Correspondence of Theophilus Lindsey

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 UCC/2/19
  • Former Reference
      GB 133 B(2)17 and C(2)9
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      227 items

Scope and Content

An extensive collection of letters of Theophilus Lindsey.

Administrative / Biographical History

Theophilus Linsey was born on 20 Jun 1723 in Middlewich, Cheshire to Robert Lindsey, a mercer and part-owner of a salt works, and his second wife Jane (née Spencer). He was educated at Middlewich Grammar School and the Free Grammar School in Leeds. In 1741, he attended St John's College, Cambridge where he was awarded a BA in 1744, and elected a fellow in 1747. Lindsey was ordained a deacon in 1746 and a priest in 1747. He became a curate at a chapel in Spital Square, London, after which he worked as a domestic chaplain to Algernon Seymour, the duke of Somerset. Following Seymour's death, he was appointed as tutor to his grandson Hugh Smithson, who would later become the duke of Northumberland. He accompanied Smithson on a continental tour during 1751-1753. On their return, he became rector of Kirby Wiske in Yorkshire, resigning in 1756 to take on the living at Piddleton, Dorset.

Lindsey married Hannah Elsworth in 1760. His marriage brought him into contact with Hannah's stepfather Archdeacon Francis Blackburne. Blackburne was well known for his opposition to the requirement that Church of England clergymen subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles, a view that Lindsey came to share. As a result, in 1762 he declined the offer of a chaplaincy made by the duke of Northumberland, moving instead to Catterick in Yorkshire the following year. In the controversy following the publication of Blackburne's The Confessional in 1766, Lindsey supported the latitudinarians. Eventually he became a Unitarian contributing to the organisation of the Feathers petition during 1771-2, which would have removed the compulsion for clergy to subscribe. When this was rejected, he resigned his living.

Lindsey moved to London in 1774, and with the help of Joseph Priestly, Richard Price and others set up a temporary chapel in Essex Street. Following this, a new chapel was built for him in Essex Street, which opened on 29 March 1778 as the first specifically Unitarian chapel. He remained as minister at Essex Street until his retirement in 1793.

Lindsey was to outline his views in a variety of publications. Soon after his arrival at Essex Street, he produced A Liturgy, Altered from that of the Church of England, to suit Unitarian Doctrine, which was reissued with amendments in ensuing years. In 1774, he published An Apology stating his reasons for leaving the Church of England and tracing the history of the trinity and of Unitarianism, responding to critics inA Sequel to the 'Apology' (1776). He defended the views of Joseph Priestley in his Vindiciae Priestleyanae, addressed to the students of Oxford and Cambridge, by a late member of the University of Cambridge (1784) and published Conversations on Christian Idolatry in 1791. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, he reprinted Priestley's Reply to Paine's 'Age of Reason' adding a preface, and published Conversations on Divine Government in 1800. He also published many sermons and pamphlets a collection of which was printed in two volumes in 1810 following his death.

Lindsey died on 3 November 1808 in Essex Street, London.


Apart from the first two items (which are items relating to the letter collection, and are not Lindsey letters), the correspondence has been arranged in alphabetical order.

Grayson Ditchfield has published an extensive collection of Lindsey's correspondence in two volumes, including the letters listed here. In what follows, references to the relevant pages of Ditchfield's volumes are indicated in square brackets following each item. Copies of Ditchfield's books are kept alongside the collection and can be requested by readers.


Albert Nicholson, 'Lindsey, Theophilus (1723-1808)', rev. G.M. Ditchfield, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Grayson Ditchfield, 'The Career of Theophilus Lindsey, 1723-1788',The Letters of Theophilus Lindsey (1747-1778) I. 1747-1788, ed. Grayson Ditchfield (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2007).