D717; D44; D644; D645; D839 - Records of St Aidan's Theological College - 1847 - 1967

This sequence comprises six collections of material relating to St Aidan's College, including a film strip, account and minute books, prospectuses, calendars, reports, college magazines, photographs, transparencies and papers of various principals.

Archive level description: Sub-sub fonds
Physical Description:6 series.
Summary:This sequence comprises six collections of material relating to St Aidan's College, including a film strip, account and minute books, prospectuses, calendars, reports, college magazines, photographs, transparencies and papers of various principals.
Date:1847 - 1967
Reference Number:D717; D44; D644; D645; D839

Arranged into the following sections:

  • Film strip of St.Aidan's College, Birkenhead
  • Records of St Aidan's Theological College, Birkenhead
Related Material:D.645 - Transparency on "Training" at St Aidan's CollegeD806 The Papers of the Revd. David John Lawrence (1908-81), who studied and later taught at St. Aidan's.
Bibliography:[Book] Heiser, F B (Principal 1929-1950), The Story of Saint Aidan's College, Birkenhead, 1847-1947, Chester, 1947.
Biographical/Administrative Information:

St. Aidan's Anglican Theological College was founded in 1846 by the Revd. Dr. Joseph Baylee who first came to Birkenhead as Vicar of Holy Trinity. He founded the College with the aim of providing adequately trained clergymen to serve the rapidly increasing population of Merseyside.

Initially the College was housed, from its opening in 1847, in five rented houses in Cambridge Terrace in Slatey Road. However a site of about five acres outside Birkenhead was purchased with the help of a number of subscribers and with the active support of London and Liverpool Committees, in which the Marquis of Blandford and Mr. John Torr played significant roles, and a block of buildings erected for the College in 1854-6. When the College's new buildings were opened in November 1856 there were 63 students. Weathering several financial crises the College was enabled to add a Chapel in 1882 and a Dining Hall in 1912.

From a very early period in its history the College cultivated a distinct Evangelical tone in its work and teaching which it maintained throughout its life, though not without controversy upon those occasions when deviations were suspected. It would appear to have been the only theological college in this tradition in the North of England for much of its life. But this did not prevent ties being forged with the Universities. St. Aidan's was in the first group of theological colleges to be "associated" with the University of Durham in 1876 whereby St. Aidan's students were enabled to read for the University's Licence in Theology; further links were established with Durham when St. John's Hall was established in 1910 - founded in the Evangelical tradition it annually took one or two students from St. Aidan's.

But closer at hand University College, Liverpool, was incorporated in 1881 and the Principal of St. Aidan's, W. Saumarez Smith (Principal 1869-90) was shortly afterwards advocating the attachment of theological colleges to universities and, more locally, ties with the new College. The general movement towards the raising of academic standards amongst intending ordinands was encouraged by the movement amongst the bishops who increasingly required non-graduate candidates for ordination to pass The Universities' Preliminary Examination (U.P.E.) which had been instituted by members of the Theological Faculties of Cambridge and Oxford. In response to this movement the Council of St. Aidan's in 1888 recommended "that all non-graduate students of St. Aidan's College, who undergo a course of two years training only, be required, before offering themselves with "College Papers" in any Diocese, to obtain the certificate of having passed the Universities Preliminary Examination". In 1897 E.E. Harding (Principal 1891-1901) suggested to the College Council the possibility of establishing some connection with University College and the matter was tentatively discussed with University College's Principal, Professor G.H. Rendall.

One of the reasons, no doubt, why closer ties were not in fact developed with University College was because under the latter's Charter of Incorporation no student or teacher was required to submit to any religious test or declaration whatsoever and no gift or endowment for theological or religious purposes was to be accepted on the College's behalf. It would seem very likely that Professor Rendall, who later in life took Anglican orders, would have liked to have established some links with St. Aidan's but that these regulations proved the stumbling block.

