Wesleyan Theological Institution: Southern Branch, Richmond (1843-1972)

(Historical account to 1860)
Because of the unsatisfactory nature of the leasehold premises of the Wesleyan Theological Institution at both Hoxton, where the institution opened in 1834, and Stoke Newington, where the auxiliary branch opened in 1839, the Wesleyan Methodist Conference decided to build two appropriate houses, one near London, the other near Manchester, to accommodate the anticipated increase in student numbers. Funding these buildings was the first commitment of the Centenary Fund in 1839, with £24,000 initially allocated to the house near London. Because the committee of management had trouble finding a suitable site near London for the Southern Branch, the Northern Branch in Didsbury opened first in 1842.
Richmond College
The Wesleyan Theological College, Richmond, Surrey [courtesy of Dr Michael Brealey, Wesley College, Bristol]


In 1841 a 'very eligible property' on Richmond Hill, Surrey, was finally purchased and settled on the trustees of the Wesleyan Theological Institution; the negotiations were conducted by the institution's treasurer, Thomas Farmer (Report for 1841 (1842), xvii). The property, totalling about eleven acres, consisted of a substantial mansion, two other houses and two cottages, extensive gardens, and several acres of land. A number of architects were invited to submit plans for the new building, and Andrew Trimen of Regent Street (who published Church and Chapel Architecture in 1849) was chosen; the contractors were Evans and Co. of Oxford. Comparison with ancient collegiate buildings was evidently intended. Trimen's imposing neo-Tudor building of ashlar Bath stone, adjoining the original manor house, was on three floors with a tower and two wings, and with a frontage of 248 feet. The entrance hall, dining hall, and lecture rooms were on the ground floor, the library and studies on the second, and bedrooms for sixty students on the third. The cost of the building was £11,000. The statue of John Wesley in the entrance hall (now in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster) was donated by Farmer in 1848. The house governor and theological tutor lived in the manor house, and the classical tutor in the modified dairy buildings. A new Wesleyan chapel was built in 1850, described by Thomas Jackson in his manuscript 'Recollections': 'Connected with the Theological Institution is a commodious and beautiful chapel, for which we are mainly indebted to the kindness and liberality of Mr Farmer, of Gunnersbury-house' (Methodist Archives and Research Centre, MAW334 MS 154, notebook 16). A new organ was installed in 1859.
On Friday 15 September 1843, after the tutors and students had taken up residence, the Southern Branch of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, Richmond, was formally opened, with about 300 people taking part. Breakfast was followed by hymn-singing and prayers in the large lecture hall, and an address by Jabez Bunting, the institution's president. Bunting insisted that the institution was not a college: 'There were many things implied in what was properly speaking a college which they did not aim to realise in this establishment' (Illustrated London News, 73 (September 23, 1843), 208). This two-edged statement was designed both to reassure those Methodists who still doubted the wisdom of formal training for the preachers, and presumably to disparage the intellectual ambitions of the nonconformist colleges. Bunting went on to claim that the question of a 'Seminary for labourers' which John Wesley had raised at the 1744 Conference (The Methodist Societies, 81) was now providentially realised. Because there were too many present to fit into the existing chapel, the concluding service was held on the lawn.
The general committee of management for the whole Wesleyan Theological Institution included the president Bunting, with no tutorial role, and the tutors, house governors, and treasurers of the two branches. The branches had their own committees of management with their appropriate members. The tutors for the Southern Branch transferred from Abney House to Richmond, and continued with the same course of teaching. Thomas Jackson was theology tutor until 1861; John Farrar was classical tutor until 1857, when he moved to Woodhouse Grove School as governor. He was replaced by Benjamin Hellier, a former student at Richmond who had served as assistant tutor at Didsbury. Farrar from time to time had other assistants, including another former student, John Dury Geden, who became classical tutor at Didsbury in 1856. Hellier's assistant was William Fiddian Moulton, who succeeded him as classical tutor in 1868.
For the first few years the post of house governor, who was responsible for the students' spiritual welfare, was held by three people in quick succession: Philip C. Turner moved from Didsbury to Richmond for the years 1843-4 (the annual reports make no reference to his departure, but he was expelled by the 1846 Conference); no house governor was listed in the report for 1845, but William Wood Stamp held the post for the years 1846-7 and then returned to circuit work; in 1848 Samuel Jackson, Thomas Jackson's brother, was appointed and stayed in post until he retired in 1854. He was followed in 1855 by William Martin Harvard, who had served for many years in Canada and who died in 1857. Hellier, the classical tutor, was acting governor for a year until the appointment of Alfred Barrett, who held the post until 1868. The 1859 report described Barrett as governor and chaplain, but the title chaplain was dropped the following year.
