New College, Manchester (1786-1803)


Manchester College (1786 to present): 
New College, Manchester (1786-1803), Manchester College, York (1803-1840), Manchester New College, Manchester (1840-1853), Manchester New College, London (1853-1889)

New College, Manchester, was founded in 1786 to replace the academy at Warrington, which was finally dissolved that year. At a meeting of supporters held at Cross Street Chapel on 22 February, chaired by Dr Thomas Percival, it was agreed that an academy should be established in Manchester, free from any religious test, to provide a comprehensive course of study for ministers and a preparatory course for those intended for the other professions and for business. The academy opened in September in rooms at Cross Street chapel until its own buildings in Dawson (later Mosley) Street were completed the following year.

Thomas Barnes and Ralph Harrison, the ministers of Cross Street Chapel, were appointed professors, and during the first year were responsible for all the teaching. According to the published prospectus, Barnes taught two courses, the first covering logic, pneumatology, jurisprudence, and commerce (including commercial law), and the second Hebrew, moral philosophy, evidences of Christianity, ecclesiastical history, and Jewish antiquities. Harrison taught the Latin and Greek classics, and belle lettres, the latter course consisting of the theory of language, oratory, criticism, composition, together with history and geography. No descriptions of their teaching survive. Instruction in French, Italian, drawing, writing, arithmetic, and merchants' accounts was advertised as available from private tutors. The following year Thomas Davies, a former student of Carmarthen, was appointed to teach mathematics and natural philosophy. He was also the resident tutor. Students who wished could also attend lectures at the College of Arts and Sciences given in anatomy, physiology, and midwifery by Charles White, and in chemistry by Thomas Henry, both members of the college committee. The cost was two guineas a course.
In 1789 Harrison resigned on the grounds of ill health, and responsibility for his teaching and the entire conduct of the college fell on Barnes. He appointed an assistant tutor, Lewis Loyd, to teach classics. Davies too resigned in 1789 and was succeeded by Francis Nicholls, who was also resident tutor. It was agreed in September 1790 that his salary should be not less than £80 a year. In October 1792 he was appointed librarian, and paid an additional £20. In December 1792 Loyd was succeeded by William Stevenson, father of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, and Nicholls by the chemist John Dalton. At this time the future philanthropist and reformer Robert Owen often met with Dalton and one of the students, William Winstanley, in their rooms in college. They 'had much and frequent interesting discussions upon religion, morals, and other similar subjects, as well as upon the late discoveries in chemistry and science', until Barnes became alarmed by Owen's free-thinking and stopped the visits (Life of Robert Owen, 36). In 1794 Dalton was teaching natural philosophy and chemistry, mathematics, geometry, algebra, and merchants' accounts, and probably also geography and the use of globes, which were mentioned in the 1798 course outline. According to his lecture notes he used Antoine Lavoisier's Elements of Chemistry and also Jean-Antoine Chaptal's work of the same title.
From Warrington the college received the library, some 3,000 volumes, while New College, Hackney, had the philosophical apparatus. In 1787, following Davies's appointment, the committee decided to purchase Mr Clarke's electrical apparatus. It was agreed to lay out a further £100 to improve the philosophical apparatus in February 1792. The same year the library was insured against fire for £800 and the apparatus for £200. In 1799, following the closure of Hackney, the Manchester committee applied unsuccessfully for the philosophical apparatus originally at Warrington. They applied again in 1812.
Ministerial students were expected to follow a five-year course. By 1789 they also received lectures on scriptural criticism, composition, and elocution. Although the committee made clear that the main object of the institution was to educate students for the ministry, the college during this period made a greater effort to attract lay students than any other dissenting academy. A three-year course was designed for students intending to enter the professions, covering the classics, French, mathematics and natural philosophy, polite literature and grammar, the elements of jurisprudence, with the promise of being constantly exercised in elegant composition and elocution. Those intended for business did not have a set course, but took the subjects they wished. In addition they were offered lectures on history, geography, and the general principles of commerce. All the lay students were promised a short system of logic and moral philosophy, together with a comprehensive view of the evidences of natural religion and Christianity. The fees were three guineas for each course, and £25 a year for boarding, advanced to thirty guineas in October 1795. Each lay student also paid two guineas in entrance money for the library, increased to four in 1795. Divinity students admitted on the foundation were given their board, room, fees, and a sum for books. In September 1790 it was agreed they would receive an allowance of twenty guineas a year, increased to thirty in February 1791.
New College was one of two academies established in 1786 to replace Warrington. The other at Hackney, also called New College, was far better funded, but grossly over-extended itself with a grandiose building project and closed in 1796 heavily in debt. By comparison the college at Manchester only raised a tenth of the amount in benefactions (£860 12s) and a third of the amount of annual subscriptions (£241 12s), with almost no support outside the north of England until after the closure of Hackney. The trustees at Manchester also engaged in an over-ambitious building programme, erecting a common hall to house the lecture room, philosophical equipment, and the library, and two wings, one to accommodate the students and resident tutor, the other the divinity tutor and his family. The cost was over £2,500, excluding what was paid for the land. As a consequence the funds were exhausted within a year, leaving the college greatly burdened by debt. From the outset the level of benefactions and subscriptions promised was inadequate to carry out the ambitious plans. Subscriptions never exceeded £300, and at times were under £200, insufficient to pay even the tutors' salaries. Recurrent financial difficulties not only threatened the survival of the college, but restricted the support available to ministerial students. The college nearly closed as a result of major financial crises in 1792, 1797, and 1800. In December 1792 Barnes offered his resignation and the committee was forced to acknowledge that the funds were inadequate to support the tutors as originally intended. Loyd and Nicholls also resigned, Nicholls because