Records of the Eclectic Society of London

Scope and Content

This collection largely comprises a continuous sequence of the notes of the fortnightly meetings of the Eclectic Society, an Anglican discussion society, between 1798 and 1814. These notes are a chronological record of the question for discussion at each meeting which also records the name of the proposer of the question, together with notes of the contributions of the different members on the subject. These notes may have been maintained by Josiah Pratt, a member of the Eclectic Society from 1797 and Secretary of the CMS. The collection also includes a separate manuscript record of the meeting on 18 March 1798 which directly led to the formation of the Church Missionary Society

Administrative / Biographical History

Administrative/Biographical History

The Eclectic Society was founded in 1783 by a number of Anglican clergymen and layman as a discussion society and was instrumental in the founding of the Church Missionary Society in 1799. Its early members included John Newton (1725-1807) clergyman and poet and John Venn (1759-1813) rector of Clapham and founder of Church Missionary Society. The Eclectic Society met fortnightly in the vestry of St John's Chapel, Bedford Road, London. It first discussed foreign missions in 1786 and the subject was subsequently discussed again in 1789 and 1791 as there was a growing realisation of the scope for a society to evangelise indigenous peoples around the world. Foreign missions were again discussed in 1796, by which time both the Baptist and London Missionary Societies had been founded, but it was not until three years later that action was taken.

In 1797, Josiah Pratt, a clergyman from Birmingham who came to London as a curate, joined the Eclectic Society and in February 1799 he proposed the following question for discussion: "How far may a periodical Publication be made subservient to the interest of Religion?" The discussions led, two years later, to the starting of the Christian Observer which became for much of the nineteenth century a valuable organ of Evangelical principles and work. The following month, the subject for discussion was "What methods can we use more effectually to promote the knowledge of the Gospel among the Heathen?" and it was ultimately resolved at this meeting to form a society. At a public meeting in April, the Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East was formed.

Reference: Eugene Stock History of the Church Missionary Society ( Vol 1 (London, 1899) ).


This collection forms part of the Church Missionary Society Unofficial Papers. It is arranged into a single series: Family Papers

Access Information

Access Conditions

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Acquisition Information

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented to the CMS April 1960; transferred on permanent loan to the Special Collections Department by the CMS in the 1980s.

Other Finding Aids

Please see full catalogue for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Further deposits are not expected.

Related Material

The University of Birmingham, Special Collections Department and the Orchard Learning Resources Centre hold a rich collection of archives relating to missions, charities and other religious and ecclesiastical organisations and individuals.