Wesley House in the 1970s
The Revd Dr Brian Beck
The first change was the general refurbishment of the 1920s building which had not seen redecoration since the War (and probably not since the 1920s), with fresh paint and improved central heating.
Then there was the removal of the chapel murals. They had been controversial from the beginning, depicting a rather effeminate figure of Jesus in the apse, with light radiating from him and with Adam and Eve bowed down (with guilt?) at his feet. The side walls above the panelling depicted scenes of early twentieth-century, barely mechanised, agriculture. They were overpowering in such a confined space and by the 1960s seemed hopelessly out of date, often a source of amusement to visitors. There was the additional problem that they were deteriorating and the artist, Harold Speed, had from time to time to come to restore them. The College Trustees decided to remove them and, amid a storm of protest in the local press, they were replaced in 1968 by a plainer decor. The apse was also redesigned, replacing the against-the-wall altar with a large Communion Table around which worshippers could stand to receive Communion. At a later date, a needlework depiction of the Lamb and Banner symbol was hung on the wall behind. At some time in the eighties or nineties these items in their turn were removed, as were the two nineteen-thirties pulpits or ambos which stood on either side of the steps, the bases of which can still be seen.
The most far-reaching change however was the completion of the court. The original 1920s plan for the College was for an enclosed court with a central gatehouse but it was not carried through for lack of funds. In retrospect it may be seen as a blessing. It meant that there was space to develop what by the nineteen-sixties was sorely needed, accommodation for married students. Some nineteenth-century tenements on Jesus Lane, already owned by the College, were demolished and the Rank Building (now the front of Jesus College West Court) was erected. It included a large meeting room on the first floor (the Rank Room) with a stage at one end, teaching rooms to the west of it, a staircase to all floors beyond that and a link through to the 1920s dining room, which was extended at its west end. Below the Rank Room and a little below ground level was a car park and, opening onto the court, a laundry room. The main entrance was, as now, alongside 31 Jesus Lane. A door to its left gave access to the main staircase to the floors above and to a porter’s lodge by the door with accommodation for the porter and his family above it. Above the Rank Room were two floors of one- and two-bedroom flats. At first floor level and above the building was connected to 31 Jesus Lane. On the first floor also there was a large concourse area above the entrance and there was a lift to all floors.
At the same time 31 and 32 Jesus Lane were altered. Delapidated nineteenth-century rooms behind 31 were demolished, new rooms were added to all floors at the back, with a large lounge at first floor level reaching back to the chapel. The second and third floors were turned into a separate flat with its entrance from the Rank Building. Thus 31 Jesus Lane became two residences for teaching staff. 32 Jesus Lane was converted from a single residence to four flats, a ground floor kitchen at the back, added at some later date, being removed.
The credit for overseeing all this must go to Michael Skinner the senior Tutor at the time who, as the resident of 32 was chiefly affected by the changes and decamped with his family to rooms on A staircase while the work was going on. The funding for the work came from Lord Rank, the Methodist cinema magnate, through the good offices of Gordon Rupp, the Principal at the time, and Alan Birtwhistle, the Secretary of the Methodist Church’s Ministerial Training Department. Initially Lord Rank agreed to make a contribution and seek further support from friends, but during the negotiations his wife died and he gave the entire £300,000 plus in her memory.
The Rank Building was opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It was facilitated by the fact that she was already engaged to open a new building at The Leys School earlier in the day (14th June). She was greeted at the entrance by the Chair of Trustees and the Principal and Tutors, and given a tour of the College, beginning with the chapel and working round the court, meeting various groups on the way, staff wives, students, trustees and representatives of Jesus College and the University. The tour ended with a group of children having tea in the Rank Building (where a small boy gave her a crisp, which she produced from her bag and delightedly displayed to the farewell group on her departure). She concluded her visit with afternoon tea in another of the new rooms.