Preston’s Cambridge men … and (a few) women

See also: Public School Prestonians

The mathematician and fellow of Cambridge University John Venn, best remembered for his Venn diagrams, devoted many years of his life to compiling biographical information on former members of his university. He was helped by his son, also named John, who continued the work after his death.

Their combined labours resulted in 10 volumes containing short but comprehensive biographies of thousands of Cambridge men (there were no women); the equivalent for Oxford contains much scantier entries. [1] The volumes were published between 1922 and 1954. [2] A further contribution came in the 1960s with the publication of Emden’s work on the pre-1500 period. [3]

The work of all three was incorporated and expanded by a Cambridge project designed to digitise the biographies and build a database from them. [4] This latest venture included the women’s colleges and took the total number of biographies to around 150,000. The trials and tribulations involved in the exercise were described in a conference paper in 2000 by one of the members of the project, John Dawson. [5]

Early attempts at digitisation in the 1970s were abandoned because of the complexity of the task. When Dawson came at it again the availability of more sophisticated optical character recognition tools made the whole project more feasible. Even so, the complexity remained and taxed the project workers’ computational skills to the limit.

Things were probably not helped by the lack of consistency in the entries supplied by Venn senior, a surprising failing in the work of a mathematician and logician. As a result, the whole project looked like foundering, as Dawson notes:

Glancing at the pages of Venn’s biographies gives a first impression that they are very regular, with keywords such as ‘Matric.’ and ‘School’ clearly signalling well-structured phrases. However, this is only what the human eye and brain make of the material! When an attempt is made to parse these sentences automatically, all sorts of horrors arise.

Fortunately, the project was pursued and the results are now freely available on line. Also on line are the 10 volumes produced by the Venns:

Part I. From the earliest times to 1751.
Vol. i. Abbas – Cutts, 1922. Online version at the Internet Archive.
Vol. ii. Dabbs – Juxton, 1922. Online version at the Internet Archive.
Vol. iii. Kaile – Ryves, 1924. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. iv. Saal – Zuinglius, 1927. Online version at the Internet Archive

Part II. 1752–1900.
Vol. i. Abbey – Challis, 1940. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. ii. Chalmers – Fytche, 1944. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. iii. Gabb – Justamond, 1947. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. iv. Kahlenberg – Oyler, 1947. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. v. Pace – Spyers, 1953. Online version at the Internet Archive
Vol. vi. Square – Zupitza, 1954. Online version at the Internet Archive

John Dawson’s on-line version comes with a very good search engine that means it is very easy to locate specific entries. Thus, inserting the terms ‘Preston’ and ‘Lancashire’ yields 407 entries. When entries for the ‘wrong’ Prestons and those with only a passing link to the Lancashire town are weeded out some 323 useful Preston entries remain: just 16 of those entries are for women.

One caveat is that not all Preston entries are found by the search engine. A particularly glaring example is that for the Rev John Clay, the 19th-century Preston prison chaplain, who was a graduate of Emmanuel College. Entering ‘Preston’ in the search engine brings up the hundreds of entries, but not Rev Clay. Entering ‘Clay’, ‘Emmanuel’ and ‘Preston’  brings no results. Drop ‘Preston’ and he pops up.

The site does contain the following warning: ‘At present, the whole system is experimental. Data may alter or disappear without notice’.

Also not found with a search for ‘Preston’ is Clay’s son Walter Lowe Clay. That is because there is no mention of his Preston connection in his entry.

Composite image of Alexander Rigby, Mother Mary Cephas and Isaac Ambrose
Some notable Preston Cambridge alumni: Alexander Rigby, Mother Mary Cephas and Isaac Ambrose. The image of Mary Cephas is from the Cardinal Newman College Archive:

The entries relating to Preston are spread somewhat thinly over the more than three centuries they cover and so do not lend themselves to more than the minimal quantified treatment above. Where they do prove more illuminating is in the detail they supply of individual lives (something sadly lacking for the publication devoted to Oxford graduates). See: Some notable Preston Cambridge alumni.

The entries contain a wealth of information about two groups of Cambridge graduates: those who originated in Preston (149 entries) and those from elsewhere whose school days or subsequent careers, frequently as Anglican clerics, brought them to the town (174). Other sets can be assembled to form a sort of Venn diagram of various groups, such as Preston Grammar School and Park School pupils and staff who graduated from Cambridge.

Preston’s Cambridge alumni
A-B / C-D / E-G / H-J / K-M / N-P / R / S / T-V / W-Y

The material can be treated in the mass to give some indication of the social background of those who benefited from a Cambridge education, since the father’s occupation is often given: of the 148 entries for Preston ‘natives’, 95 list father’s occupations. Local knowledge would easily supply information where it is not listed, as well as supplying the occupations of those who are listed as gentlemen or esquires.

There is a preponderance of professionals, especially Anglican clergy, among the fathers of Preston graduates: army officers (3), barristers (2), clergy (18), doctors (7), solicitors (6). Trade supplies just four (possibly six) cotton merchants, three drapers, one druggist, one mercer, one tea dealer and one warehouseman. Probably more of those engaged in trade are hidden by their affixing ‘esq.’ or ‘gent.’ to their names and omitting their occupation, if any.

While 27 of the Preston boys are identified as being educated at the town’s grammar school (and sometimes at additional schools), a further 79 did not attend the grammar school and were educated elsewhere, with Sedbergh School (12) being the most popular. No school details were available for 39 of the entries. The female graduates who were born in Preston are too few to makea  reasonable comparison.

