fonds SSM - Society of the Sacred Mission Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Society of the Sacred Mission Archive


  • 1877-2016 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

8.08 cubic metres

411 boxes, 11 oversize volumes, and assorted loose material.

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

The Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) is an Anglican religious order founded by Father Herbert Hamilton Kelly in 1893. In 1890 Kelly had been invited by Charles Corfe, Bishop of Korea, to take charge of a group of young men who had volunteered for missionary work. Kelly subsequently established a training house at Kennington, London, where candidates for the ‘Corean Missionary Brotherhood’ could live together in a community of prayer, work and study in preparation for their missionary work abroad. Kelly’s scheme had three conditions; first that acceptance for such work would not automatically lead to ordination, second that missionaries would not be paid, and third that they could not marry.

In 1892 Kelly changed the name of the Brotherhood to the Society of the Sacred Mission, reflecting his global vision for the community. At the same time the Society adopted a set of 22 principles, drafted by Kelly, which expressed his ideal of God-centred dedication, and a new motto, ‘Ad gloriam Dei in eius voluntate,’ or ‘To the glory of God in his will.’ A constitution was drafted and on 9 May 1893 Kelly, John Samuel Badcock (one of Kelly’s original students at Kennington) and Cyril Wildsmith-Chivers became the first novitiates. Kelly subsequently became the Society’s first Director, with new elections to be held every five years by the General Chapter, the Society’s ruling body.

Key to the work of the Society was the recruitment of men from poorer backgrounds who would not normally have the means to train for ordination through the usual route of university and theological college. Early recruits included carpenters, shop assistants, clerks, teachers and journalists. The Society also took boys aged 15-16. The four year training scheme was popular enough that by 1897 the Society had outgrown its Kennington house and relocated to Mildenhall in Suffolk where the Bishop of Rochester formally recognised it as a Theological and Missionary College. In 1899 Kelly founded the Fellowship of the Sacred Mission for committed lay supporters of the Society. In 1971 the Fellowship was renamed The Friends of the SSM.

In 1902 the Society launched its first overseas missions by establishing schools and training colleges for native Africans at Modderpoort and Ladybrand, South Africa, where Herbert Kelly’s brother Alfred was installed as the first Provincial. In the same year the SSM began publishing ‘The Quarterly Paper’ and in 1904 they established a third South African mission at Teyateyaneng, Basutoland. In 1907 the Society also took responsibility for Hlotse, the largest and oldest mission centre in Basutoland.

It was around this time that the original conditions of acceptance for training were revised, with the decision taken to remove the conditions relative to pay and marriage and to accept some men specifically to be trained for ordination. It was instead stipulated that men should undertake to repay the cost of their training (up to a set amount) after it was completed and that they should not marry until this was done.

In 1903, with numbers still growing, the SSM relocated again to Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire, the ancestral home of the Manners-Sutton family and the headquarters of the Society until 1972. By 1909 there were 97 men in residence there; 77 students, 11 lay brothers and 9 teaching staff. In 1932 the SSM founded a second English priory in a house on the Liverpool docks, and in 1934 they established a third at Bedminster, Bristol, at the invitation of the city’s Bishop.

In 1910 Herbert Kelly retired as Director of the Society and was succeeded by Father David Jenks. In 1912 the Society expanded their overseas work, sending trained priests to Queensland, Australia, to run the Community of St Barnabas. One of the priests sent from Kelham, Reverend Reginal C. Halse, later became Bishop of Riverina in New South Wales and Archbishop of Brisbane. By 1933 around half of the Society was working overseas.

As a result of this missionary work, in 1943 the Society was invited by the Bishop of Adelaide to establish a branch of the SSM in Australia. The offer was accepted and in 1947 the SSM created a new Australian Province and opened a Theological College at St Michael’s House, Mount Lofty, South Australia. In the same year the Company of the Sacred Mission was founded as a third order for priests and laity, both men and women, married and unmarried, outside the full membership of the Society.

