The Revd Dr Maldwyn Hughes, the first Principal, had a very difficult job to do on two fronts. He had to establish the academic credentials of the new college in the University and satisfy the Church that they had taken the right step (the Primitive Methodists in Cambridge had objected to the training of students for ministry at all in 1844).
The first six students who arrived were a remarkable group (three of them went on to become Presidents of the Conference). Harold Roberts followed a ministry into theological education and Eric Baker became a long serving Secretary of the Conference. Eric Baker and Stanley Collins in that first student group had their original degrees from Cambridge and gave invaluable advice to the others. Three of those first six students had seen service in the First World War. They were a very varied group and each saw a very different path in ministry open up to them - but pathways of Church governance, education and engagement with the world-wide Church (which were to become significant areas of specialism for so many Wesley House students) were all represented in that first group.
The Wesleyan Methodist Conference took the unusual step of appointing a Principal for the College before a site had been acquired or a founding trust set up. The man appointed as first Principal was The Revd Dr Maldwyn Hughes. From the trust deed: 'The intention being to provide a post graduate course in which students should have the full benefit of University life and tuition side by side with such distinctive teaching...as would enable them to maintain in the Church Universal those doctrines of experimental religion and especially spiritual holiness upon which John Wesley placed emphasis.' During 1920 Gutteridge made a number of visits to Cambridge with Albert Reid. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to find a suitable site.
Arrangements were made with Cheshunt College (Congregational) to rent a house at 2, Brookfield which, as well as accommodation for the Principal and family had rooms for lectures and a Common Room. In June 1921 Hughes and his family moved in to make the necessary preparations. The first six students to train for Wesleyan Methodist ministry arrived in October 1921 and embarked on the Tripos.
Mr and Mrs Bisseker of The Leys gave an At Home at the school where Maldwyn and Helen Hughes were introduced to a number of invited members of the University. The Censor of what was then Fitzwilliam House gave invaluable help. Until 1934 Wesley House students not already belonging to a Cambridge College matriculated as Non-Collegiate students. In 1926 four theological colleges in Cambridge, including Wesley House, were recognised as Houses of Residence by the University.
Hughes and his brother were walking along Jesus Lane when he saw a group of stables and empty shops which were being advertised for sale. The land was owned by Jesus College. The position was ideal but the amount of land for sale was not nearly large enough. Sir Henry Holloway entered into negotiations with the authorities of Jesus which resulted in the first ever sale of land from the original monastic estate. The Bursar of Jesus, Bernard Manning, was a Congregationalist layman with Methodist ancestors and he did everything he could to help the sale go through. Included in the sale were two buildings of historic interest 31 and 32 Jesus Lane. The Trustees of Wesley House approached Sir Aston Webb (President of the Royal Academy) to be the architect. He agreed.
The contract was let to Messrs Coulson of Cambridge and work began.
The first years of the College were not altogether easy. The College was being watched carefully in a number of quarters and the early resignation from the ministry of a number of students in those early years meant that at the Conference of 1928 Hughes came under pressure to explain what was going on. This was partly helped by the arrival at Wesley House in 1924, from St. Catherine's College, of a new student, Donald Soper, who was recognised for his skills from a very early stage.
The four houses at 27-30 Jesus Lane were demolished. Students came back from the Easter vacation to move into their new rooms in completed A and B blocks. The first porter, Woolley, lived in 23 Jesus Lane and was joined by Morgan as assistant porter. When Woolley left Morgan (and his brother-in-law Burrell) became fixtures and outstanding features of Wesley House life. In that year Harold Roberts, one of the original six House men, took the short term post of Assistant Tutor. Incidentally Roberts was later to become Chairman of the Governors.
In October 1924 Dr and Mrs Hughes left Brookside and moved to 32 Jesus Lane.
Easter Term began on Monday 20 April and two days later Mr and Mrs John Finch gave an inaugural dinner in the Dining Hall, using caterers from the Dorothy Café so that the domestic staff could enjoy the celebration.
C block was completed in the summer and in October the formal opening of Wesley House took place. The President of the Conference, J.H. Ritson (also one of Wesley House's Trustees) preached and afterwards a lunch was held at the Lion Hotel with the Vice Chancellor of the University, the Secretary of the Methodist Conference, the Mayor of Cambridge and the Masters of various Colleges in attendance.
On 19 December Dr Hughes received an honorary MA from the University.
William Pearson Baker, also a former student, replaced Harold Roberts as Assistant Tutor and Wesley House, for the first time, was host of the United Service for Theological Students. In November of that year Basil Jackson became the first of many Wesley House students to work with the world church, sailing to what was then Ceylon.
With nearly 25 students it was felt the appointment of a second tutor should be made and the Conference appointed R. Newton Flew. A fascinating character. Stern and yet kind, enjoying the company of great people and yet lacking in self confidence he was a scholar with a growing national and international reputation. Ambitious for the standing of Wesley House and the future ministries conducted by its students. In the Spring of 1927 the Trustees met to discuss the building of the Principal's Lodge and the Chapel. Maurice Webb (son of the then poorly Sir Aston Webb) drew up the plans. The Lodge was ready for occupation in October 1929 and the first Coffee Party in the Lodge was held after Hall on Monday 7 October.
A new donor, Edmund Lamplough, who had made substantial donations to other Methodist theological institutions was persuaded by J. H. Ritson to finance a Chapel to be built in memory of his brother Williamson Lamplough. Built in the Cambridge College style it was opened as the new decade began...
1921 - 1922
HS Collins WR Shearer EW Baker GE Grieve
H Roberts Dr H Maldwyn Hughes GB Jackson
Mrs Hughes's history, WF Flemington's 'notes for the future historian of Wesley House'