Cambridge colleges fielded 11 Preston Grammar School headmasters from the 16th century through to the end of the 19th-century, including in the late 17th century George Walmsley, Richard Croston and Thomas Whitehead.

Throughout the period covered by these records Cambridge undergraduates can be divided into separate status groups: sizars, who acted as college servants in return for their education; pensioners, gentlemen who paid for their education; fellow commoners, more affluent undergraduates who paid extra fees and could join the college fellows at the high table. Separate again were those in receipt of a scholarship.

The figures for those arriving at Cambridge from Preston were: sizar (23), pensioner (96), fellow commoner (8), scholar (4), not given (13).

After leaving college, the 148 members of Cambridge’s Preston contingent followed a fairly limited range of careers, predominantly being ordained into the Church of England. There were 51 Anglican clerics, 13 barristers, 10 schoolmasters and 2 schoolmistresses, 5 army officers, 4 doctors, 3 lecturers, 2 solicitors, 2 town clerks, a civil engineer, a company director, a possible ironmaster, a nonconformist minister and a tax collector. No occupation was given for 48 graduates, many of whom would have been members of the landed gentry and ‘lived off the land’ (see: Who owned Lancashire?).

Cambridge graduates from elsewhere who pursued their careers in Preston were similarly likely to be predominantly clerics. In fact, the town seemed to have provided a training ground for aspiring vicars in the 19th century with a steady stream of newly-ordained clerics coming to the town to serve as curates for a short period before moving onwards and upwards.

Preston churches and their Cambridge curates
(when someone is described simply as curate of Preston it probably means of St John’s, the parish church)

Church From To Name College
All Saints’ 1899 1902 William Edward Hatton-Williams Peterhouse
Christ Church 1843 1845 William John Monk St John’s
Christ Church 1872 1876 Francis John Dickson Trinity
Christ Church 1876 1877 Norris Dredge St John’s
Christ Church 1889 1894 John Morris Bowen Christ’s
Emmanuel 1872 1876 Thomas Barton Spencer St John’s
Preston 1799 1808 Thomas Saul St John’s
Preston 1827 1834 Thomas Clark Queens’
Preston 1837 1839 Charles Wagstaff Trinity
Preston 1840 1842 John Charles Whish Trinity
Preston 1875 1877 William Ritson Pembroke
Preston 1889 1897 Edward Eyre Goold-Adams Jesus
St George’s 1850 1862 Charles Harrison Wood Christ’s
St George’s 1909 1910 James Boyle Corpus Christi
St James’s 1841 1842 Philip Walker Copeman Queens’
St John’s 1689 1689 James Bland St John’s
St John’s 1841 1843 Charles Richson St Catharine’s
St John’s 1886 1888 Henry Henn Trinity Hall
St John’s 1893 1897 Thomas Pearson Christ’s
St John’s 1847 1850 John Wilson St John’s
St Jude’s 1898 1901 James Richard Foster St John’s
St Luke’s 1885 1890 Robert Minnitt Trinity
St Luke’s 1890 1893 David Ernest Walker St John’s
St Mary’s 1851 1856 William Maude Haslewood St John’s
St Mary’s 1857 1858 John Shaw St John’s
St Mary’s 1873 1875 William Robert Worthington Corpus Christi
St Mary’s 1885 1887 Harry Spencer Moore Peterhouse
St Paul’s 1851 1854 James Hadfield St John’s
St Paul’s 1857 1859 William Winlaw St John’s
St Paul’s 1880 1881 Martin Shipham Munroe Pembroke
St Paul’s 1886 1890 John Russell Napier Trinity
St Paul’s 1886 1893 Frederick Eugène Perrin St John’s
St Paul’s 1895 1902 Henry Pritt Queens’
St Paul’s 1895 1898 Arthur William Charles Trinity Hall
St Paul’s 1896 1899 Charles James Ferguson-Davie Trinity Hall
St Paul’s 1899 1902 David Alston Hall St Catharine’s
St Paul’s 1902 1906 Alfred Metcalfe Stephens Corpus Christi
St Paul’s 1907 1907 Raymond Hargrave Queens’
St Peter’s 1841 1842 Thomas Gleadowe Fearne Not Given
St Peter’s 1879 1883 Alexander Glen Bott St John’s
St Thomas’s 1845 1850 John Francis Israel Herschell Queens’
St Thomas’s 1859 1862 Richard Price St John’s
St Thomas’s 1893 1900 George Richard Plews Matric Non-Coll
St Thomas’s 1906 1917 Archibald Edward Allen Selwyn
Trinity 1846 1846 Andrew Heslop Trinity
Trinity 1848 1850 John Kitton St John’s
Trinity 1897 1904 Benjamin Allen Berry Peterhouse
[1] University of Oxford. and Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714: Their Parentage Birthplace, and Year of Birth, with a Record of Their Degrees (Oxford: Parker and co., 1891).
[2] University of Cambridge, John Venn, and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses; a Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900. (Cambridge, University Press, 1922-1954).
[3] A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500 (Cambridge University Press, 1963).
[4] ‘ACAD – A Cambridge Alumni Database’, n.d.,
[5] J. L. Dawson, ‘ACAD – A Cambridge Alumni Database: Introduction’ (ALLC/ACH 2000, Glasgow University, 2000), Published in Computers in Genealogy, Vol. 7 No. 8 (December 2001), pp. 363–375.

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