Manchester College, York (1803-1840)

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)

In 1803, following the resignation of George Walker as theological tutor, the college moved to York where Charles Wellbeloved was minister, otherwise the college would probably have closed. It opened in September in Wellbeloved's house with four lay and four divinity students, together with three boys left from the school he had conducted since 1793. The school room became the library and a new lecture room was built for the students. Attempts to recruit Lant Carpenter to assist him failed, so Wellbeloved was forced to teach the whole course himself until February 1804, when Hugh Kerr, a recent graduate of Glasgow, was appointed to teach classics and mathematics. Wellbeloved was giving four or five lectures a day, and as a consequence was seriously ill in April 1807. In response to his request for a third tutor the committee concluded that the funds were insufficient. There were even doubts about replacing Kerr when he resigned in May 1807, though Theophilus Browne, a former fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, who had become a Unitarian, was appointed.
During the early years at York the chronic financial difficulties persisted, but in October 1808 the committee resolved to establish an endowment fund. With the appointment of George William Wood as treasurer a greater effort was made to increase support. When Browne resigned in 1809, the committee agreed to appoint two assistant tutors on a salary of £80 a year, though the funds were 'scarcely adequate to the liberal support of three tutors' (HMCO, MS M.N.C. Misc. 65, p. 167). Wellbeloved was paid £120 a year. William Turner Jr, a former student and son of the college visitor, was appointed tutor in mathematics and natural philosophy, and John Kenrick, son of Timothy Kenrick of Exeter, took up his appointment as tutor in classics and history in 1810 after he had graduated from Glasgow. Kenrick was an outstanding scholar and teacher, greatly admired for his translations, and gave life to his subject by his use of historical evidence. He studied in Germany in 1819-20. In his absence his lectures were given by John James Tayler. Kenrick, through his students and writings, helped introduce the main nineteenth-century advances in German historical criticism and philology to England. Turner, whose main interests were in natural philosophy, was succeeded in 1827 by William Hincks, son of the Unitarian minister of Cork. At least one student raised questions about Hincks's mathematical knowledge. He was subsequently professor of natural history at Queen's College, Cork, and at Toronto. In 1840 J. J. Tayler wrote that Hincks, 'notwithstanding his many talents & virtues', had been 'unsuccessful as a tutor' [HMCO, MS Lant Carpenter 2, fo. 256].
Increasing support for the college both in the number of students and subscribers helped transform the financial situation. With the assistance of the Lady Hewley Fund a ninth divinity student was taken on the foundation in 1809. There were 13 divinity and lay students in 1806, 19 in 1809, and 25 in 1812. Problems in accommodating the students in suitable lodgings, together with concerns over discipline, led the committee in 1812 to purchase a row of houses set around a large court in Monkgate (almost opposite Wellbeloved's house) for £3,140; this was sufficient to accommodate thirty to forty students with land for further building. It was agreed to raise £2,500 in loans from supporters, but many either generously gave the sum as a gift or refused to receive any interest. A new lecture hall and teaching rooms were added in 1819.
In the year the college moved to York only £148 was collected in personal subscriptions. Within two years they had increased to £187, and in 1806-7, the year before Wood became treasurer, to just over £200. By 1810-11 subscriptions were nearly £500, reaching almost £700 by 1816-17. The improvement in subscriptions, in which the deputy treasurers played a key role, was the direct result of extending the areas of support, in particular to London. In 1805-6 Manchester contributed 92 guineas out of a total of 170 (more than half) compared with only 6 guineas from London. By 1816-17 Manchester was still the largest centre of support, though now only accounting for a fifth of the total, with the south of England providing a quarter of all subscriptions. London rivalled Liverpool as the second most important source of subscriptions after Manchester, and London was second only to Manchester in the number of lay students sent to York. In geographical terms the main support for the college was to be found in London and the principal manufacturing towns in Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and the Midlands, which were also the main centres for early nineteenth-century Unitarianism. The college depended upon a small group of very wealthy benefactors and a larger group of wealthy subscribers. Congregational collections, despite the efforts of the committee, were never as important, only amounting to about a seventh of the total raised in individual subscriptions.