The annual reports up to 1846 included details of the teaching by the theological and classical tutors; in 1847 it was decided that as the course of study was now settled, nothing would be said in detail in the reports about the curriculum. The examiners however continued to provide a good deal of information about the contents of the courses and the level of student attainment. Jackson's course, a continuation of what he had begun at Abney House, was characterised as 'evangelical Arminianism' (Report for 1848 (1848), x; Report for 1849 (1849), vii). In addition to his lectures on the evidences, doctrines, institutions, and duties of Christianity, he taught pastoral theology and ecclesiastical history. Paley's Evidences was used as a textbook. The 1848 examiners reported that their anxiety that teaching so many young men simultaneously 'the same truths' might lessen 'individual peculiarity' was 'completely relieved' (Report for 1848 (1848), xiv). The 1860 divinity examiners lauded the thoroughness of the teaching, 'both in its tendency to impart a correct Theology, and to habituate to a careful study and analysis of the Scriptures themselves' (Report for 1860 (1860), xi).
Farrar, the classical tutor, was responsible as at Abney House for the preparatory course, which from 1844 was taught by the assistant tutor. This consisted of English grammar, geography, history, composition, elocution, arithmetic, and some branches of physical science, progressing to Greek and Latin grammar, the Greek Testament, and Virgil. At the start Farrar taught the other students Latin (Horace and Cicero), Greek (Pauline epistles and parts of the Iliad), and Hebrew (grammar, and part of Genesis); philosophy of mind, including an outline of the history of philosophy; Whately's Logic; and mathematics, including Euclid and algebra. From 1845 he arranged the students in six classes (based on 'previous advantages and attainments', not time spent in the institution; Report for 1845 (1845), x). The advanced students' reading included the entire Psalms in Hebrew, Medea in Greek, and Butler's Analogy. Farrar later included Francis Wayland's Elements of Moral Science in the philosophy course. The 1855 examiners reported with satisfaction on the range of reading in Latin (Livy, Juvenal, Terence, Cicero, Horace, and Virgil), Greek (Aeschylus, Plato, Euripides, Homer, and the Greek New Testament); and Hebrew (Isaiah and the Psalms). However, the range of ability and previous knowledge among the students, and the demands of the literature course in relation to the theological one, were continual problems. The 1845 examiners hoped that the standard of literary qualification required for admission would be raised. In 1847 the examiner in logic and philosophy, Joseph Beaumont MD, observed that 'the Students of this Institution cannot be expected to plunge very deeply into the ocean of philosophical study' (Report for 1847 (1847), xii).
Student numbers at Richmond varied over the years, partly depending on the demands of the circuits for ministers: in 1845 and 1846 there were 40, but the numbers dropped in the 1850s to 35 in 1852, 19 in 1853, and 18 in 1857. In 1858 they went up again, and in 1860 the number was the highest yet, with 60 students admitted. The students, who had to be unmarried, were all on the Connexion's list of reserve, and in principle the length of the course was three years, though not all stayed that long, usually because they were called on for circuit work. The 1845 theology examiners, John Beecham and Robert Young, who had acted for three years and observed the students' development, were confident that the expense incurred in training the students was fully compensated by their proficiency, and urged that there should be few exceptions to the rule that students should stay three years before they entered the work of the ministry. In 1859 four principles underlying the Wesleyan Theological Institution were emphasised: 1) every candidate for the ministry must give evidence beforehand of personal conversion and divine call to the office of preacher; 2) all candidates, for the sake of the Connexion as well as themselves, must with rare exceptions be trained by men appointed for the purpose; 3) this was especially necessary now because of the relations between Methodism and other churches, the prospects of widening influence, and 'the character and tendencies of the age'; and 4) this could only be secured by the system of collective instruction successfully pursued by Methodism for the last twenty-five years. Great regret was expressed that many young men were still drafted into the ministry without the benefits of the institution. The remedy would be to have at least 120 candidates in training in both branches instead of 80 as at present (Report for 1859 (1859), v-vi).
The students were engaged in several evangelising activities outside their academic work, one of the concerns of the Wesleyan Theological Institution being 'To regulate the employments of the persons admitted to instruction, so that the zeal of the evangelist may be preserved from being overlaid by the habits of the Student' (Report for 1845 (1845), [vii]. These involved outdoor preaching and tract distribution in Richmond and the surrounding villages, with the hope that the institution would become the centre of home missionary operations in the locality. It was however acknowledged in 1857 by Harvard, the house governor, that the distance between Richmond hill and Richmond town created problems: 'When the former Chapel was sold in favour of the erection on the hill, another was to have been built for the other side of the town and suburbs; but this we have not been able to accomplish' (Report for 1857 (1857), vi). The following year the sphere of home missionary labours was enlarged, with additional tract districts, a new preaching room opened in the town, and bible classes formed. These activities were not always popular among the inhabitants: Jackson noted in his manuscript 'Recollections' that domestic servants employed by local wealthy families were threatened with dismissal if they continued to attend the chapel attached to the institution.
