Unitarian College Collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 UCC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      38 lm Some items in the collection are in poor condition.
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The Unitarian College Archive encompasses the institutional records of the Unitarian College in Manchester, the records of other Unitarian bodies, and the papers of numerous individuals who were prominent in the Unitarian movement. It is of major importance not only to the history of the College but also to the history of Unitarianism, Puritanism and Dissent in general. The College's own records include applications for admission; reports of the principal, tutors and visitors on students and applicants; correspondence providing information on admissions, examinations and finance; library records; and various minute books and record books, 1854-1953.

Other institutional records concern the history of Dissenting and Presbyterian/Unitarian colleges and academies, particularly those at Warrington, Rathmell, Hoxton, Homerton, Daventry and Hackney, 1754-1796; lectures delivered at Manchester College during its Manchester, York and London phases, 1787-1856; minutes of the meetings of Presbyterian and Unitarian ministers in Lancashire and Cheshire, 1820-1875; minutes of the Manchester District Sunday School Association, 1845-1934; records of the Manchester Unitarian Sunday School Union, 1864-1914; minutes of the Monthly Conference of Ministers, 1882-1943; minutes of `The Brotherhood', the Manchester and district ministerial society, 1889-1917; and records of several Unitarian churches and chapels.

Personal papers comprise letters, diaries, texts of sermons and tracts, lecture notes, accounts and autobiographical material, c.1720-1943. Among those represented are George Benson (1699-1762), Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808), William Shepherd (1768-1847), William Tayleur (1712-1796), James Hews Bransby (1783-1847), Brooke Herford (1830-1906), John Relly Beard (1800-1876), John Gordon (1807-1880), James Martineau (1805-1900), George Fox (1834-1916), Alexander Gordon (1841-1931), Fred Kenworthy (1909-1974) and Walter Herbert Burgess (1867-1943). Alexander Gordon contributed biographies of some seven hundred Nonconformist figures to the Dictionary of National Biography; his papers include a substantial collection of research notes on approximately six hundred and fifty of these.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Unitarian College was established in Manchester on 31 May 1854. Its original title was the Unitarian Home Missionary Board, reflecting its initial purpose and objectives. Prior to this, there had been a college in Manchester for the training of Unitarian ministers, but this moved from Manchester to London the previous year. Unitarianism being a relatively cerebral religion, its ministers tended to be drawn from the genteel classes, as did much of its clientele. Unlike other branches of Nonconformity, it was relatively unaffected by the evangelical revival of the late eighteenth and early ninetieth centuries, and Unitarians had refrained from populist preaching and emotional appeals to large audiences. However, the Religious Census of 1851, and the published report of its findings by Horace Mann drew the attention of the religious community in general to the absence of the lower orders from Sunday worship; this was particularly evident among the Unitarians. Preaching to working people and the poor was not entirely without precedent among Unitarians: they had been involved in initiatives in the 1830s and 1840s to undertake 'domestic missions' to the poor in Manchester. Following 1851, there was a raised awareness amongst all denominations of the need to make appeals to other classes, and among the more prescient it was realised that the failure of earlier efforts was related to the inability of middle and upper class evangelists to engage with those lower down the social ladder. In this context, John Relly Beard decided to set up an institution to train working class men with limited education to undertake Unitarian missionary activity amongst members of their own class and those below, despite reservation from some of their co-religionists.

Initially, Beard was the Principal of the Board and its Theological Tutor, and William Gaskell, the minister of Manchester's Cross Street Chapel, was Literary Tutor. The first classes were held in the homes of Beard and Gaskell, with lectures held in a room at the Cross Street Chapel. In 1857, they moved to premises in an old warehouse in Marsden Square, but were able to move to a more suitable home in 1865 following the building of a Memorial Hall in Albert Square to commemorate the bicentenary of the 'Great Ejection'. Beard resigned as Principal in 1874 on health grounds, and his place was taken by Gaskell, who despite his advanced age held the post for the next ten years.

