Manchester New College, London (1853-1889)

(Historical account to 1860) 


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 June 1853 the college gave up teaching for the University of London arts degree, and the trustees transferred the college and the ministerial students from Manchester to London with the intention of creating 'a Theological Institution in connection, for Literary and Scientific purposes, with University College' (HMCO, MS M.N.C. Misc. 74, p. 126). For the first time since the college was founded in 1786 the education of lay students was no longer part of its work.

Arrangements were made to give the theological lectures and to house the college library in University Hall, Gordon Square. University Hall had been built to commemorate the passing of the 1844 Dissenters' Chapels Act with the aim of providing the sons of non-subscribing Protestant dissenters (principally Unitarians) with the opportunity of attending University College. It had three main objectives: to provide a building with lecture rooms, a common room, library, and a resident principal; to offer accommodation for students; and to give private instruction in theology, mental and moral philosophy, and other subjects either not taught or not fully taught at University College. The hall was built on the west side of Gordon Square, backing on to University College, at a cost of £10,000. Completed in 1849, it struggled to fulfil its purpose, in part because the founders had failed to agree clearly on the aims of the institution. Some had wanted it openly associated with Unitarians, others feared that would distance it from University College. Nor did the awkward rivalry with Manchester New College before 1853, with both institutions competing for lay students and funds, make for easy relations when they came to share the building. Yet it was feared neither could survive without the other.
The principal of Manchester College, J. J. Tayler, explained the relationship between the college and University Hall in his inaugural address: 'University Hall is the link which connects Manchester New College as a Theological Institute, with University College as a seat of Secular learning' (Tayler, Inaugural Address, 5). Manchester College and University Hall, however, 'though connected & associated were nonetheless distinct' (HMCO, MS M.N.C. Misc. 74, inserted after p. 228). The two institutions shared the building, but had their own students, principals, and lectures. There was subsequently some sharing of tutors and it was intended that the students should socialize together. The council of University Hall was in favour of amalgamation under a new constitution with the assignment of the lease of the hall to a new united society, but the college committee preferred to remain independent and enter the hall as a tenant.
During the first three years the ministerial students on the Manchester College foundation studied Latin, Greek, mathematics, and natural philosophy at University College with the intention of taking the University of London BA degree. During their undergraduate course the students were examined at the end of each session by Manchester College to test their competence, and they were subject to the authority of the principal. They then studied theology and other subjects in preparation for the ministry for a further three years at Manchester College. The college had two professors. J. J. Tayler taught ecclesiastical history and doctrinal and practical theology, including Christian ethics, and G. V. Smith taught critical and exegetical theology, the evidences of natural and revealed religion, and the Hebrew languages. The college professors avoided teaching any particular doctrine, encouraging instead a critical investigation of the Bible. It was the distinctive feature of their teaching, Tayler wrote, 'to repudiate the authority of all ecclesiastical creeds, to seek for Christianity in the Scriptures alone, and to submit those Scriptures to the unfettered scrutiny of the inquiring mind' (Tayler, Inaugural Address, 10). Smith also conducted a class on English composition at the request of the committee.
The special committee appointed to oversee the move to London also urged the appointment of a professor of intellectual and ethical philosophy, but warned that the trustees would need to raise a further £350 a year for the salary. John Hamilton Thom, one of the Unitarian ministers at Liverpool, failed in his attempt to have his colleague James Martineau appointed; many trustees were strongly opposed to the appointment for financial reasons and because they disapproved of Martineau's theology. Martineau and Tayler had become identified with the 'new school' in Unitarian theology, which had abandoned the idea of revelation as a body of truth attested by miracles, adopting instead a faith grounded in an inner perception of the divine which appealed to conscience and affection not external authority. The dispute was to divide Unitarians for a generation and more. Despite opposition, by the end of 1853 Martineau's supporters had succeeded in raising a special fund for his appointment as lecturer in philosophy, a post which he held for the next four years. He travelled from Liverpool every fortnight to give his lectures over two days. His first, on 7 February 1854, was 'A Plea for Philosophical Studies'. At the request of the committee he added a course on political economy, though it was not actually taught during the first session.
The decision by Smith in July 1856 to resign at the end of the session, following criticism of his teaching by his students, provoked a fresh crisis. A proposal by the Committee in January 1857 to divide up and rearrange the work between Tayler and Martineau, which both accepted the following month, led to a protest from over sixty trustees. There were fears that Tayler and Martineau as representatives of the ‘new school’ theology would fail to treat the alternative schemes fairly. Smith's salary was paid to 29 September 1857 when Tayler and Martineau took up their new professorial posts. The dispute over the changes was finally resolved by a special meeting held in April 1858 where the trustees present voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new arrangements, by 113 votes to 17. The committee agreed to appoint a lecturer in Hebrew to assist Tayler and Martineau. Tayler's offer to give up £100 of his salary for this purpose was accepted, and Martineau's son, Russell, a distinguished oriental scholar, who worked at the British Museum, was appointed lecturer in Hebrew language and literature.
Growing concern over the academic standard of some of the students had led in October 1856 to the joint appointment with University Hall of Thomas Edward Kebbel, a graduate of Oxford, as tutor in classics, and R. H. Hutton as tutor in mathematics. Hutton had been a student for a year at the college in Manchester, and was briefly principal of University Hall, but resigned because of ill health in January 1857. John Bridge, a former tutor at Stepney Baptist College, was appointed tutor in mathematics on the recommendation of Augustus de Morgan, professor of mathematics at University College. The committee noted in Bridge’s favour that he was familiar with de Morgan's method of teaching. In June 1857 Manchester College decided against renewing the appointment of the classical tutor, instead relying on Martineau to read the Greek and Latin authors with the students. The following year the committee reported that there was a marked improvement in the standard of learning at the annual examinations.
The council of University Hall had generously offered to accommodate the college on terms as easy as its own financial circumstances would allow. They made available the large hall on the ground floor, where the students dined and which was used for public meetings and lectures, for the college students to read their sermons and orations. Above the hall they provided a large room for the library, which the college fitted up with additional shelves. In front of this, facing Gordon Square, was a large room where most of the lectures were given, and where the books belonging to University Hall were kept. Manchester College was to add significantly to the library, with many of the books being donated. In 1860 the college obtained permission to extend the gallery on one side of the library and build additional bookcases. The professors and the students also had use of all the public areas and facilities. The college initially paid £100 p.a. to University Hall, but in 1856 an additional £50 p.a. was voted, as the college did not contribute to the payment of local taxes or repairs, heating or cleaning. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of college students living in. Although the college wanted to promote a practical union with University Hall and to encourage students to reside there, the costs were too high for those on a college grant of £60 p.a. The council of University Hall made a number of suggestions to improve matters, but none found favour with the college.
Students at Manchester College also benefited from the trust established by Robert Hibbert in 1847 to raise the position and public influence of the Unitarian ministry, which became effective after the death of his widow in February 1853. To achieve these aims his trustees decided to offer competitive divinity scholarships with the intention of encouraging the overall learning of the Unitarian ministry. As a consequence they were criticised for perpetuating a scholarly ministry at the expense of the practical and pastoral skills needed.
Despite initial fears the college's finances proved surprisingly secure during the early years in London, largely because of new subscribers. The last year at Manchester had resulted in a deficit of £100, and in July 1853 a reduction of over £70 in annual subscriptions was reported. A month later the treasurer, S. D. Darbishire, was forecasting that the college's expenditure for the first year in London would exceed its income by more than £300, and with the costs incurred as a result of the move to London, he was predicting an overall deficit of nearly £1,200. The treasurer, with the help of Edwin Wilkins Field, a prime mover in the establishment of University Hall, appealed to the London friends of the college to become subscribers, and personal subscriptions doubled from £630 10s 6d, raised during the last year at Manchester, to £1,275 6s 6d. The financial situation improved so much that in January 1855 the committee was confident about the financial prospects of the college. Each divinity student was allowed an exhibition of £60 a year for board and lodging and the fees for his university course. Lay students studying theology paid the college three guineas a course. A fall in subscriptions in 1857, following the death of many older supporters, and a rise in expenditure due to an increase in both student numbers and the size of their grant, together with the cost of the extra mathematics tuition, led to a deficit of £140. An appeal by the committee in January 1858 successfully raised £110 in new subscriptions. The college continued to be able to add regularly to the endowment.
Between 1853 and 1860 the college educated 29 divinity students and 2 lay students. In addition 7 students transferred with the college from Manchester. The 2 lay students were sons of Thomas Ainsworth, a major manufacturer and proprietor of the Cleator Moor Ironworks. One of the sons, David, was MP for Cumberland. The most distinguished divinity students later taught for the college: James Drummond was a professor and later principal; Estlin Carpenter, a pioneer in the study of comparative religion, was successively professor, vice-principal, and principal; Charles Upton was professor of philosophy; and James Edwin Odgers was Hibbert lecturer in ecclesiastical history, having previously been principal of the Unitarian Home Missionary Board college. His successor as principal of the Missionary Board was another student, Alexander Gordon, the distinguished Unitarian historian. In 1855 the committee expressed anxiety that student numbers were again below the numbers required. During the first year in London there were only 10 students; there were 14 students in 1854, 16 in 1855-56, with 14 on the college foundation, and 17 students in both 1858 and 1859. Even this improvement fell significantly short of the numbers required. One critic estimated that only 24 students at Manchester College between 1842 and 1862 actually entered the Unitarian ministry, a fifth of those needed.
The college moved to Oxford in 1889, selling University Hall to the trustees of Dr Daniel Williams’s Charity. The building now houses Dr Williams’s Library. In 1996 Manchester College became a full college of Oxford University, changing its name to Harris Manchester College by royal charter.