The increasing running costs of the institution and the difficulty of meeting them was a perennial complaint. The capital costs of the building, paid for by the Centenary Fund, were entirely separate from the running costs, as Bunting pointed out at the formal opening in 1843. For the latter the management committee was dependent on several sources: the Wesleyan Missionary Society (the Society's annual payment for missionary students was always a significant sum, usually over £1000); the Wesleyan Methodist Book Room (initially £1000 p.a., decreasing to £800 in 1849 and £500 in 1852); subscriptions from districts, ministers, and missionaries; and legacies. The Southern Branch at Richmond was considerably more expensive to run than the Northern Branch at Didsbury. There were more students at Richmond, but the cost of rates, provisions, servants, etc. was also higher. In 1845 the total cost of Richmond was £3167 (compared with £2432 at Didsbury); the salaries of the house governor and tutors totalled £555. The total expenses (including general administrative costs) of the Wesleyan Theological Institution that year were £6026. There were some yearly variations, down as well as up, depending on the number of students: £6693 in 1848 (£3617 attributable to Richmond), £6788 in 1849 (£3115 attributable to Richmond), £6401 in 1852 (£2600 attributable to Richmond), £6238 in 1859 (£3225 attributable to Richmond, with salaries now £629). There was anxiety about the level of debt that was carried forward. The main problem was that the amount brought in by subscriptions was too low. The sources were always listed in minute detail, and attempts were repeatedly made to elicit further subscriptions, for example from circuit quarterly meetings and trust funds of chapels. Methodists were regularly berated for not contributing enough to the training of the ministers whose services they enjoyed.
Serious attempts were made to build up the library at Richmond, with regular appeals for donations and lists of donated books published in the reports, as well as details of annual sums spent on books (in the region of £70). In 1849 it was stressed that there 'was still a paucity--both in the Department of Theology and in that of Classics and General Literature--of such Books as are desirable, if not absolutely necessary, for purposes of general consultation and reference' (Report for 1849 (1849), xiv). Important donations included a large number of books which had formed part of John Fletcher's library, donated in 1844 by Mrs Legge, executrix of Mary Tooth of Madeley (Report for 1844 (1844), xxxiv-xxxv). In 1859 Christopher Walton donated his extraordinary biography of William Law to both branches of the institution. In the same year James Heald bought and donated Thomas Jackson's library of 7,510 books, by far the most significant accession. New stalls and book cases were provided to accommodate them. The Richmond library was now 'the completest collection of Protestant Theological Literature in the Connexion', and 'a fit nucleus around which to gather the acquisitions of future years' (Report for 1860 (1860), viii).
The great majority of those trained at Richmond became ministers. The report for 1848 stated that 250 ministers had now passed through the institution (i.e. in all its locations from 1834); that for 1853 stated that over 400 ministers had now been trained. The annual reports up to 1857 provided a full list of students who served as ministers with their dates of admission, their terms of residence, and the stations to which they were appointed at home and overseas; thereafter only their names and dates of admission were given. Of those admitted in 1843, 16 served in Britain and Ireland, and 8 overseas in Africa, India, Australia, and the West Indies; of those admitted in 1850, 24 served in Britain and Ireland, and 6 overseas in Canton, Australia, Canada, Feejee (Fiji), and Tonga. In 1852 several former students, including Josiah Cox, went to join George Piercy, the first Wesleyan Methodist missionary in Canton, southern China. The house governor Harvard, who had served in Ceylon as a young man, was gratified by the missionary spirit he found. The committee warned that in the East 'the Christian Preacher will encounter the opposition of minds subtile and acute, though perverted, and find the need of a logical and thoroughly intellectual discipline' (Report for 1857 (1857), [v]). In 1860 it was noted that more than half the students were now missionary candidates and missionary income bore a proportionately large share of the institution's expenditure. The notable students who served at home include Robert Newton Young, tutor at Headingley and then Handsworth Colleges, and Governor of Handsworth; John Dury Geden, classical tutor at Didsbury and Old Testament scholar; William H. Dallinger FRS, biologist; and Thomas Bowman Stephenson, founder of the Children's Home.
