Manchester New College, Manchester (1840-1853)


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)

The college returned to Manchester after thirty-seven years at York, and was renamed Manchester New College to mark a number of major changes. The decision was taken to expand and restructure the work of the college by offering a theological education for the Unitarian ministry entirely separate from a general, non-sectarian university education, which it was thought would appeal to students and parents more widely. Additional teaching posts were created, and to mark the ideal they were supposed to represent, the appointments were announced as professorships. At the same time the college obtained the privilege of matriculating and graduating its students at London University. In July 1839, G. W. Wood, the college treasurer and MP for Kendal, approached Lord John Russell on the question of incorporation. Having satisfied the authorities on the standard of education, the petition was granted by the Privy Council and the royal warrant signed on 28 February 1840, allowing the college to enter students for degrees in law, medicine, and the arts at London University. The teaching of the literary and scientific course was arranged to enable students to prepare for matriculation at London University in their first year, and for graduation over the following two years.

Whereas at York the literary and scientific subjects had been taught by two tutors, at Manchester the course, consisting of three sessions of nine months, was taught by five professors and greatly enlarged. Francis Newman, brother of the future cardinal and a former fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, taught Latin and Greek, and English grammar and composition; John Kenrick, the former classics tutor travelled from York, to teach ancient and modern history and the history of literature; James Martineau, minister of Hope Street Chapel, Liverpool, lectured every Wednesday on mental and moral philosophy and political economy; Robert Finlay, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, taught mathematics; and Montague Phillips, who had taught at the Liverpool Mechanics Institute school, lectured on physical science and natural history. The college also employed its first permanent teachers in modern languages: Francis Eugene Vembergue was appointed lecturer in French language and literature in 1840, and the following year, because of the requirements of the university syllabus, Ludwig Bernstein of the University of Berlin was appointed lecturer in German. The same year Edward Stang was appointed professor of civil engineering for three years, funded by the liberality of James Heywood, but the experiment only lasted a year. The professors delivered a series of inaugural lectures, subsequently published as Introductory Discourses (1841), in which they set out their courses in detail. In 1843 science was dropped from the arts syllabus by the university after complaints that it was discouraging many students. As a consequence the teaching of physical science was given up by the college, with the mathematics professor giving instruction in those branches of natural philosophy still required. Lay students were charged £21 a session for each course.
The five-year divinity course followed the earlier pattern, with the first three years largely taken with the literary and scientific course to enable students to take the Bachelor of Arts degree if they wished. At York Wellbeloved had taught the whole of the theology course. After 1840 it was divided between three professors. Robert Wallace as professor of theology undertook the major part of the work, teaching critical and exegetical theology, the evidences of natural and revealed religion, and the geography and archaeology of the Holy Land. He was assisted by John Gooch Robberds, minister of Cross Street Chapel, who was professor of pastoral theology and also professor of Hebrew, and John James Tayler, minister of Upper Brook Street Chapel, who was professor of ecclesiastical history. As Unitarians they avoided teaching any particular doctrine. In his inaugural lecture Wallace wrote 'I shall regard it as my sacred duty . . . not to inculcate any formal scheme of doctrine; but simply to conduct my classes through a critical investigation of the Bible, and to supply them with the means of ascertaining for themselves what it teaches' (Introductory Discourses: Theological Department, 21). In 1847 the professors recommended that the divinity course should be extended to six years as the demands of the university course had reduced the time the students could spend on theology while studying for their undergraduate degrees.
The college was accommodated in a large house in Grosvenor Square at a rent of £150 a year. The library of 8,000 volumes was housed in two rooms on the ground floor, and the common hall on the first floor. A former student and assistant at York, John Howard Ryland, re-shelved all the books and updated the catalogues, managing the library until 1844. The loan registers reveal that only a fraction of the books were borrowed, and unsurprisingly they were the most up-to-date titles. There were also rooms for the professors and for teaching. Those students who did not live at home boarded together in lodgings in the neighbourhood. In 1846 the college committee stated that the cost of lodging for lay students ought not to exceed £35 to £40 a year. Following his appointment that year G. V. Smith agreed to take lay students as lodgers. Those students who transferred from York clearly missed the companionship of living together in the same building, but contemporary student accounts make clear the kindness and hospitality of the tutors, their wives, including the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, and of the Unitarian families living in the neighbourhood of the college. The students, for example, met regularly at Robberds’s house to read and discuss Shakespeare.
There had been doubts whether it would be possible at Manchester to fill all the required teaching posts, but the more serious challenge was the cost of supporting the much larger teaching body. The appointments were initially guaranteed for five years, though not without considerable reservations from the treasurer. Many subscribers did maintain their support after 1845, but subscriptions were already declining. As a result of a special appeal, £1,407 14s was raised in personal subscriptions in 1840-41 (twice the figure for the last year at York), but this had declined to £1,197 19s. 6d. by 1844-45. Personal subscriptions actually fell every year after 1841, and in 1853, the last year the college was in Manchester, only £630 10s 6d was collected. Fortunately rents from the college property for the same year totalled £1,569. In March 1845 the committee admitted the college had not 'attained that extended degree of success which was hoped for' when the enlarged scheme had been agreed (The Report of Manchester New College at the Fifty-Ninth Annual Meeting (1845), 5). Faced with the need to lower costs they decided to reduce salaries rather than the number of professors. Expenditure was still substantial. Salaries for the theology department totalled £500 in 1841-42, though after 1845 they fell to £400 a year. The amount spent on salaries for the literary and scientific department was always higher, reaching £870 in 1841-42 after all the professors had been appointed, and falling to between £650 and £700 a year following retrenchment.