University College became an independent University of Liverpool in 1903. Under the terms of its Charter of 1903 (clause 26) the University was forbidden to give any theological teaching but it was enabled to give teaching in the Semitic languages, Hellenistic Greek and Ecclesiastical History, and to recognise by affiliation or otherwise any College or Institution in which theological teaching may be given. Negotiations were conducted with the University and St. Aidan's was affiliated to the University by an ordinance passed in November 1904. As an affiliated College it was able to supplement the opportunities offered by the University to candidates for the Anglican ministry by providing University lectures in Hellenistic Greek, Hebrew, and Ecclesiastical History which were open to any members of the University, those subjects now becoming optional subjects of the Faculty of Arts. Though the University stated that the special preparation required by candidates for the Ministry might proceed concurrently with the candidate's study for a primary degree and in consequence cover a minimum period of three years, it was found impracticable (at least by the late 1940's) for students to receive both training for the Ministry and tuition for an Arts degree and the minimum length of a post-graduate theological course was (in 1947) two years. The recognised teachers of Hellenistic Greek and Ecclesiastical History in the University were, since the affiliation, members of St. Aidan's staff.

However, the College always had a large proportion of non-graduate students and in the late 1940's it could be stated by Canon Heiser that the largest number of undergraduates in the College at any one time was only six. One disappointment in the Liverpool connection was that the University did not give the College's students a degree or diploma in theology, unlike Durham University which, until 1946, allowed matriculated students to keep their terms as undergraduates by residence in an associated college for three years and then proceed to Durham for a final year to obtain both a B.A. and a L.Th.

The development of links with the University of Liverpool seems to have been uneven, and perhaps the change, made in about 1919, in the College's regulations whereby three years residence, and not two years as hitherto, was made the normal requirement, did not encourage students to take a degree whilst staying at the College before embarking on the theological training. Grants were not provided for theological students by the Ministry of Education until 1939, though the C.A.C.T.M. made some grants and the College had its own fund for making a few grants. In the Report of the College's Inspectors in 1923 Canon G.H. Rendall (Principal of University College, Liverpool 1881-98), one of the inspectors, advocated a closer link with the University of Liverpool, the College at this time apparently having no graduate students. In the 1960's another attempt was made to forge closer links with the University through the proposed creation of a University Diploma for which the teaching could be done mainly at the College, the University taking the responsibility of examining. Professor C.N.L. Brooke, one of the lay members on the College's Council, prepared a draft paper on the study and teaching of theology for the Faculty of Arts' Planning Committee in 1964 to initiate discussion on this and related subjects but nothing eventually materialized.

In the later 1960's St. Aidan's was suffering from a decline in numbers of students coupled with a steep rise in running costs. It was difficult to make ends meet and various schemes were examined from about 1967 onwards whereby the College might join forces with other Colleges, including the Northern Congregational College at Manchester. Perhaps in anticipation of such a scheme St. Aidan's was recognised by the University of Manchester from 1967; its connection with Durham University had apparently been severed in c.1954. In the meantime various ameliorative schemes were undertaken including the taking in of Liverpool University students (who were not ordinands) from 1965 onwards, a revival of a scheme which, under certain conditions, had been founded about the time of Affiliation in 1904. But despite prolonged negotiations and enquiries it was found impossible to find any satisfactory future for the College as a body for training students for the ministry of the Church of England and the College closed for the last time in the Summer of 1969. The College's Library, archives, and portraits of former Principals were transported to the Chapel of Church House, Liverpool, and various furnishings, such as the organ, transferred to the churches of former students, etc. The College's buildings and grounds were auctioned in 1970 and shortly afterwards the buildings demolished. On the site has been erected a private housing estate.

The only published history of the College is The Story of Saint Aidan's College, Birkenhead, 1847-1947 by F.B. Heiser (Principal 1929-50), Chester 1947; it does not contain an index, but is a chronological account. For the period after 1947 details can be obtained from the College's published magazine, as well, of course, as the considerable quantity of original papers which survive and which are listed below.