St Bees Theological College

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St Bees Theological College, close to the coast of Cumberland, was the first independent theological college to be established for the training of Church of England ordinands. It was founded in 1816 by George Law, Bishop of Chester, in what was during those years the northern extremity of his diocese. For many subsequent years the vicar of St Bees was effectively both the principal of the college and also its proprietor.

The college drew students both from England and from Wales. It catered particularly for those prospective ordinands for whom the cost of a traditional university degree course would have been prohibitive. They attended lectures and had their library within the rebuilt chancel of St Bees Priory, whilst living in lodgings throughout the parish.[1] Over 2,600 clergy are believed to have trained at the college during the course of its history.

Lacking an adequate corporate administrative and financial basis, and also suffering from a loss of much individual interest from subsequent bishops of Chester and bishops of Carlisle, the theological college finally closed in 1895. Parts of its accommodation were afterwards used by the separate St Bees School, with which the college has sometimes been confused.[2] Other parts reverted to parish use.

A few of the college archives survived within the St Bees parish records, now deposited with the Cumbria Archive Service at nearby Whitehaven.

Principals of St Bees Theological College 1816-1895[edit]

  • 1816 William Ainger
  • 1840 Richard Buddicom
  • 1846 Richard Parkinson
  • 1857 George Henry Ainger
  • 1871 Edward Hadarezer Knowles

Notable alumni of St Bees[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Nicholas Groves, Theological Colleges: their hoods and histories, published by the Burgon Society, 2004, pages 18-19, ISBN 0954411013
  2. ^ Trevor Park, St Bees College, 1816-1895, a short history (1982) ISBN 0950832502
  3. ^ Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser: 15 January 1887