Robberds retired in 1845 as professor of Hebrew, but agreed to continue to teach pastoral care. The following year Wallace resigned, probably because of the reduction in salaries. The same year Newman was appointed to the chair of classics at University College, London, and Kenrick retired from teaching, but succeeded Wallace as principal. George Vance Smith, a former student at York, became professor of theology and Hebrew languages, and vice-principal of the theology department. Kenrick's teaching was redistributed. Eddowes Bowman, who had been educated at Glasgow and Berlin, was appointed professor of Greek and Latin classics, and took over Kenrick's teaching of Greek and Roman history. William Gaskell, another former York student, and minister of Cross Street Chapel, was appointed to a new chair in English history and literature to replace Kenrick. Bernstein also left in 1846, but was not replaced. Kenrick finally retired in 1850 and was succeeded by Smith as Principal. Vembergue left the same year and was not replaced. The original ambitious plan of 11 professors had been reduced to 8 by 1846, and to 6 by 1853.
The college was to attain considerable academic success. By 1844 13 students had matriculated, 11 in the first division, and another 14 had graduated, 10 in the first division, 2 of whom, G. V. Smith and Philip Carpenter, passed the theology exam with distinction and received a premium of books. This success continued despite the reduction in teaching staff. Between 1847 and 1852, 10 students matriculated in the first class, and 24 had graduated, 18 in the first class. They also distinguished themselves in the examinations for honours. In 1845 three students from the college, and a fourth from Carmarthen College, were awarded honours in classics, compared with only two from University College, and none from King’s or any of the other dissenting colleges. Two of the three, Charles Beard and J. H. Tayler, were placed second and third in classics, and the third, Samuel Roberts, also obtained honours in mathematics and natural philosophy, where he was placed second.
Despite these successes, the creation of a university college offering a broad liberal education proved a failure. Only twenty-nine lay students were enrolled during the thirteen years the college was in Manchester, though there were also occasional students who were not registered. The college failed because, despite every effort, it was seen as a Unitarian institution, and therefore treated with fear and suspicion by the orthodox. The committee and trustees came to recognise that the college could only continue as a school of theology. As a consequence there were renewed calls to move to London, reignited by the invitation in 1847 from the promoters of University Hall in Gordon Square. The latter had been established by Unitarians as a hall of residence with the intention of providing lectures in theology, mental and moral philosophy, subjects not taught by University College. The invitation was rejected, despite support from many trustees. John Owens’s bequest for the foundation of a college offered a possible alternative in Manchester, though Owens College did not open till 1851.
The lay students were almost exclusively from Manchester and its neighbourhood and from elsewhere in Lancashire. Only one student was from London, a major source of lay students at York (perhaps evidence of the competition from University College). For those training for the Unitarian ministry there was no alternative in England, so the pattern for the ministerial students was almost the reverse: only one student was from Manchester, and two more from Lancashire, pointing to the failure of the college to recruit ministerial students from the heartland of Unitarianism. The rest were mainly from the Midlands and southern England, with two from Ireland.
The students at York, though largely from manufacturing families, had increasingly followed professional careers. At Manchester as many were involved in manufacturing, industry and commerce as the professions. They included Alexander Brogden, a railway contractor and quarry owner, who was MP for Wednesbury (1868-85); Swinton Henry Boult, founder of the Liverpool Fire and Life Insurance Company; and Russell Scott Taylor, joint proprietor of the Manchester Guardian with his younger brother, John Edward Taylor, who had attended the lectures of Martineau and Gaskell as an occasional student.
Charles Beard was the outstanding minister of his generation trained at the college: minister of Renshaw Street chapel, Liverpool, he was active in public and political life. Other leading ministers included Henry Crosskey, minister of New Meeting, Birmingham; Brooke Herford, with ministries at Chicago, Boston, and Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead; and Samuel Alfred Steinthal at Cross Street, Manchester. A number of students failed to enter the ministry. Richard Holt Hutton left the college after a year, briefly serving as principal of University Hall, and was later editor of The Inquirer and the Spectator; Frank Harrison Hill was editor of the Daily News; Henry Acton was a leader writer for the Guardian; and Theophilus Davies gained a position at the Daily News.
The college had failed in its primary object to supply Unitarian congregations with ministers. During the thirteen years at Manchester, only 31 students entered to train for the ministry. Another 7 transferred from York. The problem was more severe than this suggests. Five students did not finish the course (3 died), 4 did not settle in the ministry, and a further 3 left within ten years, usually for teaching. The committee was slow to realise the extent of the problem. Not until 1850 did they express concern about the number of students being insufficient to answer congregational needs, a concern that was repeated over the next two years. In June 1851 the British & Foreign Unitarian Association passed a resolution about 'the urgent want of able and approved Preachers and Pastors to supply pulpits already vacant, or about to become vacant' (The Twenty-Sixth Report of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association, 17). By the time the college left Manchester over thirty pulpits were said to be vacant, and as a consequence many of the chapels were shut. The college was also criticised for failing to address the needs of the poorer congregations. The Unitarian Home Missionary Board was established at Manchester in 1854 in part to address these needs.
Although the independent existence of the college was clearly no longer viable, the trustees were unable to agree on the alternative. In June 1850 a special committee was asked to investigate a connection with Owens College, upon which the hopes of those who wanted the college to remain in Manchester rested, but the new institution had only just commenced its first session. In December 1851 another committee was appointed. It reported the following December in favour of a move to London, recommending that the college should commence the next session. A special general meeting was held on 8 December 1852. After a lengthy debate a resolution was passed by thirty-six votes, with four against, in favour of London. Satisfactory arrangements were made to house the college library and to give the lectures at University Hall while maintaining the independence of both institutions. A final obstacle, the commencement of a suit in Chancery by W. R. Wood, the former treasurer, against the use of the college endowment in any location but Manchester, was overcome as a result of a judicial review.

