Papers of W.H. Burgess

Scope and Content

Large collection of manuscript notes and notebooks of W.H. Burgess on historical themes. There is correspondence relating to the subjects of the notes, and a separate bundle of correspondence addressed to Burgess. There is also the handwritten manuscript of a book by Burgess.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Henry Burgess was born on 5 May 1867 at Hastings. As a young man he was employed as an assistant to a grocer and draper and from the age of 18 acted as a 'boy preacher' in a number of Sussex churches. He was admitted to the Unitarian Home Mission Board (soon to change its name to College) in 1888. As a student at the Board he was able to attend courses at Owens College (the forerunner of Manchester University) for his first two years, where he achieved first class marks in Latin and Greek. Among other prizes, he won the Unitarian College's Sharpe Prize for Biblical Knowledge twice, and was awarded a Gaskell Scholarship; the latter enabled him to return to Owens College where he obtained a first class degree in 1894.

Burgess was appointed assistant minister to the Manchester District Association from 1895, moving to ministerial positions in Accrington in 1898, Ilkeston and Loughborough in 1905, and Plymouth in 1912, retiring from the ministry in 1932. He held significant positions within the Unitarian movement, becoming the president of the Missionary Conference in 1915, of the Western Union in 1924-5, and of the Ministerial Fellowship in 1931. For a number of years following 1916 he was 'Scribe of the Ancient Exeter Assembly of Divines', a position which apparently gave him great deal of satisfaction. He was external examiner for the Dr. William's scholarships in ecclesiastical history and on at least one occasion in nonconformist history at the University of Manchester.

Burgess had a strong interest in the study of local and ecclesiastical history. He began publishing historical studies at a young age, producing six articles on the history of Battle church in the Southern Unitarian Magazine before taking up his place at the Unitarian Home Mission Board in 1888. Whilst in Accrington he published 25 articles in the local press on the history of the town, and at Loughborough wrote a history of his congregation. Later he published The story of Dean Row Chapel (Hull: Elsom and Co., 1924). He wrote biographical and historical articles in a variety of publications including Transactions of the Plymouth Institute, Landmark, Sussex County Magazine, Christian Life and The Inquirer. He produced two lengthy monographs: John Smith and the Se-Baptists, Thomas Helwys and the first Baptist church in England (London: J. Clarke, 1911), and John Robinson pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers: a study of his life and times (London: Williams and Norgate,1920). He also wrote a history of the General Baptists which he was invited to write as a contribution to a series on the history of Unitarianism, but the series never materialised and the manuscript remained unpublished. The Widows' Fund awarded him the Yates Honorarium to help with his historical studies. He was a founder member of the Unitarian Historical Society, its secretary between 1915 and 1933, its president in 1933 and 1934, and the editor of its Transactions 1916-1934.

He died on 7 September 1943.


Most of the bundles of notes, notebooks and letters have been numbered at some point in Roman numerals 'Burgess MS I' through to 'Burgess MS LIV'. Where this is the case, the order has been maintained and this description has been included alongside the 'Former reference'. There are numbers missing from the series (13, 16 and 48); the whereabouts of these items are unknown. Items without numbers have been filed at the end of the sequence. It is not known if this arrangement was that of Burgess himself or a system devised later for storage in the College library.

This collection has been arranged into two series: 

  • Notes and Notebooks
  • Manuscript Book


H. McLachlan, 'Walter Herbert Burgess', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, vol 8 (1943/1946), pp. 1-4.