The 1950s brought significant change to the SSM with the death of their founder, Father Kelly, in 1950, and the closure of Modderpoort School and Teacher Training College in 1954 and 1955 as a result of the new policy of racial apartheid in South Africa. In 1957 the Society re-opened the college buildings in Modderpoort as a ‘Test School’ for African ordinands, in the hope that the Group Areas Act of 1950 would not be applicable. However in the early 1960s Modderpoort was declared a ‘white’ only area and the Test School closed in 1965.

By 1957 there were 75 professed and 29 novices at Kelham, among them men from Australia, Ghana, and also from Japan, where Herbert Kelly had spent three years teaching at the Central Theological College in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, between 1913 and 1919. Kelly’s students included five future Japanese Bishops, and between 1969 and 1990 the Society ran a priory there at Kobe.

By the mid-1960s however the number of ordinands was dropping and the Society began to relax some of its college rules, restricting men from marrying only during their training and reducing the number of daily offices from six to four. In 1969 The Quarterly Paper was replaced with a single annual magazine, ‘Transmit’, and three annual news sheets. By 1969 student numbers had dropped to only fifty in the theological course, reflective of a general drop in the number of ordinands across the Church of England.

In 1971 the Synod of the Church of England took action, amalgamating some theological colleges and closing others. Kelham was among those that would no longer be recognised by the church, a controversial decision as it received no funding from the Church of England’s Central Board of Finance. After protests, the Synod reconsidered, allowing Kelham 25 prospective ordinands per year which took the total number of students to 50 in all, the smallest the college had been since the move to Kelham.

Initially it was hoped that the college could continue to function as a small community, but by 1972 it had become clear this was not possible and the decision was made to close the college. The main buildings were sold to Newark District Council in 1973 and its extensive library was divided between the other SSM priories in England and the remainder sold. The last issue of ‘Transmit’ was published in 1973.

Following the closure of Kelham, the SSM focused its activity in England on four priories at Sheffield, Nottingham, Lancaster and Milton Keynes. At Lancaster, their base – Quernmore Park, bequeathed to the Society in 1965 – became a Christian Institute where the brethren could continue their educational work. At Milton Keynes the Society took over the church and vicarage at Willen, on the outskirts of the new city.

In 1983 the Society was approached by the Ordinands Assistance and Support Including Study group (OASIS) with the request that they set up a small centre in Durham for young men who wished to enter a theological college but were no longer supported by the Church of England in gaining the necessary qualifications to apply. The Society opened what is now St Anthony’s Priory in the city in 1985 and by 1992 they had twelve residents undergoing preparation for higher education.

Today the SSM in England continues to divide its work among a number of priories, with its European Provincial headquarters at The Well at Willen, near Milton Keynes, which has, since 2007, been a lay community offering retreats, workshops and other events. In 1993 the Society celebrated its centenary with a service at Southwell Minster, near Kelham, and the opening of a new house at Vassall Road in Kennington, opposite the site of its original house in 1891. In 1999 the Society accepted women as full members for the first time.

The Society continues to be active abroad, primarily in South Africa, Lesotho (previously Basutoland) and Australia. In 1978 the SSM took over St John’s Anglican Church in Adelaide, South Australia, and this became the centre of their activities in the region following the closure of St Michael’s House in the 1980s. A new St Michael’s Priory was subsequently founded near Melbourne, at Digger’s Rest, in 1985, and another at Port Augusta in 1990. At present the SSM is based in Adelaide, the Barossa Valley and Maitland in South Australia, and Melbourne, with chapter meetings held twice a year.

