Wesley House in the 1950s
The Revd Dr Brian E Beck
It may be helpful to identify the uses to which the 1920s building was put at the time. There were two tall Victorian terraced houses on Jesus Lane at the western end of the property which were demolished when the Rank Building (now Jesus College West Court) was put up. One was partly occupied by Fred, the Wesley House second porter (Gilbert Burnham, the head porter, lived out). The college court extended behind these houses, so that it formed an oblong with a quarter segment blocked out, grassed, with paved pathways across (no walking on the lawn!). In appearance these houses resembled those still standing to the west of the Jesus West Court. What is now the entrance to that court was then the exit for Marshall’s Garage, which extended behind Little Trinity, with an entrance in Park Street. The rest of Wesley House was open to the street, with railings and a gate dominated by the college coat of arms.
The college buildings appeared externally much as they do now, ‘A’ staircase facing the chapel and ‘B’ and ‘C’ facing the street, with the centre door, very rarely used, between. In the east corner, under the arch, were two doors, one leading to the small classroom, the other a back door to the Principal’s Lodge.
The public rooms to the west, to the left of the stairs on ‘A’, were the students’ common room looking into the court, and a washroom with showers and basins looking to the back. On the first floor was the hall above the common room, with kitchens behind. On the second floor, but not open to students, were attic rooms. Also at the back, not accessible from the court, were rooms for the porter and other domestic purposes. In the centre block, between ‘B’ and ‘C’ was a single room and above it the elegant library with its long showcase down the centre. The lower room had folding screens across at the ‘C’ end, giving space for a tennis table, with the larger space, about two thirds, as a lecture room with a dais at the west end. The staircases on ‘B’ and ‘C’ were adorned with photographs of past students and staff, year by year.
The chapel was much as now, with different lighting arrangements, except that at the east end was an altar against the apse wall, with communion rail in front and on either side two ambos or pulpits, the bases of which can still be seen. The chapel was effectively divided by a movable lectern placed between the organ and the central desk. The east end was used for communion services, the west end for daily prayers. Above the central desk was a door into the Principal’s study in the Lodge (Dr Flew used it to share in prayers when he was ill). The desks by the entrance were used by the Principal on the street (south) side and the Tutor on the other. What is now a cupboard in the corner was a door into the lounge of the Lodge. A controversial feature was the murals which dominated (and overwhelmed) the walls above the timbering on both sides and in the apse. Not to everyone’s taste and steadily deteriorating, they were removed in 1967, to the accompaniment of some controversy in the local press. Not all the Trustees supported the decision.
In my time 31 Jesus Lane was let to a tenant, 32 was occupied by the Tutor. 32 was extended on the ground floor by a kitchen at the back with a flat roof (now demolished), and 31 on two floors by an ancient extension, the relic of earlier stable buildings on the site, that extended to the chapel, screened from the court by a wall.
Student rooms comprised a study and a bedroom, with a small lobby for coats, etc. There was central heating and a metered gas fire in each study. Each set had an outer door (‘oak’) which was shut (‘sported’) when the occupant was out. In a shared room across the corridor was a bath, washbasin and toilet, and next to it a kitchen (‘gyp room’) with a gas ring for elementary cooking and a sink for washing up. On ‘A’ there were three sets on each of three floors, the third set (and most desirable) looking out over Jesus College hockey field, on ‘B’ two sets to each floor, on ‘C’ two looking into the court at ground level and three above, including the corner, with the possibility of more rooms beyond towards the Lodge. The corner room on middle C was allocated to the College Chairman and the one above to the Plan Secretary. The Principal had access to both of these from the Lodge (a one-way street!).
It will not be lost on the observer how much of the building design was based on features in various colleges in the University, particularly in the chapel and the library, evidence that the college wished to be taken seriously. This was also true of many features of college life.