Theophilus Lindsey
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Theophilus Lindsey

The first Unitarian church in England was founded in London in 1774 by Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808) [1] 

Theophilus Lindsey was born at Middlewich, Cheshire, on June 20, 1723.  He was educated at the free grammar school, Leeds, and at St John's College, Cambridge.  He graduated B.A. in 1744 and M.A. in 1748.  He was a fellow of the college from 1747 to 1755. Through his mother's connections and his Cambridge acquaintances, he benefited from aristocratic patronage, serving as domestic chaplain to the Duke of Somerset and as tutor to the future Duke of Northumberland.

Theophilus Lindsey was married on 29 September 1760 to Hannah Elsworth, the step-daughter of Francis Blackburne, Archdeacon of Cleveland.  There were no children of this marriage.  Theophilus Lindsey died at his house on Essex Street in London on November 3, 1808.

Our thanks to Dr. Grayson M. Ditchfield and the Dr.William's Library (see note at the end of this page) of London for the photocopy of the sketch of Dr. Theophilus Lindsey found at the right of this page.

The Toleration Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1689. This act permitted other religious denominations, such as Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, and Jews, to legally exist in England alongside the Church of England. However, these non-Anglican denominations, referred to as dissenters or nonconformists, could only refer to their meeting houses as chapels. The word "church" was reserved for the Church of England. Also, dissenters were not allowed to hold public office, serve in the armed forces or attend the universities. 

Theophilus Lindsey left a comfortable life with his parish of Catterick, England, because he did not feel he could continue offering worship to Christ and the Holy Spirit when he knew the Bible taught worship of God alone. Lindsey resigned as vicar of Catterick and in 1774 opened Essex Street Chapel in London for Unitarian worship using a Unitarian revison of The Book of Common Prayer.  Lindsey conducted his first service for a large congregation in an auction room on Essex Street, London, on April 14th, 1774. Among those in that first congregation were Benjamin Franklin, Richard Price and his friend, Joseph Priestley.

The theological position in Protestant Christianity which denies the Trinity and affirms the single personality of God is known as Unitarianism.  The background of Victorian Unitarianism is the long history of dispute among Christians about the divinity of Jesus.  The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches were both staunchly Trinitarian and relentlessly persecuted Unitarian theology until the early seventeenth century.  The last men to die in England for religious heresy were disbelievers in the Trinity who were executed by James I in 1612.  Nonetheless, such prominent thinkers as John Milton, John Locke and Isaac Newton held Unitarian views.  Unitarians were chiefly notable for advocating social reform, especially the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in the United States.

Unitarian publishing in Britain goes back as far as 1791 with the founding of the Unitarian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue by the Distribution of Books. The name Lindsey Press was adopted at the beginning of the twentieth century reflecting the significance of the Unitarian theologian Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808) for whom the chapel was built in Essex Street, London, England, on the site where Essex Hall (headquarters of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches) stands today. 

The Lindsey Press publishes works reflecting liberal religious thought, Unitarian history, and worship material. Today the Lindsey Press is overseen, on behalf of the General Assembly, by a six-member panel. 

Anyone having more information on the life and genealogy of Theophilus Lindsey and wishing to share that knowledge with the global Lindsay community, send Ron an e-mail.


[1] Victorian Britain Ė An Encyclopedia 1988, Garland Publishing, Inc., page 826

Note:  Dr. Williamís Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AG.  Dr. Williamís Library is a part of the Hellenic Institute of the Royal Holoway campus of the University of London.  This library is primarily a theological library, intended for use by ministers, students and other persons engaged in the study of theology, religion and ecclesiastical history.  It will also be found useful for the study of philosophy, history, literature, and kindred subjects.

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Addendum

On August 26, 2002, Lindsay International received a communication from Dr. Grayson M. Ditchfield, of the University of Kent at Canterbury, regarding Theophilus Lindsey.  He is currently editing the letters of Theophilus Lindsey for publication by the Church of England Record Society.  

So far Dr. Ditchfield has located approximately 700 of Lindsey's letters.  He would be very grateful for information regarding the whereabouts of Theophilus Lindsey's surviving letters, in particular the letters which were written to Theophilus Lindsey's father-in-law, Francis Blackburne, Archdeacon of Cleveland.

Dr. Ditchfield has also written a pamphlet, "Theophilus Lindsey: from Anglican to Unitarian", (Dr Williams's Trust, London: 1998), which is currently being revised.

If you wish to learn more about Theophilus Lindsey, go to Dr. Ditchfield's Theophilus Lindsey Project web site found at   http://www.ukc.ac.uk/history/academics/ditchfield/lindsey/index.html

In you can help Dr. Ditchfield in the location of the "missing" letters, he can be contacted at: 

Dr. G. M. Ditchfield
Reader in Eighteenth-Century History
University of Kent at Canterbury
Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NX
United Kingdom
E-mail Dr. Ditchfield 

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Page Initially Posted: November 28, 2001,  Updated: August 27, 2002