The Wesleyan Methodists took a long time to accept the need for formal ministerial training, and their attitude to higher education differed in important ways from that of their nonconformist contemporaries. The Wesleyan Theological Institution did not train laymen: its students were already on the path to becoming ministers in the Connexion. Whereas London colleges such as Regent's Park College, New College, London, and Manchester New College, London, were associated with London University and encouraged their students to take degrees, it was a long time before Richmond had a university affiliation, and only three students in the period up to 1860 (Stephenson, Emile Cook, and George Terry) and one assistant tutor (Moulton) earned BA degrees, though a number were given honorary degrees in later life. Jackson had pointed out in 1839 that American Methodist colleges were awarding their own degrees (Centenary of Wesleyan Methodism, 239-40), but in 1860 he was still trying to persuade British Methodists that all candidates for the Wesleyan ministry should have the benefit of the institution and that all those admitted should be properly supported and remain for the full three years (Present Demand, 26-7).
In 1863 the Wesleyan Missionary Society bought the Richmond estate from the trustees for £37,500 and endowed it with a further £20,000, and from 1868 to 1885 ran the college for missionary students only. From 1885 the college, although still owned by the Missionary Society, reverted to preparing students for both home and overseas service. In 1902 Richmond became a divinity school of the University of London. At the turn of the century the building was enlarged, with a fourth story added to each wing; in 1932 the former library on the first floor was transformed into a new chapel. During the First World War the premises were used by other organisations, with the students returning to Richmond in 1920. From 1932 (following the union with the various Methodist churches which had split from Wesleyan Methodism in the nineteenth century) the appellation Wesleyan Theological Institution was dropped. During the Second World War the buildings were taken over by London University; the tutors and students returned in 1945-6. In 1972 the Methodist Conference closed the college and sold the buildings and estate. It is currently the Richmond Hill Campus of the American International University in London.
Isabel Rivers



The Methodist Archives and Research Centre at The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester, holds the records of the Wesleyan Theological Institution:
the Wesleyan Theological Institute [sic] collection, including the printed annual reports, and the Richmond College collection. The Richmond College Library collection (MAB R/-) comprises several thousand monographs, bound pamphlets and periodicals covering the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries; it is not currently known how much of Jackson's original library survives.

Published sources

Barber, W. T. A., A Short History of "Richmond" ( [London], 1926) [held by the Richmond Hill Campus of the American International University in London and the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History].
Brash, W. Bardsley, The Story of Our Colleges 1835-1935: A Centenary Record of Ministerial Training in the Methodist Church (London, 1935), chapter 6.
Brown, Kenneth D., 'Nineteenth-Century Methodist Theological College Principals: A Survey', Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, 44 (1984), 93-102.
A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts, presented to the Wesleyan Theological Institution, in the Year MDCCCLIX, by James Heald, Esq. [London, 1859].
Cumbers, Frank H. (ed.), Richmond College, 1843-1943 (London, 1944).
Jackson, Thomas, The Centenary of Wesleyan Methodism. A Brief Sketch of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Wesleyan-Methodist Societies throughout the World (London, 1839), 239-40.
-----, The Present Demand for a Well-Trained Ministry. An Inaugural Address, Delivered on Occasion of the Commencement of the Annual Review of the Wesleyan Theological Institution at Richmond, September 11th, 1860 (London, 1860).
-----, Recollections of My Own Life and Times, ed. B. Frankland (London, 1874; first pub. 1873), 322-9, 403-4.
Johnson, Dale A., The Changing Shape of English Nonconformity, 1825-1925 (New York and Oxford, 1999), chapter 3.
-----, 'The Methodist Quest for an Educated Ministry', Church History, 51: 3 (1982), 304-320.
The Methodist Societies: The Minutes of Conference, ed. Henry Rack, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 10 (Nashville, TN, 2011), 81.
Nicholls, Michael Kenneth, 'Ministerial Training in London, 1830-1890: A Comparative Study', unpublished MPhil thesis, University of London (1990).
'Opening of the Southern Branch of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, Richmond', Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 22 (October 1843), 853-4.
'Opening of the Wesleyan Theological Institution, at Richmond', Illustrated London News, 73 (September 23, 1843), 208.
Pritchard, F. C., 'Education', in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, ed. Rupert Davies, A. Raymond George, and Gordon Rupp, vol. 3 (London, 1983).
Reports of the Wesleyan Theological Institution (1841-1860).
Senior, Geoffrey R., 'Piercy, George', Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland, ed. John A. Vickers (Peterborough, 2000); online edn: www.wesleyhistoricalsociety.org.uk/dmbi.

Isabel Rivers, 'Wesleyan Theological Institution: Southern Branch, Richmond (1843-1972)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, September 2012.