Daventry Academy was a dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by English Dissenters. It moved to many locations, but was most associated with Daventry, where its most famous pupil was Joseph Priestley. It had a high reputation, and in time it was amalgamated into New College London.
The academy attracted the support of the Coward Trust, funded through the philanthropy of William Coward (died 1738), a London merchant who used his money to train ministers for the "protestant dissenters". After the death of Doddridge in 1751, the trustees took over the academy. In 1752 the academy was moved to Daventry, back to Northampton, then to Wymondley, and finally in 1833 to London.
While known as the Northampton Academy, several notable English Unitarian ministers were trained there, including Hugh Farmer and Lant Carpenter who studied there for a year in 1797, before the academy was closed by the trustees in 1798. When the school returned to Northampton in 1789, it was run by John Horsey with various assistant tutors. It had 38 or 39 students. The school, which was supposed to teach an Arian Christology, was probably closed due to growing Socinian influence in the Northampton Academy.
In the second quarter of the 18th century, it was "undoubtedly one of the best dissenting academies" according to Priestley's most recent biographers.
The academy later moved to Little Wymondley in Hertfordshire, in 1799, where it was known as Wymondley College. In 1833, it relocated again, this time to London, and was re-named Coward College. That proved to be the last incarnation as in 1850 it merged with Highbury College and Homerton College to form New College London.
Principals and alumni
Joseph Priestley studied theology there in the 1750s. Because he had already read widely, Priestley was allowed to skip the first two years of coursework. He continued his intense study; this, together with the liberal atmosphere of the school, shifted his theology further leftward and he became a Rational Dissenter. Abhorring dogma and religious mysticism, Rational Dissenters emphasized the rational analysis of the natural world and the Bible.
- Larsen, Timothy, A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians 2011 "Lant Carpenter recurringly found himself in Unitarian contexts in which he was considered the liberal. At the age of seventeen, he entered Northampton Academy. Here, Arianism was taught (the belief that Jesus was the incarnation of a pre-existent, exalted being who is, ... Lant Carpenter, however, was identified as 'a determined Socinian' ... This conviction was so radical that the trustees eventually took the drastic step of shutting Northampton Academy down for a period in order to keep the liberal, Socinian virus from infecting more students."
- Joseph Priestley, scientist, philosopher, and theologian. Ed. Isabel Rivers and David L. Wykes. OUP: 2008, p 26
- 'Coward College, Byng Place', Survey of London: volume 21: The parish of St Pancras part 3: Tottenham Court Road & neighbourhood (1949), pp. 91. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=65179 Date accessed: 15 January 2010
- McEvoy, John G., "Enlightenment and Dissent in Science: Joseph Priestley and the Limits of Theoretical Reasoning". Enlightenment and Dissent 2 (1983): 48–49.