Although the Board had been created to produce domestic missionaries rather that to supplement the production of ministers by the Unitarian College in London, the latter became its main function within a few years of its foundation. Domestic missions were to become indistinguishable from mainstream congregations, and the general shortage of Unitarian ministers across the country was met by the Board. Over time, the Board adopted stricter entry requirements and the training became increasingly rigorous. From the 1880s, students were encouraged to attend courses at the recently established Owens College, and its successor the Victoria University of Manchester. Early in the twentieth century, the Board (now 'College') was to be included in the University's Faculty of Theology, and the College adopted the matriculation examination of the University as its entrance requirement.

J. Edwin Odgers followed Gaskell as the Board's principal, to be replaced by Alexander Gordon in 1889, when its name was changed to the Unitarian Home Missionary College. Gordon was a distinguished historian and a regular contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography. His contributions ensured that Unitarian biographies had a disproportionate prominence among Dictionary entries. The College moved to a new home 'Summerville' in the salubrious suburb of Victoria Park in 1905. Following Gordon's retirement in 1911, Sydney Malone became principal, to be followed by Herbert McLachlan in 1921. Like Gordon, McLachlan was a prolific writer, and during his time as principal published histories of the College, its library and a detailed Register of the Students of the Unitarian College. Raymond Vincent Holt replaced Gordon as Principal in 1944, to be followed by Fred Kenworthy in 1955, and Arthur Long in 1974. Long retired in 1988. In 1984, the College became part of the Northern Federation for Training Ministry together with the Northern Baptist College, Northern College, Hartley Victoria College and the Northern Ordination Course which trained Anglicans and Methodists. The Federation changed its name to the Partnership for Theological Education in January 2000. Summerville was sold in 1985, when the College moved to its present home in Luther King House. Graham Murphy became Principal for a brief spell in 1990, to be followed by Leonard Smith. Ann Peart became the College's first woman Principal in 2002, retiring in 2009, handing over to Alex Bradley, the present Principal.


The material in the collection has been organised into 6 discrete groups:

  • UCC/1 - Records of Unitarian College
  • UCC/2 - Personal Papers
  • UCC/3 - Unitarian Historical Collection
  • UCC/4 - Unitarian Chapel Records
  • UCC/5 - Records of Other Unitarian Bodies
  • UCC/6 - Theses, Dissertations and Typescript Manuscripts

The first five groups include archival collections and where possible the principle of original order has been applied. Many of the archival items were kept in envelopes and stored in separate boxes, and this has made the establishment of the original order possible for some. Much of the collection however consists of material held in the College library and collected over the years; a lot of this material was in no discernible order necessitating reorganisation.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

Unitarian College, Manchester

Other Finding Aids

There is a card index of the collection, arranged thematically and containing references to the old filing system used in the College library in which everything was arranged into cupboards.

Archivist's Note

The sorting and cataloguing of UCC/1 was aided by a handwritten boxlist produced by Ann Peart.

I would like to thank the following individuals who have helped at different stages of the project to catalogue this collection: Sophie Baldock, Alexandra Clarke, Clare Connolly, Cody Coyne, Sandra Cruise, Elizabeth Gow, Karen Jacques, Ann Peart, Catherine Priest and Alexander Taylor.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The collection is of varied origins. Part of it consists of the records of the College itself, with the rest made up of the contents of the library of the Unitarian Home Missionary College. The library, consisting of an extensive book collection along with the archival material described here, was deposited with the John Rylands Library in 1981. It was built up over many years from private benefactions, donations from chapel libraries, and purchases from college funds.


It is anticipated that additions may be made to the collection on an occasional basis. These will be incorporated into the finding aid.


Smith, Leonard (ed.), Unitarian to the Core: Unitarian College Manchester 1854-2004 (Manchester: Carnegie Publishing, 2004)

McLachlan, H. The Unitarian Home Missionary College 1854-1914 (London: Sherratt and Hughes, 1915)

McLachlan, H. The Story of a Nonconformist Library (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1923)

Personal Names

Geographical Names