Wesley House in the 1960s
The Rev Dr John Barrett
I was a student at Wesley House from 1965-8. I came as a graduate and therefore was exempt part I of the theology Tripos, and sat for Part II in 1967. Having been engaged for two years, I expected to leave in 1967 in order to be able to marry. However, the Principal, Revd W F Flemington, retired that summer, and was succeeded by the Revd Professor Gordon Rupp. On one of his preliminary visits to the House, Dr Rupp asked me if I would consider staying on for a third year as a married student. My wife and I were permitted to live in a flat in Chesterton, and a programme was put together for me that included some liturgical study (with Dr Rupp), Methodist studies (with the College Tutor, Michael Skinner), a course at Fulbourn Psychiatric Hospital in pastoral counselling and psychological welfare, and a Circuit placement (two days a week) at the newly built Chesterton Methodist Church. I was expected to follow the daily discipline of college, but only required to dine in on three nights a week (my wife, Sally, was invited to join me on one evening).
Reading through the account of life in the House in the 1950s, it is remarkable how little had changed by the middle of the next decade. Wesley House remained an austere place, with still a bit of a post-war feel about it. Although food rationing had ended, the diet was unpretentious, even on special occasions. The house was painted in dull browns and greens, and furnishings were for the most part old and tired. Most rooms still had the war-time blackout curtains. There was still very little heating. I think we were aware that both Phyllis Flemington and Michael Skinner tried to soften the routine, but were handicapped by Mr Flemington’s strict austerity and apparent inability to relax. Did he ever not wear his dog-collar? Students were quite sure he slept in it!
The arrival of Professor and Mrs Rupp felt like an enormous and much needed breath of fresh air. Although the routine of the House did not change greatly immediately, the atmosphere certainly changed markedly. Apart from the changes in which I was involved (described above) other married students followed in the following years, and with them babies. And by the end of the decade, the tight routine of life in the House had gone for ever.
Having said that, David Deeks says that when he returned to the House as Tutor in 1980, it was recognisably the place where he was a student from 1964-6. Throughout the 1960s, students maintained a deep respect for their tutors, warm friendships were formed among the student body, and the atmosphere of the House encouraged the development of a life of study and devotion.
(In putting these notes together, I have been helped by ‘memories’ garnered from David Deeks, Robert Gribben and Richard Barrett)