of doubts over the payment of his salary. Barnes was persuaded to continue and to accept responsibility for the general management of the college, including the domestic arrangements. The terms were much less advantageous. Barnes's eventual resignation in Midsummer 1798 created another crisis because of the state of the finances and the difficulty in finding a successor. The first five ministers invited all refused, and George Walker accepted largely because he was persuaded the survival of the institution depended upon it. By 1798 the accumulated annual deficit had exceeded £2,000, but a special subscription amongst the college's supporters paid off most of the debt. Under the new arrangement Walker was no longer paid a fixed salary, receiving instead an allowance of £20 for each divinity student. He was allowed to take as many lay pupils as he wished provided it did not interfere with his work as theological tutor. The new arrangements were unfavourable to Walker. The college was in surplus, but at the expense of Walker, who in 1801 told one parent he would be at least £100 out of pocket that year.
Initially he did have assistance. Charles Sanders, a recent graduate of Queens' College, Cambridge, was appointed classical tutor in June 1798, after Walker had overcome the committee's uncertainty about appointing a clergyman of the Church of England. Sanders resigned after a year and was replaced by William Johns, who had been educated at John Horsey's Academy, Northampton. Dalton continued as tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy. In 1800 both Dalton and Johns resigned following a serious outbreak of student indiscipline. This was not the first occasion: Barnes had been forced to expel three students in 1792, including a divinity student. Much of the difficulty was caused by wealthy lay students having extravagant allowances. Again the critical financial condition of the college forced the committee to suspend the original plan. Dalton and Johns were not replaced. One parent, Samuel Pipe-Wolferstan, a Staffordshire landed gentleman, though he thought the college's finances made its long-term future hopeless, was sufficiently impressed to pay the fees and enter his son Stanley. He remained satisfied with the standard of instruction, but withdrew his son after eighteen months because of concerns over lack of regulation. In February 1794 Dalton could still write that the students were 'of all religious persuasions' (Davis, Manchester College, 64), and up to Barnes's resignation in 1797 the college continued to educate churchmen as well as dissenters. By 1801, Pipe-Wolferstan was told by his friends that most of the students were dissenters. He himself noted that William Robinson was the only other churchman.
Under Barnes the great majority of those educated were lay students. Between 1786 and 1797 only 20 out of 137 students were intended for the ministry, of whom 4 subsequently entered the established church. During this period ministerial students could also attend New College, Hackney, or Horsey's Academy, Northampton. The small number of ministerial students at Manchester is evidence of the college's financial difficulties and the limited funds available to support students on the foundation, though most received a grant from the Presbyterian Fund. Over two-thirds of all the students were intended for business, higher than for any other dissenting academy, and another sixth for the professions. Over a third of the lay students were from Manchester, and nearly three-fifths from Lancashire. There were only five students from the south-east, and none from London, evidence of the competition from Hackney. Six were from Europe, reflecting Manchester's importance as a manufacturing centre, including Hector Mortier, identified by one contemporary with Eduard Mortier, the Napoleonic general. The pattern of attendance and the family backgrounds of the students were very similar to those at the Scottish universities, especially Glasgow, where an open-class system allowed students to attend the lectures they wished on payment of the required fee. By 1794 students at Manchester who lived in college paid forty guineas for board plus tuition (though as Pipe-Wolferstan discovered in 1801 'extras' might be significant), but the costs for out-students were much more modest, with the fees set at twelve guineas. The average age of those students intended for business when they entered the college at this date was fourteen, and more than two-fifths stayed for a year or less. Parents were not seeking a formal education for their sons, but an introduction to a variety of modern and useful subjects in the short interlude between school and work. In contrast students for the professions not only attended the college in general for longer, usually two years, and were on average a year older, but the education they received was of an advantage to their future careers. Only a handful of Barnes's students later distinguished themselves. Benjamin Gaskell was MP for Malden (1806-7 and 1812-26) and John Aston Yates MP for Carlow County (1837-41). Edward Holmes and John Moore, leading medical practitioners in Manchester, both served as President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. William Henry was later a celebrated chemist. None of the ministerial students were noteworthy, except Loyd, and in his case it was in banking not the ministry.
Walker educated a higher proportion of divinity students than Barnes, despite being dependent upon lay students for his main source of income: 11 out of a total of 35 students. By 1798 New College was the only institution in England educating students for liberal dissent in England, following the closure of Horsey's Academy and New College, Hackney. Three of the students transferred to Manchester from the academy at Northampton, but others were deterred by the cost. They were quoted £40 a year for board without tuition. Under Walker the college lost the character of a Scottish university. The lay students were sons of bankers, merchants, and the landed gentry, rather than local businessmen. They included David Gladstone, son of a Liverpool merchant and brother of the future prime minister, and Samuel Hibbert, later Hibbert-Ware, who gained fame as a geologist and antiquarian. The ministerial students were as undistinguished as those under Barnes.
Walker finally resigned in October 1802, prompting a debate over the future of the college. The chairman of the committee, Thomas Percival, favoured annexing the college to the University of Glasgow, while Thomas Belsham proposed that the surviving funds from the academies at Hackney, Manchester, and Exeter should be combined to found a new college at Birmingham. The Manchester committee eventually resolved to continue to use the funds for their original purpose, and rejected Birmingham as unsuitable. Fortunately, through the crucial intervention of William Wood, minister at Leeds, Charles Wellbeloved (who had declined an invitation to succeed Barnes in 1798) was persuaded to accept the committee's invitation to succeed Walker. The college reopened in York where Wellbeloved was minister.
David L. Wykes


