Cliff: More than a College

This is a splendidly produced book, which offers a comprehensive picture of the life of Cliff College, an institution that has had and continues to have a highly significant place within British evangelical life. Howard Mellor, who knows the recent story from within, having served the College for over twenty years on the teaching staff and as Principal, outlines the beginnings of Cliff as a College in the 1870s and traces the subsequent developments up to the present time. Each of the twenty chapters has a theme and the sequence of the chapters is partly but not primarily chronological. Howard Mellor has undertaken detailed research, using the rich resources at Cliff as well as other valuable material. The many marvellous photographs add considerably to the enjoyment of reading this book.

In its earlier days, the College site was associated with a formidable nineteenth-century evangelical leader, Henry Grattan Guinness, and the Regions Beyond Missionary Union. It is good to see this dimension explored. The remarkable ministry of Thomas and Eliza Champness and the Joyful News evangelists, who played an important part in the development of the College before its move to the current site, is vividly described. Other chapters in the book analyse in depth the contributions of those who also shaped Cliff College in the first half of the twentieth century: Thomas Cook, Samuel Chadwick and John Arthur Broadbelt. The more biographical elements are interspersed with studies of aspects of Cliff such as the contribution of women, overseas mission, buildings, Wesleyan holiness spirituality, the Cliff Trekkers and the Cliff College Fellowship.

I found this a fascinating book. It illuminates a strand of Methodism in the twentieth century which continued to promote the ‘second blessing’, a charismatic experience of the Holy Spirit, through times when this kind of experience was, to say the least, not widely taught within the Methodist Church in Britain. As Samuel Chadwick wrote in 1920 on the subject of Cliff’s training: ‘Learning is not the chief thing…scarcely a man comes that does not get his Pentecost’.

The book also underlines the fact that a significant sector of evangelical life has not embraced - indeed has countered - the Reformed perspectives that have often been more dominant in other expressions of evangelicalism. The Wesleyan story in the twentieth century deserves to be better known.

At the same time as telling the Cliff story, Howard Mellor engages in probing evaluation. He is critical of some of the triumphalist expressions that he finds on occasions in the sources. The book has a fine balance: the achievements of Cliff are properly acknowledged while difficult issues are confronted.

This is a very substantial volume, with considerable attention to detail, and I did wonder if it could have been a little smaller without losing its central thrust. However, previous books on Cliff have tended to be too small! There is some repetition, perhaps inevitably so because of the structure used. Also, as I read through I was not always clear why some chapters appeared at the point at which they did, although there is probably no scheme that could have been entirely logical.

Having said the book is big, perversely I would have liked to see a little more about the succession of Principals - especially that influential trio, Howard Belben, Arthur Skevington Wood and Bill Davies - who are dealt with in only a single chapter. These are, however, minor reservations. Those who know Cliff, and those who do not but who should, will find this book by Howard Mellor absorbing and challenging. We are greatly in his debt.

Category: