John Horsey's Academy, Northampton (1789-1798)

Following the resignation of Thomas Belsham as theology tutor of the academy at Daventry, the Coward Trustees appointed John Horsey, minister of Doddridge's old congregation at Castle Hill, Northampton, as his successor. The first approach to Horsey was made on 18 June 1789, and Horsey met some of the trustees later that month. He also received an invitation from the congregation at Daventry, but decided to remain at Northampton. Attempts were probably made by the Coward Trustees to persuade him otherwise, for after a visit by one of the trustees to Northampton it was reported that Horsey is 'inflexibly determined not to remove to Daventry' (DWL, MS CT2, p. 61 (31 Jul. 1789)). The two assistant tutors at Daventry, William Broadbent and Robert Forsaith, agreed to move to Northampton.

Having accepted Horsey's decision, the trustees then experienced considerable difficulties in finding suitable accommodation in Northampton. The difficulties proved so great that in early October they resolved that if nothing suitable could be found within sixteen days they would be forced 'to adopt the best means that may be in their power for the accomodation of their Pupils at Daventry' (DWL, MS CT2, p. 65 (6 Oct. 1789)). In the end the trustees agreed to advance up to £600 to purchase a house in Gold Street, provided they were put to no further expense. They also agreed to accept 'what Mr Horsey may be able to provide in the Family of Mr Taylor', his brother-in-law, 'until some Better accommodation can be procured' (CT2, p. 65 (13 Oct. 1789)). The house in Gold Street was furnished with the academy furniture from Daventry, for which Belsham was paid £243 13s. Of the remaining students, several were lodged in the Castle Hill manse in St Mary's Street, and others elsewhere in the town. The library was housed in Gold Street and the scientific apparatus in St Mary's Street, and the premises and contents insured for £500 each. The problem of housing the academy was never satisfactorily resolved before it closed in 1798, despite further efforts by the trustees.
The first session did not begin until 17 November. To allow Horsey time to prepare his lectures the trustees agreed that he should not start teaching until after Christmas. To reduce the amount he had to prepare in his first year they further agreed that those divinity students at Daventry who were in their final year should complete their studies elsewhere, though the failure to inform all the students concerned led to some problems. Horsey also faced a number of personal challenges. Because of the difficulties over housing the academy and the disordered state of its library following the move from Daventry, he had little opportunity to prepare his lectures. More seriously, most of the students shared their former tutor Belsham's Unitarian opinions. Horsey was warned by Thomas Robins, a former theological tutor at Daventry, that 'no Calvinist wd be tolerated by the students, and no one approaching to Calvinism could have authority if any undue influence were attempted' (DWL, MS 69.7, 'Brief account', fo. 67r). Horsey's own position was similar doctrinally to that of the trustees, being liberal but still largely orthodox. He therefore sought to remove concerns that he would attempt to enforce his own views. In his opening address he told the students that 'it is not the design of this Institution, and is very far from my Inclination, to usurp an Authority over Conscience, or to cherish Bigotry & Party Zeal'. It was, he believed, very much to the credit of the institution that it had been conducted for many years 'on generous & liberal principles' (DWL, MS 69.7, Inaugural address, Jan. 1790, fo. 84r). Nonetheless, 'the first two or three sessions . . . were by no means so comfortable as the succeeding five, which were followed by the [final] stormy session' which led to the closure of the academy in June 1798 (H[awkes], 'Rev. John Horsey', 609-10). Horsey's early difficulties eased after the senior students left.
There is no account of the curriculum followed at Northampton, but the length of course was five years, the same as at Daventry, and it is clear the lectures themselves were largely the same too. Horsey told the students in his opening address that he would give the lectures on Jewish Antiquities 'which have usually been read and transcribed in this seminary . . . just as my predecessors have done, and I shall avail myself without hesitation of any similar lectures while I am drawing up other lectures on other interesting subjects' (MS 69.7, 'Brief account', fo. 79r). The lecture notes used by Horsey which survive are in another hand with additions by Horsey. They include notes on the evidences of Christianity with particular reference to textual criticism, which were principally an abridgement of Priestley's Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, with additions by Horsey from Doddridge's lectures; introductory lectures on the study of the New Testament, dated 1788, but with notes from works published as late as 1793; 'Thoughts concerning the Inspiration of the Scriptures', which included a reference to Joseph Lomas Towers's Illustrations of Prophecy (1796); and 'Hypotheses relating to the Person of Christ'. He also gave lectures on pneumatology based on Doddridge's Course of Lectures, with considerable additional material by Belsham. The lecture notes on moral philosophy and logic used by Horsey also survive. The latter were adapted from Isaac Watts's work on logic. Many of the student essays are available, including some in Latin. Horsey may have demonstrated little originality in the content of his lectures, but from the testimony of his former students he appears to have been a gifted teacher, able to communicate ideas and explain difficult arguments clearly. Students were encouraged to read the many works of philosophy and ethics referred to in the lectures, and to test any disputed points for themselves. He was so determined to avoid any bias, that 'it was very difficult to ascertain in the lecture-room his own precise views in the more controversial subjects' (H[awkes], 'Rev. John Horsey', 610).
The academy was funded principally by the Coward Trust, which paid the salaries of the tutors and the running costs of the academy. The trustees also funded a total of 25 students, 7 of whom they had previously supported in their grammar education. The Presbyterian Fund supported 5 students, largely those over the age of twenty-two, who were too old to be supported by the Coward Trust. They also made a grant of £10 a year to Horsey and to one of the assistant tutors. A further 8 received an award of £32 per year from Mrs Jackson's Trust for periods ranging from one to five years, and another 6 students received gifts of usually five guineas in particular cases of financial distress. Twenty-six of the students also received a grant from Dr Williams's Trust in their fourth and fifth years. Each student had to provide references from two Protestant dissenting ministers concerning his religious disposition, his progress 'in classical Learning', and his competence 'to enter on a course of Academical studies' (DWL, MS CT2, p. 72 (23 Nov. 1790)), but there was no religious test of faith despite William Coward's intention that his benefaction should only favour Calvinists.
