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Saturday 12 June 2010


I come from a tightly woven plait of eighteenth and nineteenth century Non-Conformist families. My great great great grandfather Samuel Salter was a deacon of the first Baptist church in Watford before he moved the family into London. There he filled the same office at the Baptist church in Blackfriars Road and became involved in the Baptist Home Missionary Society, which he eventually served as Treasurer.

Like many Non-Conformists, the Baptists believed passionately in education as a way into the mainstream society from which they were largely excluded because of their faith. It was a religious duty to better oneself through learning. But from education too they were excluded, by a system which allowed only members of the Church of England to attend England’s only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

London University Share no. 1005

The solution was simple: establish your own university. This they did, and founded the defiantly named London University in 1826. The founders raised the money to build the university through an issue of shares, and I’m proud as anything to record that Samuel Salter bought one!

Admittedly he wasn’t exactly first in line – his share is dated 1828 and numbered 1005 – but it survives to this day in the family archive as a symbol of their commitment to learning. Not only did he buy a share: when the new university opened its doors to students in 1828, the very first intake of students that Michaelmas term included Samuel’s son William Augustus Salter. Salters (and other descendents) have been going to university in every generation since.

London University, 1828
by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Because London University applied no religious tests to its entrants, it was not at first granted a charter. Moreover a rival institution was established within a year of the university’s opening – King’s College, founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington, was intended like Oxford and Cambridge to admit only Anglican students (although in fact Non-Conformist students could study there and were only barred from sitting exams).

Neither university could confer degrees however, and in order to enable this politically, the two institutions combined under the name the University of London. The original Non-Conformist London University was renamed University College. As UCL it survives to this day, one of nine colleges currently making up the University of London.

For the record, William Augustus Salter studied the following subjects, and his father paid the following fees, during his time at London University:
Matriculation £2
1828-29: Latin £7.10s, Greek £7.10s, Mathematics £7.
1829-30: Latin £7.10s, Greek £7.10s, Hebrew £5.
1830-31: Greek £7.10, Hebrew £5, Logic £5.
William went on to train for the Baptist ministry at Stepney Baptist College (now Regents Park College Oxford) and fought all his life for better education provision for the poor of his several parishes. As a biblical scholar he was also a major contributor to the Annotated Paragraph Bible edited by his brother-in-law Joseph Gurney (see my earlier post).

Samuel retired to Watford. After death he was buried in the Salter Family Vault at the Baptist church in Beechen Grove of which he had been deacon as a younger man. Sad to report, the vault and church were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Harlequin Shopping Centre. But its contents were re-interred with due respect beneath a simple plaque in Watford’s Vicarage Road Cemetery (opposite the football ground of the same name).

The Salter Family Grave, Vicarage Road Cemetery, Watford
(photographed in February 2008)

It reads: “The remains of those buried between 1721 and 1860 in the graveyard of the original Baptist church, Beechen Grove, Watford were reverently reinterred here in October and November 1963. Further remains being those of David Salter and his family were reinterred here on the 18th March 1974.”

1 comment:

  1. When I applied to university (in 1982) I put UCL as my first choice on the UCCA form, and King's College second - unaware of the long standing rivalry. The man who interviewed me from King's was most put out and quizzed me as to why I had put UCL above Kings. It turned out to be irrelevant as I went to Edinburgh Uni in the end anyway! Rosie D


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