Born at Caistor, Lincolnshire, on 31 December 1892, into a staunch Methodist family. His father, George Manning, trained as a teacher at Westminster College, but later left teaching to become a Congregational minister. Bernard, though baptized in the Methodist chapel at Caistor, eventually became a Conmgregationalist.
In 1911 he won a major scholarship in History at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he enjoyed a close friendship with Arthur Quiller-Couch, the new Professor of English Literature. For two years after his graduation he held the Lightfoot Scholarship, and his research for the Thirlwell Essay was eventually published in 1919 as 'The People’s Faith in the Time of Wyclif' . From 1920 to 1933 he was Bursar at Jesus College and from 1933 until his death in 1941 Senior Tutor. He spoke of his aim as to be ‘ultra- conservative in the little details of life, so asa to be able to strike out on liberal lines in the big things’. Despite his loss of one lung to tuberculosis in childhood, he was respected as a particularly energetic and effective member of staff. His lectures especially on religion in the Middle Ages were well attended and enjoyed. The quality of his scholarship was reflected in the chapters he contributed to the Cambridge Medieval History.
By Methodist readers he is chiefly remembered for his articles on the hymns of the Wesleys, which he first encountered as a boy in the gallery of Caistor Methodist chapel as an antidote to long sermons. They were published posthumously as The Hymns of Wesley and Watts (1942) with a Foreword by Henry Bett, and remained in print for many years.
He died peacefully on 8 December 1941.
'Bernard Manning was a religious genius, and one of a very uncommon type. He was a unique combination - a scholar, a wit, a writer with a remarkably effective English style and an Evangelical believer. It is not often that you find anyone who is all these things at once. His scholarship was never obtruded, but it was always behind all that he wrote. His pleasantly acid wit was a perpetual joy; no one ever poked fun more delightfully at the follies and pretentions of unbelief and at the timidities of conventional religion.'
Henry Bett, Foreword to The Hymns of Wesley and Watts (1942)