.

Published sources

Davies, Gareth, 'Trevecka 1706-1964', Brycheiniog, 15 (1971), 41-56.
First General Report of the Committee of Trevecca College . . . with Statement of Accounts to the Thirty-first Day of December, 1845 (Aberystwyth, 1847); Second General Report of the Committee of Trevecca College . . . with Statement of Accounts to the Thirtieth Day of June, 1852 (Aberystwyth, 1853); Third General Report of the Committee of Trevecca College . . . with Statement of Accounts from Thirtieth Day of June 1832 to Thirtieth Day of June 1855 (Aberystwyth, 1856).
Jones, J. Gwynfor, 'From "Monastic Family" to Calvinistic Methodist Academy': Trefeca College (1842-1906)', in The Bible in Church, Academy and Culture: Essays in Honour of the Reverend Dr John Tudno Williams, ed. Alan P. F. Sell (Eugene, Oregon, 2011), 191-223.
Jones, R. Tudur, 'Diwylliant colegau ymneilltuol y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg', in Ysgrifau Beirniadol V, ed. J. E. Caerwyn Williams (1970).
Jones, W. P., Coleg Trefeca 1842-1942 (Llandysul, 1942).
Morris, William (ed.), Ysgolion a Cholegau y Methodistiaid Calfinaidd (Y rhai a gaewyd) (Caernarfon, 1973).
Roberts, H. P., 'Nonconformist Academies in Wales (1662-1862)', Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1928-29), 1-98, at 70-77.
Y Drysorfa, 1837-60 (Welsh Calvinistic Methodist periodical which included reports on the College).

Eryn M. White, 'Trevecka Calvinistic Methodist College (1842-1906)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, July 2012.