Theological education had undergone a transformation in Cambridge. In the mid-nineteenth century there was little theology taught but by the 1870s onwards it was one of the supreme centres of the subject in the world. In 1854-5 the Cambridge MA became obtainable by nonconformists for the first time.
In the 1870s (after the removal of religious tests to Fellowships in 1871) there were conversations in national Wesleyan circles about the possibility of founding a school in either Oxford or Cambridge. In 1872 a site for a suitable foundation became available in Cambridge and the process of moving forward with what became The Leys school began. There were plans (later dropped) in the early stages for a theological training college on one part of the site. Dr. Moulton was appointed the first Head Master of the school which opened in 1875 with sixteen pupils. Moulton was a significant figure both at the school (he was Head Master until his death in 1898) but also in Cambridge (he formed and was the first President of the Free Church Council in the city) and also in national Wesleyan Methodism (he was President of the Conference in 1890).
Joseph Ryder (co-founder of Ryder and Amies) was a well known Cambridge figure and Methodist. He was a member of the Committee for Higher Education of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and he wrote about the idea of a theological college being part of the initial Leys scheme in the early 1870s. Interestingly Ryder and Michael Gutteridge were similar in age (Gutteridge was only 11 years junior to Ryder) and both spent part of their childhood at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Selby. Did they know each other and was Gutteridge aware of the 1870s plan? It would not be unreasonable to assume that.
There had been wide ranging, and occasionally fierce, discussions in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the 1830s about the provision of a well educated and trained clergy. At the 1834 Wesleyan Conference opposition was vocal. Arguments ranged from casting all ministers in a single mould to the proverbial dangers of College life to young men! However objections were overcome and by January 1835, under the leadership of Joseph Entwhistle, the first fourteen students who had been selected for training at the newly rented buildings at Hoxton had arrived. The institution grew rapidly. New branches were built and opened at Didsbury in Manchester, Richmond in Surrey, Headingley in Leeds and finally Handsworth in Birmingham (1881).
The latter end of the 19th and early years of the 20th century were an uncertain time for ministerial training in the Wesleyan Church. Committee minutes reveal a desire to provide a more taxing, educationally more rigorous form of training for the students who would benefit from such an approach but resources were strictly limited. All of this changed at the Methodist Conference of 1911 when Michael Gutteridge, a Methodist layman, got up and promised the funding necessary for the building and foundation of a training college for Methodist preachers in the city of Cambridge.
The journey towards Wesley House had begun.