The administrative and financial records of New College are held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Details of the management of New College, Manchester, including the appointment of tutors, admission of students, financial arrangements, and disciplinary matters are contained in the minutes of the college (HMCO, MS M.N.C. Misc. 65), the college ledgers (MS M.N.C. Misc. 63 (i)), and student admission register, 1786-1838 (MS M.N.C. Misc. 27). The missing student names for when Walker was theological tutor can be largely supplemented by DWL, MS NCL/L54/2/27 List of students, from c.1798-1800.

Published sources 

Davis, V. D., A History of Manchester College from its Foundation in Manchester to its Establishment in Oxford (London, 1932).
Ditchfield, G. M., 'The Early History of Manchester College', Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 123 (1972), 81-104.
Harrison, Ralph, A Sermon Preached at the Dissenting Chapel in Cross Street, Manchester, March xxvi, MDCCLXXXV1, on Occasion of the Establishment of an Academy in that Town (Warrington [1786]), see appendix: 'A List of Benefactions and Annual Subscriptions'.
Monthly Magazine, 4 (1797), 105-107.
Monthly Review, 80 (1789); 26 (1798).
Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Percival (London, 1807), lxxvii-lxxxii.
Owen, Robert, The Life of Robert Owen. Written by Himself, 2 vols. (London, 1857), I, 35-36.
'Recollections of the Manchester Academy, its Tutors and Students, by the Late John Moore, Esq., FLS.', in Collectanea Relating to Manchester and its Neighbourhood, at Various Periods, ed. John Harland, 2 vols. (Manchester, 1867), II, 237-41.
Roll of Students Entered at the Manchester Academy, 1786-1803; Manchester College York, 1803-1840; Manchester New College, Manchester, 1840-1853; Manchester New College, London, 1853-1867 (Oxford, 1868).
St James's Chronicle, 31 May 1787, 12 Jun. 1788.
Wykes, David L., 'Sons and Subscribers: Lay Support and the College 1786-1840', in Truth, Liberty, Religion: Essays Celebrating Two Hundred Years of Manchester College, ed. Barbara Smith (Oxford, 1986), 31-77.

David L. Wykes, 'New College, Manchester (1786 to 1803)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, October 2013.