Papers of John Gordon

Scope and Content

Bundles of correspondence mostly consisting of letters to John Gordon.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Gordon was born on 1 March 1807 in Dudley, Worcestershire to Alexander Gordon, a local preacher for the Wesleyan Methodists, and his wife Maria. He was educated at Dudley Grammar School and was placed on the books of Queen's College Oxford. However, he did not take up his place owing to his unwillingness to subscribe to the 39 Articles of the Church of England. On the question of subscription, according to his obituary in The Christian Life, he was fond of citing John Milton's words: 'He who would take orders must subscribe himself a slave.' Consequently he was educated at home by his father and did not attend a college or university. In spite of this, he was widely considered to be well read and bookish, and was praised for his knowledge of Latin and Greek.

Gordon preached his first sermon at the age of 18, becoming a Methodist minister in 1827. In this capacity he was an assistant to Henry Moore at City Road Chapel, London, where he remained until 1835. He eventually resigned from this position on account of his belief that the 1834 Methodist Conference had committed the Methodists to the principle of 'the establishment of a Church by the State'. The equivocal nature of the relationship between Methodism and Anglicanism was clearly too much for him, and it was brought to a head by the treatment of his friend Joseph Rayner Stephens, who was suspended by Conference over this issue. In the following three years he moved in the direction of Unitarianism, impressed by the writings of William Ellery Channing and coming under the influence of John Kentish, the Unitarian minister at the New Meeting, Birmingham. In 1838 he became a Unitarian minister at Coseley where he remained until 1840, followed by Coventry (1840-54), Edinburgh (1854-58), Dukinfield (1858-62) and Evesham (1863-1873). Along with Charles Beard, he was one of the main founders of the East Cheshire Missionary Association in 1859. He retired from the ministry at the age of 65 and spent the last few years of his life residing at Kenilworth.

Gordon was a strong advocate of free speech, successfully agitating for the right of the secularist George Jacob Holyoak to speak at St Mary's Hall Coventry following a ban on his speaking there. He contributed to a variety of periodicals including The Christian Reformer, The Prospective Review and The Theological Review. He produced a piece for the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1875 and published a number of books and pamphlets, including: Protestantism: five lectures (London: Whittaker, 1842); Christian Developments (London: Whitfield, 1853); A Letter to the Subscribers of the Eighth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the articles "Calvin" and "Channing" (written by W.L. Alexander) in the sixth volume of that work (London: 1854);Thomas Aitkenhead (London: Edward T. Whitfield, 1856); Christianity and Unitarianism (London: Whitfield, Green and Son, 1866); Nonconformity and Liberty (London: Whitfield, Green and Son, 1867).

He married Sarah King in 1832 with whom he had a son; Sarah died in 1833. Later he married Anna Maria Hodgetts with whom he had four sons. One of these sons, Alexander Gordon, went on to become the Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester.

John Gordon died on 24 April 1880 at Ladyes Hill, Kenilworth.


The individual bundles are arranged in the order that they were stored in the library of the Unitarian College.


Alexander Gordon, Historical Account of Dukinfiled Chapel and its School (Manchester: 1896)

McLachlan, H. Alexander Gordon (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1932)

'The Late Rev. John Gordon', The Christian Life, 8 May 1880, pp. 219, 226.

'The Late Rev. John Gordon', The Inquirer, 8 May 1880.

'Secession of the Rev. John Gordon from the Wesleyan Methodist Ministry', letter from John Gordon to The Christian Advocate dated 24 September, 1834.