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St. Bees Theological College

1816 - 1895


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By the start of the 1800's the Church of England was badly in need of properly trained clergy. The instruction given at the two English universities of Oxford and Cambridge was not focused on producing parish priests and was out of the financial reach of many, yet the rapidly rising population of England demanded an increased supply of clergy who were formally trained and committed to the ministry.

In 1816, the establishment at St. Bees of the first Church of England theological college outside Oxford and Cambridge heralded a change which was to transform clergy training in England.

This web article describes the life of St. Bees Theological College and its effect on the church and village.

William Wordsworth wrote...

But all availed not; by a mandate given
Through lawless will the Brotherhood was driven
Forth from their cells; their ancient House laid low
In Reformation's sweeping overthrow.
But now once more the local Heart revives,
The inextinguishable Spirit strives.
Oh may that Power who hushed the stormy seas,
And cleared a way for the first Votaries,
Prosper the new-born College of St. Bees!

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Note that the information on this site is sourced from Dr Trevor Park's excellent book on the history of the St Bees Theological College, entitled "St Bees College, Pioneering Higher Education in 19th Century Cumbria." ISBN 0-9508325-1-0, published in 2008 by St Bega Publications, CA27 0AF.

One seller of the booklet can be found Here

Book review...West Cumberland News and Star....

Surprise hit of summer

At first glance, St Bees College: Pioneering Higher Education in 19th Century Cumbria, might not seem the most exciting of reads. The life and times of a college to train clergy which existed for less than a century is hardly the book you’d rush to take to the beach with you on a hot summer’s day.

But this revised edition of Dr Trevor Park’s 1982 tome was a surprising delight.

For a start, it’s easy to forget – well, it did close down in 1895 – the significance of St Bees College. It could easily have become the first university in Cumbria, but for the obstinacy and, dare we say, greed of the Principal.

And at its peak (1850-51), the college had more students than even Durham University.

The birth, growth and eventual demise of St Bees College is full of all the politics and intrigue beloved by the likes of Trollope and others. But we wouldn’t particularly care were it not for the clarity and passion with which Dr Park – a former vicar of St Bees – writes. You can only write in such an entertaining and informative style if you’ve done your homework and there’s no doubting that Dr Park and his associates have gone to extreme lengths to make sure they have every scrap of information at their fingertips.

Official records, private letters, newspaper reports – all have been gone through with a fine-tooth comb. Strangely, having all these hard facts to hand somehow turns the tale into something far better than fiction. The various characters come to life as we are introduced to heroes, villains, plot complications and even a whiff of scandal! But where else would you look for such colour than the history of a 19th century ecclesiastical college?!

St Bees College: Pioneering Higher Education in 19th Century Cumbria by Trevor Park. St Bega Publications Price £8 from Michael Moon, The Christian Bookshop and others.