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Philip Doddridge

 

Philip Doddridge was a Nonconformist minister in Northampton in the 18th century. He is also known for writing hymns, running a religious academy, and doing charitable work.

Philip Doddridge was born in 1702 in London where he had a Christian upbringing. When he was a small child, his mother taught him Bible stories from decorated tiles around their fireplace. Doddridge’s parents died young and his guardian sent him to a school in St Albans run by a dissenter. His family had a history of dissent, as his granddad and brother-in-law were both Nonconforming ministers. After school, Doddridge went on to train at Kibworth Academy and embark on his own career as a dissenting minister.

Doddridge moved to Northampton in 1729 to lead Castle Hill Chapel. He stayed there for the rest of his life, refusing employment offers from other churches. Doddridge published many of his sermons. His most famous book, The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, influenced many people and helped convert William Wilberforce (an MP who fought to end slavery) to Christianity. He also composed his own hymns – 375 in total.

© Northamptonshire Record OfficeShortly after moving to Northampton, Doddridge married Mercy Maris. They had a very happy marriage and nine children, but only four survived into adulthood.

Doddridge ran an academy out of his home on Marefair. He taught many subjects, including history and science, alongside the Bible. Unusually for the time, he presented both sides of arguments and taught his students to think for themselves. The academy was so successful that by 1740, the Doddridges had to move to a larger house on Sheep Street. Recognising his importance as a teacher, Marischal College in Aberdeen awarded Doddridge an honorary post-doctoral degree.

The academy was very strict. Classes started early in the morning and there were fines for handing in essays late. Doddridge set up a charity school for boys with these fines. The school taught reading and writing, and also provided boys with clothing.

© National Portrait Gallery, LondonDoddridge did other charitable work too. He worried about contagious diseases and published a pamphlet on the importance of vaccinating against smallpox. At the time, most people believed vaccination was against God’s will. His pamphlet was widely read and helped shift public attitudes. With Dr James Stonehouse, he also helped set up Northampton’s first hospital in 1744. Doddridge supported it for the rest of his life.

In 1751, Doddridge became seriously ill. Doctors recommended that he spend the winter in Lisbon, Portugal, and many people donated money for his travel. However, Doddridge died before he got there. He is buried in a cemetery in Lisbon.

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To see - The Castle Hill Chapel is now called the Castle Hill United Reformed Church. It has galleries, box pews, and a memorial to Doddridge. There is also a plaque outside.

Image acknowledgements:

Philip Doddridge's mother teaching him Bible stories from the tiles around the fireplace © Northamptonshire Libraries

Title page of The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge © Northamptonshire Archives Service

Philip Doddridge by George Vertue, after Andrea Soldi © National Portrait Gallery, London, licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

Castle Hill United Reformed Church © Northamptonshire County Council

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If your question is research-related, please contact the Northamptonshire Archives.