The Matlock Bath Clerical Society was founded in 1816 by the Reverend Philip Gell, vicar of Matlock in Derby. The motivation was evangelical and he sent a circular to clergy in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Cheshire and Staffordshire inviting them to join him in the Saxtons Hotel (later the New Bath Hotel) at Matlock Bath for `devotion, discussion and friendly intercourse'. `The objects in view are - the elucidation of the word of God, ...the promotion of personal holiness...establishment in the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England - and mutual assistance in difficult cases of parochial administration'. The operations of the Society barely deviated from these principles, remaining a solidly-Anglican, evangelical, devotional, discussion and self-help group through the twentieth century. The structure of the group's theological study was very tightly-circumscribed, each meeting being characterised by some Biblical exegesis, one Old Testament study, one Greek Testament study and discussion about one of the Thirty Nine Articles so that they were systematically examined in rotation (Sawle, `An old evangelical clerical society', pp. 118-19; DX/108/1, 7).
Some of the Society's more prominent members in the early stages were Archdeacon Thomas Hill, The Reverend William Jowett of the Church Missionary Society, John Charles Ryle, first bishop of Liverpool and Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847), Bishop of Sodor and Man. Shirley's father, Walter Shirley (1725-1786), had been a hymn writer and revivalist preacher in the Church and his son, Walter Waddington Shirley (1828-1866), went on to become a respected ecclesiastical historian (Sawle, `An old evangelical clerical society', pp.118-19; Dictionary of National Biography).
Membership of the Society was never very high, fluctuating between about twenty and fifty members. In 1869 the Society extended its activities very slightly by founding the Matlock Bath Clerical Education Society which comprised all the members of the founder society. The first provisional committee had Archdeacon Hill as its secretary and he started their education fund with a 100 donation. Its intention was to offer financial aid for the education of Christian young men. Applicants were to be only those men recommended by Society members, continuing in the tradition of operating almost like a guild. Both societies seem to have petered out in the mid-twentieth century as Reverend Sawle was the last person in possession of their records when he deposited them in 1976 (Sawle, `An old evangelical clerical society', pp.118-19; DX/108/17-19).