In Southern Africa, the SSM opened a new priory at Maseru in Lesotho in 1983, followed by a second priory in 2008, and in 2004 they inaugurated the new and autonomous Southern African Province of the SSM.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute by the Society of the Sacred Mission in 2006. Further additions were made by the Society in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers of Herbert Hamilton Kelly, founder of the SSM, 1879-c.1970, including personal documents relating to his university and church career, and obituaries, 1879-1950, diaries, 1880-1950, subject papers, 1880-1949, correspondence, 1886-1950, papers relating to retreats, conferences, and sermons, c.1886-1941, published articles and books, 1890-1967, unpublished manuscripts, c.1899-1950, papers relating to lecture schemes, 1891-1952, papers specially relating to the Society of the Sacred Mission, mostly written by Kelly, 1897-1949, theological correspondence and related papers, 1907-1950, papers relating to the Student Christian Movement, 1908-1936, papers relating to Japan, 1913-1948, and biographical writings, 1926-c.1970.

General records of the SSM, 1880-2002, including minutes, agendas and other related papers for Great Chapters and General Chapters, 1905-1989, Acts of the SSM, 1894-2002, principles of the SSM, 1904-1979, constitutions, 1893-1982, financial and legal papers, 1898-1991, records of brethren, 1891-2005, liturgical books, 1880-1977, SSM Quarterly Paper, 1895-1975, and papers relating to the centenary of the SSM, 1993-1994; records of the Director of the SSM, 1891-2005, including reports, 1891-1989, Chapter minutes, 1912-1984, Director’s newsletter, 1910-1997, and correspondence and papers, including material relating to Australia, Africa and Japan, and papers of the Company of the Sacred Mission, the Fellowship of the Sacred Mission, and the Fraternity of the Sacred Mission, 1891-2005; records relating to Fidelity Trust Ltd, 1912-1982.

Records of Kelham Theological College, c.1893-1972, including chapter minutes and reports, 1932-1972, papers relating to ordination training, 1905-1969, prospectuses, application forms, circulars and programmes for student entertainments, c.1893-1971, papers concerning relations with the Central Advisory Council for Training for the Ministry, 1913-1971, papers relating to The Archbishops’ Commission on Training for the Ministry, 1937-1944, and reports, financial records, correspondence and other papers relating to the closure of the college, 1968-1972.

Records of the Provinces of the SSM, 1890-2005, including chapter minutes, rules and regulations, financial records, journals and plans relating to the Province of the Mother House at Kelham, 1890-1976, the English Province, 1929-1996, the Province of Europe, 1996-2005, and the Korean Province, 1904.

Priory records, including minutes, reports, financial records, diaries, events programmes, press cuttings and other papers, for Kelham, 1934-1974, Nottingham, c.1915-1967, Bedminster, 1934, Sheffield, 1936-1988, Averham, 1947, Quernmore, 1965-1990, Willen, 1973-1997, and Durham, 1992-1994.

Material relating to Father Gabriel Hebert, 1884-1963, including personal documents and memorabilia, 1884-1963, correspondence, 1912-1963, lecture schemes and notes, 1927-1958, published books and articles, with reviews, 1928-1964, ecumenical papers, 1932-1963, papers relating to retreats and sermons, 1934-1963, papers relating to the Parish and People movement, 1937-1962, and papers relating to the USA, 1947-1963.

Personal papers of brethren, 1877-2002.

Photographs relating to SSM activity in Britain, Southern Africa, Australia, Japan, and Papua New Guinea, c.1920s-c.1990s.

Theses and dissertations concerning the history and development of the SSM, 1971-1993.

Additional uncatalogued material, including chapter minutes, annual reports, newsletters and magazines relating to England, Europe and Africa, lectures, membership lists, photographs, film, recordings of musical performances, and personal papers of brethren, 1928-2018.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

The archive includes glass plate negatives, lantern slides and film. Access to this material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute in advance.

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. This includes all material received in 2007 and 2008. The remaining material has not yet been catalogued, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Slides created by the Society have been digitised and are available through the University of York's online Digital Library. These include images from the American Colony in Jerusalem c.1904 and cover sights in Israel and other parts of the Middle East.


Related units of description

For related material held by the Borthwick Institute, see the lecture notes of Kelham student J. Rawlins, 1932-1936.

A travel diary, correspondence and other papers relating to Father David Jenks, Director of the SSM, dated c.1899-1923, are held by Lambeth Palace Library in London.

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 27.08.15.




Accession area