David L. Wykes


The administration and finance records for Manchester New College, Manchester, 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. 71-74).
The following library loan registers held at Harris Manchester College have been entered into Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System:
Loan registers, 1813-1860 (Misc 25.xiii-xvi).

Published sources

Armstrong, Richard Acland and MacCarthy, E. F. M., Henry William Crosskey, LL.D., F.G.S. His Life and Work (Birmingham, 1895).
Bowman, Eddowes, Some Remarks on the Proposed Removal of Manchester New College and its Connection with University College, London (London, 1848).
Carpenter, Russell Lant, Memoirs of the Life and Work of Philip Pearsall Carpenter, B.A., London, Ph.D., New York: Chiefly Derived from His Letters (London, 1879).
Christian Reformer, 7-11, ns 1-8 (1840-1853).
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).
Introductory Discourses Delivered in Manchester New College, at the Opening of the Session of 1840: Literary and Scientific (London, 1841).
Introductory Discourses: Theological Department (London, 1841).
McLachlan, Herbert, Records of a Family, 1800-1933: Pioneers in Education, Social Service and Liberal Religion (Manchester, 1935).
Report of the Committee of Inquiry: Appointed 1848, to Consider the Plans of University Hall, University College, London, and Owens College, Manchester, with Reference to the Interests of Manchester New College, Presented to the Trustees of Manchester New College ([Manchester], 1848).
Report of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association with the Proceedings of the [Twenty-Sixth] Annual General Meeting (London, 1851).
Report of the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Trustees of Manchester New College (1840-1853).
Reports Prepared for the Special Committee appointed by the Trustees of Manchester New College, to Consider the General Position of the College ([Manchester], 1852).

David L. Wykes, 'Manchester New College, Manchester (1840 to 1853)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, November 2013.