The names of 38, possibly 39, students educated at Northampton by Horsey are known, including 1 lay and 6 divinity students who transferred from Daventry. In July 1789 the trustees had decided in future to admit only students for the ministry. Robins thought the decision unwise since it would 'drive the sons of the more respectable Dissenters "to one of the universities or to the Socinian College" [i.e. Hackney New College]' (MS 69.7, 'Brief account', fo. 68r). The number of divinity students though small was greater than the number educated at Daventry by Robins, but there were no lay students to make up the numbers. The largest number was from Devon, Yorkshire, and Wales, but there is no clear regional pattern evident. Students came from Northumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, the Midlands, and Suffolk. There were none from Scotland, and only one from London, Samuel Rickards, the lay student. There are no accounts of student life at the academy. The minutes for a weekly literary club or debating society exist between 1779 and 1798. A number of issues of 'The Academical Repository', a manuscript student magazine, survive for 1792, and for the period 1795 to January 1797.
The majority of Northampton students were to enter the ministry, but only half continued for more than ten years, or indeed were still ministers at the time of their death. Six died young, 2 before they had entered the ministry, another conformed, and there is no record for a further 5 who probably did not become ministers. Ten students were only briefly ministers before pursuing other professional careers. David Davies, after serving for a short time as minister at Sutton-in-Ashfield, attended Glasgow University and received his MD in 1801. He became an accoucheur in London, and from 1827 until his death in 1841 was Professor of Midwifery in the University of London. William Stevenson, father of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, while minister at Dob Lane, Failsworth, was classics tutor at New College, Manchester, 1792-96, but gave up both for a literary and administrative career. Like many ministers George Case supplemented his income by teaching. Charles Darwin attended his school at Shrewsbury between the ages of eight and nine. Teaching was also an obvious alternative to the ministry. John Bickerton Dewhirst was briefly minister at Halifax, but from an aversion to any form of public speaking engaged instead in teaching and writing. He was appointed classics tutor at Aspland's Unitarian academy in Hackney, but died before he could take up the appointment. Changes of heart, or decisions to follow a better remunerated or more congenial career, were not unusual. More surprisingly, in 1812 William Youatt, after a successful ministry at Baffins Lane, Chichester, where he also conducted a school, decided to pursue a new career as a veterinary surgeon. Horsey's most distinguished student was Lant Carpenter, Unitarian minister at Exeter and Bristol, who conducted a celebrated school at which James Martineau and John Bowring among others were educated. Carpenter was only a student for a year before the academy closed, and received most of his education at Glasgow.
In 1791, William Broadbent, tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy since 1784, resigned on his appointment as minister at Warrington. He was not replaced and the work was undertaken by a number of senior students, including Dewhirst, who taught mathematics during his final two years as a student. Lant Carpenter, who entered the academy in 1797, thought the trustees were reluctant to appoint a new mathematics tutor for fear that he would teach the students enough mathematics 'to make school-masters of them', and thus divert them from the ministry (Carpenter, Memoirs, 23). Earlier, in October 1796, when the students had requested help in learning French, they were told the trustees 'cannot consistently with their views make the French Language a part of their Academical Education' (DWL, MS CT2, p. 95 (18 Oct. 1796)), probably for similar reasons. Robert Forsaith, classics tutor since 1788, died suddenly in 1797 during the summer vacation. The consequences proved much more serious than the earlier loss of Broadbent. Horsey urged Dewhirst as a replacement, at least temporarily, but this was rejected. The trustees had someone more obviously orthodox in mind. In August 1797, after receiving apparently satisfactory references from Greville Ewing of Edinburgh, they appointed David Savile as tutor in mathematics as well as classics. Savile, a Scots Presbyterian minister, had graduated from St Andrews in 1791, where he had assisted the professor of mathematics. Horsey thought it impossible for one man to discharge both offices properly. In fact Savile proved incompetent, and soon earned both the contempt and the dislike of his students, particularly for what they saw as his underhand mischief making. By February 1798, the students were moved to petition the trustees for 'their want of the advantages formerly enjoyed for studying various subjects, and acquiring Literary Knowledge' (DWL, MS CT2, p. 102 (20 Feb. 1798)). Their complaints were dismissed, but Horsey told the trustees that 'They are not at all disposed to be mutinous', rather they were concerned about their education. To his embarrassment Horsey felt it necessary to tell the trustees that 'the Qualifications requisite to fill the situation in which Mr Savile is placed, are not possessed by him . . . Nor does he discover any strong symptoms of what is properly called a disposition to study' (DWL, MS NCL/406/1, Horsey to [Paice], 7 Apr. 1798). Even more seriously for Horsey, Savile disrupted his congregation, proving to be an extremely divisive influence.
The students broke up for the summer vacation on 5 June, leaving their books and other possessions behind and fully expecting to resume their studies. On 12 June, in response to the disagreeable reports circulated by Savile, Horsey met the trustees in London, where they held 'the most Unreserved Conversation . . . on the state of the Academy' (MS CT2, p. 104), and agreed to meet again in three days' time. From the notes made by Joseph Paice, the secretary, after the meeting on 12 June, it appears the trustees originally decided, 'with Inexpressible reluctance, to Limit their continuance of the Northampton Academy, to the Finishing the education of the Students there' (DWL, MS NCL/538/20 [14 Jun. 1798]), with the intention of forming a new institution after a suitable interval. Horsey agreed to complete the education of the senior students with the junior students placed elsewhere.
When Horsey met the trustees on 15 June, Paice read a resolution dissolving the academy immediately. Unlike other academies which closed, the academy did not fail because of inadequate financial support, any breakdown in student discipline, or a lack of students. The reasons for the change of heart were not given by the trustees, but they had met Savile the day before, dining with Horsey the same evening. From a letter Horsey wrote to his wife, it appears several hard things were said on both sides, and the trustees seemed to lean in favour of Savile and his claims that the academy had become a hotbed of Socinianism and that not a single student had adopted the principles of the founder, William Coward. The sudden closure of the academy caused a sensation within the dissenting world, not least because of the failure of the trustees to offer any public explanation for their actions. The consequences were particularly serious for rational dissent, as the difficulties the remaining students had in completing their education demonstrates. The only dissenting academy conducted on liberal principles left in England was New College, Manchester, and that academy faced serious financial problems which were only resolved after the move to York in 1803. The closure of the academy at Northampton ended seventy years of ministerial education for liberal dissenters which had begun in 1729 with the opening of Doddridge's academy. A new academy was established at Wymondley by the Coward Trustees in August 1799 and maintained on entirely orthodox principles.
David L. Wykes