Expenditure also grew, resulting in a deficit. By 1822-23 the situation was so serious the committee decided to reduce the number of divinity students they supported from 17 to 12, by the expedient of one admission for every two removals. Another measure adopted later involved awarding half exhibitions until a full one became available. Efforts were made to reduce the accumulated deficit by increasing personal subscriptions, which reached £773 9s 6d in 1824-25. Thereafter the level of subscriptions declined steadily, until in 1832 the situation had become so serious the committee was forced to suspend the admission of any new divinity students. Again efforts to increase subscriptions were rewarded, and two years later they reached the highest total for the whole York period, nearly £800, after an additional £100 was raised by the deputy treasurers in Manchester, Bristol, and Dukinfield, mainly from new subscribers. Congregational collections also improved. This level was maintained for the next two years, but thereafter declined until the college returned to Manchester in 1840.
The Presbyterian Fund had been a major source of grants at Manchester, but in 1806 the managers decided to devote the whole of their limited resources to Carmarthen Academy. The Lady Hewley Trust provided five or six £20 exhibitions a year, but they ceased in 1830 as a result of the legal challenge to the Unitarian trustees. Individual students were helped by a variety of local and private sources, including wealthy benefactors, groups of friends, and charities associated with particular congregations. Every student for the ministry had to be at least 16 years old and to provide references from three neighbouring ministers as to his character and abilities. To be admitted on the foundation he had to be able to read Homer and Horace, and in arithmetic to be able to manage vulgar and decimal fractions. Although the college was open to all irrespective of their religious beliefs, in reality because the tutors and leading supporters were known to be Unitarians so were all but a handful of students. When a Jewish student applied in 1812 Wellbeloved was concerned that he might feel out of place. He had similar doubts about a Baptist student the following year.
The library with about 3,000 titles was transferred to York with the college. Details of the books are provided by an author catalogue and shelf-list dating from the late 1820s, by which time the number of titles had increased to about 4,000, and evidence of their use is given by an extensive set of loan registers from 1803 to 1881. The majority of the books dated from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Only a small proportion of the collection was borrowed, suggesting that much of the collection was out of date. In 1814 the college committee obtained the loan of the Exeter Academy library of about 2,000 titles, though this also appears to have been an historic collection with few books borrowed.
The plan of studies consisted of a five-year divinity course, of which the first three were also designed to provide wealthy lay students with an education similar to that offered by Oxford and Cambridge. Kenrick taught the Greek and Roman classics, and English and Latin composition, as well as ancient history in the first year, modern history in the second (including the history and principles of the English constitution), and belles lettres in the third. The whole of the Cambridge University course in mathematics and natural philosophy, covering mechanics, hydrostatics, optics, and astronomy, was taught by Turner over three years, beginning with algebra, plane trigonometry and the first six books of Euclid in the first year; continuing with the eleventh and twelfth books of Euclid, the geometry of solids, conic sections, spherical trigonometry, and calculus in the second; and differential calculus and more advanced forms of mathematics in the third, concluding with Newton's Principia. Mechanics and chemistry were taught in the second and third years. Turner also gave lectures in logic and mental philosophy in the second year, and a course of reading in ethics, jurisprudence, and political economy in the third. The college had its own extensive collection of scientific apparatus for experimental work. Modern languages did not form part of the college course, but instruction was available locally in French and Italian. The appointment of the Lombard exile, Count Giuseppe Pecchio, as tutor in modern languages in 1826 was partly because of the dissatisfaction over the standard of teaching provided locally.
Ministerial students began studying Hebrew in their first year, but they did not begin their theology course until the fourth year, when Wellbeloved gave lectures on the evidences of natural and revealed religion, on the principles of biblical criticism, and ecclesiastical history, and read over the whole of the Old and New Testaments with the students, encouraging them 'each for himself, to form his own views of the important Doctrines of Revelation' (Report of the Manchester New College, August 31, 1810). They had lectures on pastoral duties and sermon composition. They also began to learn Chaldee and Syriac. John James Tayler told his cousin in 1814 that 'the great fault here, as in most other Dissenting Colleges, seems to be, that they break the strength of the faculties, by distributing it amidst too great a variety of objects' (DWL, MS 24.102 (1), Tayler to Wager Tayler, 5 Nov. 1814). The college visitor on a number of occasions expressed concern that the students were overtaxing themselves by excessive study.
