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The Lady Rank Memorial Building

Jesus Lane before the Rank Building was constructed. The two buildings in the centre, 23-26 Jesus Lane, were demolished to make way for the Rank Building. 27-30 had been demolished in 1924 when the College was first built. 31 and 32 Lane remain to this day.

At this time 23 Jesus Lane was the home of the College Housekeeper and 24-26 Jesus Lane were rented out to generate income for the College.

Marshalls garage is in the foreground of the photograph.

Jesus Lane with the newly constructed Lady Rank Memorial Building (1973)

Jesus Lane in 2017, following the replacement of the Rank Building as part of Jesus College's West Court development.

Wesley House's entrance and the houses at 31 and 32 Jesus Lane can be seen at the far end of the photograph.

At the end of 1967 the Wesley House Governors passed a resolution “That the completion of the Buildings of Wesley House should be carried out as far and as soon as possible.” The Trustees, who had to fund such resolutions, accepted it and appointed a committee to prepare plans.  The original plans for Wesley House provided for fifty students and the Trustees agreed that this should be their target but noted that their proposals would need to take account of the intake of Probationers into the Methodist Church.


The work to increase the capacity of Wesley House was running in parallel with national-level discussions to unite the Anglican and Methodist churches and, locally, the possibility of a close partnership with Westcott House and Ridley Hall, the latter of whom was considering a move to Jesus Lane. The Trustees noted in March 1968 that Wesley House was talking informally to Westcott “with reference to a measure of integration of the work of the two Colleges.” However, a pragmatic conclusion was recorded in the minutes, “It is not possible to foresee within the next 15 or 20 years, the building of a united Theological College in another part of Cambridge. Therefore the question of the completion of the Wesley House Buildings is not affected by the possibility of closer relations with Westcott House.”


The Governors and Trustees met a local architect, Peter Hall, in December 1968 to discuss their requirements.  They asked for two concepts to be produced, one with separate blocks with an open view of the Quadrangle and the other a complete block with an area supported by pillars maintaining a view of the College from Jesus Lane.


The Trustees wanted to show the designs to a possible donor as soon as possible, with an assurance that the College remains in Cambridge, and with news that Wesley House intended to work closely with Westcott College, including joining together for meals, which would necessitate enlarging the Dining Room and Kitchen. It was reported that Westcott would provide the £30,000 needed for this work but it later transpired that this would be a loan, and not a gift. The “possible donor” was Joseph Arthur Rank, Lord Rank who had been a Trustee of Wesley House since 1921, taking the place of the late William Greenhalgh who had contributed generously to the College’s original buildings.

Lord Rank offered to fund a portion of the project along with other philanthropists he knew and so began a long and protracted process with the elusive Lord Rank somewhat impervious to increasingly urgent pleas to clarify the amount of the gift and the terms on which it was being offered. Lord Rank was particularly insistent that his gift was dependent on the Trustees affirming the centrality of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Wesley House’s teaching and resolutions to this effect were adopted in December 1969. Following confirmation that Lord Rank was satisfied with the doctrinal statement they appointed Peter Hall as the Project Architect and set a budget of £300,000, including furnishings (c. £4.8m in 2022 prices).


Lord Rank’s first contribution was a £150,000 interest-free loan. This was to be repaid by grants from two other charity trusts, the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust and the Joseph Rank 1942 Trust, effectvely making it a gift. He made arrangements that his estate would pay any death duties if they became due before the loan was repaid.

Preparations for the project took place in 1970 and it was clear early on that the budget would not cover the vexed issue of extending the heating into the old buildings. This was exacerbated by early test piling which found a need for greater foundations that planned, owing to the amount of made-up ground under the to-be demolished houses. This called for some early cuts to the specification but Trustees noted that they would be able to sell the house at 247 Chesterton Road in two years time to fund a further boiler. (It was sold in 1973, for £18,000.)


A timetable was set to start work on Stage 1, the new building, in February 1971 and on Stage 2, 31&32 Jesus Lane, in July 1971, with an aim of completing in 1972. The tender from Coulson and Son was accepted at a price of £257k. With professional fees of £35k plus furnishings costs of £15k, the project was due to cost £299,861.

Demolition started on 1st April 1971.

Photograph 1

A rear view of the houses at 23-26 Jesus Lane, from the Wesley House court. The southern end of the Dining Hall is shown on the right of the photograph.

Photograph 2

The view from the court onto Jesus Lane and Malcolm Street, with 31 Jesus Lane on the left and 26 Jesus Lane on the right.

Photograph 3

23 - 26 Jesus Lane are demolished.

J Arthur and Nell Rank.jpg

Lady Rank ("Nell") died unexpectedly in August 1971 after a twenty-four hour illness. The following week, Lord Rank promised Michael Skinner to provide the £300,000 to fund the entire development himself (and no longer as a loan) and asked for the building to bear his wife’s name. Six months later he too had died. The new flats were completed in time for the first week of term in October 1972 and the remainder of the new building completed in December 1972.


After Lord Rank's death, the family trust offered a further £10,000 to the Wesley House Trustees and so in the end Lord Rank’s gift to Wesley House was £310,000 for the building that bore their name for the next 42 years.

John Arthur and Laura Ellen Rank in 1947

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