About The College

Westminster tower

Westminster College did not begin its life in Cambridge, but in London in 1844. Then the college of the Presbyterian Church in England, it began lectures in Exeter Hall before finally moving in 1859 to the more settled site of Queen's Square, London. The College did not move to Cambridge until 1899 (and this only after some hesitation on the part of the church) where a strategic site had been given to the church by Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson. These two women, biblical scholars, linguists and explorers of great distinction, were founding benefactors of Westminster College. Their story has been recently well told by Professor Janet Soskice in her award winning and best selling book Sisters of Sinai (Chatto and Windus, 2009). Please also see the 'Two Remarkable Women' section of this site.

The period immediately following the College's arrival at Cambridge was a distinguished period of the College's life. John Skinner was to be joined by John Oman, an Orcadian, who was to become one of the outstanding theologians of the day. Among his publications were Grace and Personality and The Natural and the Supernatural and it was also through his translation that the theology of Schleiermacher was introduced to English speaking theology.

John Oman was eventually to be succeeded by H.H. Farmer who, in addition to his work at Westminster, held the Norris-Hulse Chair in the University and made a significant contribution to theology through his writings. Theology, however, was not the only subject in which distinguished contributions were made. John Skinner was succeeded by W.A.L Elmslie whose scholarly work in the field of Old Testament studies was highly regarded. Similarly, Patrick Carnegie Simpson, who held the chair in Church History, wrote a notable life of Principal Rainy of New College, Edinburgh.

Chapel stained glass

This generation of scholars and teachers would in time be replaced by those of similar stature such as J. Young Campbell, Roy Whitehorn, Francis Healey, Basil Hall, R. Buick Knox and Alan McLeod. More recently, distinguished figures such as John O'Neil, later to be Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, and Martin Cressey, Principal of the College and Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, as well as a senior figure in international ecumenical circles, have served Westminster well.

The two most significant institutional events in the life of the college were undoubtedly the union of Westminster and Cheshunt colleges in 1967 and the formation of the United Reformed Church in 1972. The union of the Congregational and Presbyterian colleges predated and pre-figured the slightly later union of Presbyterian and Congregational churches in England. It also meant that Westminster's staff was to be augmented by equally vital figures from Cheshunt, such as its President John Newport, John Geyer and Stephen Mayor, who was the first Director of the Cheshunt Foundation.

Which brings us to the student body. Westminster has had many distinguished students over the years. But of those who have contributed to the life of the college and then gone on to make outstanding contributions to the wider church and academy the following should be mentioned; T.W. Manson, the brilliant biblical scholar and Rylands Professor in the University of Manchester, Lesslie Newbigin, ecumenist, bishop, scholar and pioneer of the Church of South India, William Paton, a precursor to Newbigin and a seminal figure in modern ecumenism, John Hick, one of the world's leading philosophers of religion and W.D. Davies, famous for his groundbreaking work on Paul and his Jewish background. To these, and indeed to all the students who have given so much to Westminster, the college is deeply grateful.