Harris Manchester College, Oxford

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Harris Manchester College, Oxford

Harris Manchester College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Formerly known as Manchester College, it is listed in the University Statutes (V.1) as Manchester Academy and Harris College, and at University ceremonies it is called Collegium de Harris et Manchester.

Located in Mansfield Road in central Oxford, Harris Manchester is one of very few mixed-sex higher education colleges in the UK whose undergraduate places are exclusively for mature students (aged 21 or over). It is the smallest of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford, and as of 2010 had an estimated financial endowment of £12 million.


The college started as the Manchester Academy in Manchester in 1786. Originally run by English Presbyterians, it was one of several dissenting academies that provided religious nonconformists with higher education, as at the time the only universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, were restricted to Anglicans. The Manchester Academy was modelled on the well-known Warrington Academy. It taught radical theology as well as modern subjects, such as science, modern languages, language, and history. This did not mean that the classics were neglected.

The college changed its location five times before settling in Oxford.

  • It was located in Manchester between 1786 and 1803.
  • It moved to York until 1840. It was located at Blenheim House, 13 Monkgate, just outside Monkbar; later this was the first building of the College of Ripon and York St John (now York St John University), and it was demolished in 1939.

The key person in York was Charles Wellbeloved, a Unitarian minister. Because he would not move to Manchester, the college moved to York to have him as head. At first he taught all subjects, but hired additional tutors after a year. He always worked hard and several times his health broke. In 1840, when age forced him to retire, the college moved back to Manchester. Wellbeloved did not allow the school to be called Unitarian because he wanted students to have an open mind and to discover the truth for themselves. In 1809 he wrote to George Wood,

Under Wellbeloved's Principalship 235 students were educated at the college: 121 divinity students and 114 laymen. Of the former, 30 did not enter the ministry and five entered the Anglican priesthood. Among the lay students were scholars, public servants, businessmen, and notable men in the arts. The majority was Unitarian.

  • The college moved back from York to Manchester in 1840. It stayed there until 1853. In 1840, the college started an association with the University of London, and gained the right to present students for degrees from London.
  • Between 1853 and 1889 the college was located in London, in University Hall, Gordon Square
  • From London it moved to Oxford, opening its new buildings designed by the Unitarian architect Thomas Worthington in 1893.
Modern life

Harris Manchester College was granted Permanent Private Hall status in 1990. In 1996 the college became a full constituent college of Oxford University.

Today the college focuses on mature students (i.e. those above the age of 21), both for undergraduate and graduate studies. The college tries to continue its liberal and pioneering ethos, considering its mature student focus as a modern means of providing higher education to those that have, in the past, been excluded from it. In its early days, the College supported reforming causes, such as the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and the abolition of slavery. In 1901 the College was the first academic institution in Britain to accept a female candidate for the Nonconformist ministry. In the 1920s and 1930s the College provided courses for the Workers' Educational Association.

Harris Manchester College is the base for the Farmington Institute for Christian Studies, which sponsors the ongoing training of teachers of religious education.

Student life

Despite the small student body, the college offers a wide array of courses and has a very international atmosphere. Most undergraduate tutorials are carried out in the college, though for some specialist papers undergraduates may be sent to tutors in other colleges.

Members are generally expected to dine in the Arlosh Hall, where there is a twice-weekly formal dinner at which grace is always recited and students dress in jackets, ties, and gowns.

Aside from the College punt, The Royle Yacht, and a croquet lawn and fishing fountain, the college has no real sports facilities. However, the College is collectively a member of a central Oxford gym and health club to which members of the college have free access. In recent years the college's basketball team has been exceptionally successful, winning third place in the intercollegiate cuppers tournament last year. Moreover, Harris Manchester also has an affiliation with neighbouring Wadham College for those interested in becoming members of Wadham College Boat Club and other popular sports.

The college boasts one of the largest, if not the largest, specialist non-conformist college theological libraries in Oxford - it owns approximately 70,000 items. The collection has been built up and developed over the two hundred years of the College's existence. It includes a range of artefacts, an antiquarian book collection, and a large collection of manuscripts relating to the college and a specialist collection relating to the Non Conformist and Dissenting movement in England.

The college is also the home of a chapel with ornate wood carvings, an organ, and notable stained-glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

  • Ralph Waller
  • Charles Wellbeloved
  • John Kenrick
  • Joseph Priestley
  • John Dalton
  • William Gaskell
  • L. P. Jacks
  • Francis William Newman
  • James Martineau
  • Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Notable Unitarian alumni
  • James Martineau, later the principal of his alma mater
  • William Gaskell
  • Philip Pearsall Carpenter
  • John James Tayler, later the principal also
  • Joseph Hunter, antiquarian
  • Joseph Hutton
  • William Raynor Wood
  • Daniel Jones
  • William Turner the younger
  • James Yates
  • Robert Wallace, later the principal also
  • Mark Philips, prominent Member of Parliament
  • Edward Worthington