Details of the management of the academy at Northampton, including the appointment of tutors, admission of students, financial arrangements, and disciplinary matters are contained in the minutes of the Coward Trust (DWL, MS NCL/CT2). The Northampton Academy collection consists mainly of lecture notes used by Horsey and student exercises (DWL, MS 69.1-30). An account of the origins and dissolution of the academy is provided by the Revd W. A. Jones, Unitarian minister at Northampton, in his 'A brief account of Horsey's coming to the Academy, its removal to Northampton and its dissolution in 1798', drawn up in 1848 from letters in the possession of Horsey's daughter (MS 69.7, fos. 66r-73r), which includes a copy of Horsey's inaugural address to the students at Northampton, 8 January 1790 (fos. 75r-94r).

Published sources

Carpenter, Russell Lant (ed.), Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Lant Carpenter, LL.D., with Selections from his Correspondence (Bristol and London, 1842).
H[awkes], J[ames], 'Rev. John Horsey', Monthly Repository, ns I (1827), 609-10.
'Recollections of Mr Belsham, at Daventry', Christian Reformer, 16 (1830), 97-104.
Thompson, John Handby, A History of the Coward Trust: the First Two Hundred and Fifty Years, 1738-1988 (London, 1998).

David L. Wykes, 'John Horsey's Academy, Northampton (1789-1798)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2012.