The emphasis upon a demanding and comprehensive course of studies was felt by critics to be at the expense of the practical skills needed. Students did not begin to preach in public until their fourth year. The criticism involved deeper issues, signalling the divisions within Unitarianism between those wealthy urban congregations who wanted a learned ministry and poorer congregations who wanted a minister with a popular preaching style. Much was made by critics of the poor standard of delivery, the deficiencies in student elocution, and the apparent neglect of free prayer and extempore preaching at York. The particular style of preaching was sarcastically termed 'the York tone' (Monthly Repository, 18 (1823), 417), and the students, with little experience of preaching to large congregations, were widely held to speak 'too low' (DWL, MS 24.107 (6), Thomas Belsham to Kenrick, 8 Jan. 1817). It was largely in response to the lack of opportunities for practical preaching that the divinity students established the Village Missionary Society in 1823. Their efforts saw a number of Unitarian congregations established in the villages between York and Selby, with a chapel built at Welburn designed by James Martineau, but they fell away after the college left York. Although professional instructors were employed and the students were encouraged to practise in public, the complaints about the poor standard of elocution persisted.
As theological tutor Wellbeloved scrupulously avoided teaching any particular doctrine, or indeed expressing his own opinions. The purpose of the college was to support an impartial enquiry after truth and to encourage students to develop their own judgements freely. Wellbeloved's unwillingness to teach Unitarian doctrines and his failure to proclaim his Unitarianism openly were to create serious difficulties. The refusal to describe the college as Unitarian, though the tutors and leading supporters were known to hold such opinions, was seen by many Unitarians as disingenuous and by orthodox critics as fraudulent or worse.
After the building in Monkgate was acquired, the students lived in rooms over the lecture hall and class rooms. Prayers were read daily at 8am and 9pm by both lay and ministerial students, and everyone had to attend the Sunday service at St Saviourgate Chapel. Breakfast, lunch, and supper were provided in the dining room of the resident tutor, but they had tea in their own rooms, usually with two or three other students. The grassy area behind the Monkgate building was used by students to exercise and play games. Boating in summer and skating in winter on the Ouse and walking were favourite pastimes. Cricket was introduced in 1827. There were various student debating and literary societies. Minutes for a Shakespeare Club are available from 1825, for a society for mutual improvement in science and general literature from 1830, and a debating society from 1833. The students had their own manuscript magazine, The College Repository or 'Poz', begun in 1815 and continued after the college moved to London in 1853.
The college upheld the tradition of a scholarly ministry for Unitarians, and educated their ministerial and in many cases their lay leaders. The outstanding individual was James Martineau, the dominant figure in nineteenth-century British Unitarianism and a major scholar in his own right. Both John James Tayler and George Vance Smith were leading New Testament scholars. Amongst the foremost Unitarian ministers educated at York were John Gooch Robberds and William Gaskell, ministers at Cross Street, Manchester, Edward Tagart, minister of Little Portland Street, London, Thomas Madge, minister of Essex Street, London, Robert Brook Aspland, minister at Hackney, and John Relly Beard, minister at Salford, and with Gaskell founder of the Unitarian Home Missionary Board, which trained Unitarian ministers from 1854. Martineau, Tayler, Smith, and Gaskell all subsequently taught at Manchester New College. Despite these achievements the college did not answer denominational needs, particularly of the poorer congregations. Only a third of those active in the Unitarian ministry in 1835 had been educated at Manchester College. At a time when Congregationalists were preparing large numbers of students to evangelise and establish new congregations, Unitarians were not even supplying their existing ones.
Although a majority of the lay students were from industrial and business backgrounds, including the sons of some of the great industrial leaders of the period, slightly more students followed a professional career, generally law. James Carter, whose family made their wealth from brewing and distilling in Portsmouth, became Chief Justice of New Brunswick. A significant number of divinity students failed to enter the ministry or did so only for a few years. Some of those who turned to the law were particularly successful. John Smale had a career in the colonial legal service and became Chief Justice of Hong Kong. Three lay students were later MPs: Mark Philips and his brother Robert Needham Philips, and Edward Strutt, who after a notable political career was created Baron Belper in 1856.
The college answered the dilemma for wealthy Unitarians of how to educate their sons without endangering their family's religious attachment, but unsurprisingly the number was small. In nearly four decades the college only educated 112 laymen. The appeal was limited to wealthy parents who were Unitarians or sympathetic to Unitarianism. At least half the lay students were related to other students or to one of the tutors, illustrating how few families sent their sons to York. Half had entered by 1817 and more than three-quarters by 1824. In 1829 Hincks as resident tutor complained that the number of students was only half what the rooms would accommodate, but rent, taxes, and servants were the same whatever the number. He still owed Turner, his predecessor, £320 and a year's interest for the fittings and fixtures. The lack of lay students during the 1830s was a major factor in the decision to relocate the college: their fees were an important source of income, particularly as they formed part of the tutor's remuneration.

