Collyer Place, SE15



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Dr William Bengo’ Collyer (April 14, 1782 – January 8, 1854), was a great – but controversial – celebrity dissenting minister and religious writer, whose chapel was at the entrance to Rye Lane. He became embroiled in a scandal around his medical examinations of young men . He was the only surviving child of Thomas Collyer, a builder from Deptford. After being educated at the Leathersellers’ Company’s school in Lewisham, he entered Independent College, Homerton as a scholar in 1798. In 1800 he began his ministry in a small congregation at Peckham, over which he was ordained in December 1801. Under his ministry the congregation increased, and the chapel was several times enlarged. In 1816 it was rebuilt and reopened under the name of Hanover Chapel. By this time he was highly regarded, in 1816 he’d been awarded a Doctor of Divinity by Edinburgh University, four years later he succeeded Joseph Fox as joint secretary of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. For a time he edited The Investigator, a quarterly during which time he wrote and published an article entitled Licentious Publications in High Life, a direct attack on Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley who he described as immoral. In 1823 though he came under the spotlight following what the The Times reported as “unpleasant rumours… respecting the moral conduct of the Rev. Divine”. It went on: “These rumours are of a nature so revolting, but at the same time so vague, that had not the rev. doctor himself felt it expedient to meet them with a public refutation, we should not have ventured to allude to them even in the most distant manner.” In short, Collyer had been carrying out medical examinations at a local baths near his home in Camberwell, when a young man and a boy suggested that these were of an improper nature. Collyer wasted no time in denying the accusations, and having felt the matter had been dealt with left for Deptford and then on to the country. In the meantime the rumours began to spread, news of which only reached him on his return to London. Again he put up a robust defence, especially when Salters Hall, where he also preached, told him not to return until his name was cleared. Collyer took the matter head-on and in a robust rebuttal he claimed: “I know that ‘Caesar’s wife ought not to be suspected’ and that such a suspicion awakened relative to a minister, is likely to produce results equally fatal to his usefulness and his character. I am in this alarming condition; I have not shrunk from scrutiny; I have not shunned the public; conscious of innocence, I could not submit to appear guilty. I will not attempt to conceal the agony which this fearful imputation has occasioned me.” Collyer, who was married, survived the scandal in part thanks to the many testimonials praising his character from various medical men. He returned to his ministry and continued to publish sermons, hymns, and religious tracts until his death. This road was named in 1881.

 

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