David L. Wykes


Details of the management of the college, including the appointment of tutors, admission of students, financial arrangements, and disciplinary matters, are contained in the minutes at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, (MS M.N.C. Misc. 74-75). The records for University Hall are at Dr Williams's Library (MS 12.85-12.86).
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, 1854 (Misc 25.x and xi). Barcode prefix in VLS: man1854.
Loan registers, 1813-1860 (Misc 25.xiii-xvi).

Published sources

Ashton, Rosemary, Victorian Bloomsbury (New Haven and London, 2012).
Christian Reformer, ns 8-16 (1853-60).
Davis, V. D., A History of Manchester College: From Its Foundation in Manchester to Its Establishment in Oxford (London, 1932).
Manchester New College, London. Special Report of the Committee adopted 12th March 1857 (Manchester, 1857).
Drummond, James, and Upton, Charles Barnes, The Life and Letters of James Martineau, 2 vols. (London, 1902).
Report of a Special Committee to the Trustees of Manchester New College ([Manchester], 1853).
Report of Manchester New College, London (1853-1860).
Ruston, Alan, The Hibbert Trust. A History (London, 1984).
Tarrant, William George and Worthington, Joseph, 'University Hall, London. Historical Memorandum', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, 4.1 (1927), 1-15.
Tayler, John James, Inaugural Address at the Opening of the first Session of Manchester New College, in connection with University College (London, 1853).
Letters, Embracing his Life, of John James Tayler, ed. John Hamilton Thom, 2 vols. (London, 1872).

David L. Wykes, 'Manchester New College, London (1853-1889)', Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia, Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies, July 2014.