By 1839 the removal of the college from York had been under consideration for some years. The annual report in 1836 referred to 'the desirableness of an important change in the situation and arrangement of the College' (Report of Manchester College, York (1836), 4). Due to illness Kenrick did not teach at York after 1837. Hincks resigned in 1839, by which date Wellbeloved was over 70 and anxious to be relieved of his responsibilities. At York the whole of the literary, philosophical, and scientific teaching necessary for a general university education was undertaken by two tutors, leaving the theology course, including the teaching of Hebrew and the other biblical languages, to the third tutor. There was also a belief that the college had suffered from being located so far from the main areas of support. The debate centred on whether to return to Manchester, or to move to London where the students could take advantage of the general education offered by London University with the college only teaching theology. The decision in favour of Manchester was taken at a special meeting of trustees in December 1839 by 17 votes to 15, with a further 22 letters in support of Manchester and 12 for London. The college buildings in Monkgate were purchased by the York Diocesan Society to use as a teachers' training college for £1,800.

 David L. Wykes


The administration and finance records for Manchester College, York, are held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. Details of the management of the academy, including the appointment of tutors, admission of students, financial arrangements, and disciplinary matters, are contained in the college minutes (HMCO, MS M.N.C. Misc. 65-72). The treasurer's correspondence provides detailed information about the management of the college and its finances (HMCO, MS Wood 1-47).

The following library catalogue and loan registers held at Harris Manchester College have been entered into Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System:
Shelf list and author catalogue, c.1830 (Misc 25.vii and viii). Barcode prefix in VLS: man1830
Loan registers, 1813-1860 (Misc 25.xiii-xvi).

Published sources

Cappe, Catherine, Memoirs of the Late Mrs Catherine Cappe, Written by Herself (London, 1821).
Christian Reformer, 1-19, ns 1-7 (1815-40).
Davis, V. D., A History of Manchester College: From Its Foundation in Manchester to Its Establishment in Oxford (London, 1932).
Drummond, James, and Upton, Charles Barnes, The Life and Letters of James Martineau, 2 vols (London, 1902).
Kennedy, Alison, W. T., 'John Kenrick and the Transformation of Unitarian Thought', unpublished PhD thesis, Stirling University (2006).
Kenrick, John, A Biographical Memoir of the Late Charles Wellbeloved (London, 1860).
Monthly Repository, 1-21, ns 1-9 (1806-35).
Paget, Alfred, 'Young Mr Martineau', Hibbert Journal, 63 (1965), 101-105.
Report of the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Trustees of Manchester New College (1810-1840).
Seed, John, 'Manchester College, York: An Early Nineteenth Century Dissenting Academy', Journal of Educational Administration and History, 14 (1982), 9-17.
Webb, R. K., 'Views of Unitarianism from Halley's Comet', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 18 (1986), 180-95.
Wykes, David L., 'Dissenting Academy or Unitarian Seminary? Manchester College at York (1803-1840)', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 19 (1988), 102-12.
-----, 'Manchester College at York (1803-1840): Its Intellectual and Cultural Contribution', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 63 (1991), 207-18.
-----, '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.
-----, 'The Education of English Unitarian Ministers in the Early Nineteenth Century: Did Manchester College Meet Denominational Needs?', in Regaining Historical Consciousness: Proceedings of the Earl Morse Wilbur History Colloquium, ed. W. R. Ross (Berkeley, CA, 1994), 42-51.

David L. Wykes, 'Manchester College, York (1803 to 1840)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, October 2013.