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Wesley House, Cambridge

Description: Wesley House

Grade: II
Date Listed: 22 November 2013
Building ID: 1416617

OS Grid Reference: TL4507358865
OS Grid Coordinates: 545073, 258880
Latitude/Longitude: 52.2091, 0.1218

Locality: Cambridge
Local Authority: Cambridge City Council
County: Cambridgeshire
Postcode: CB5 8BJ

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Listing Text


Methodist college built 1925-30 to the designs of Maurice Webb.

Reason for Listing

Wesley House, a Methodist college built 1925-30 to the designs of Maurice Webb, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: its lofty neo-Tudor ranges, laid out around three sides of a quadrangle, evoke the form and aesthetic of ancient collegiate buildings, creating an accomplished composition in which the principal public rooms are externally expressed by their rich architectural treatment. The 1970s south range, known in 2013 as the Rank Building, is not included in the Designation;

* Materials: integral to the success of the design is the masterful handling of the high quality materials. Small red bricks of various shades, imitative of handmade Tudor brickwork, are combined with finely jointed ashlar dressings and carved stonework to create an appealing textural richness;

* Architect: Maurice Webb was a gifted architect of national note. Many of his later works are designated. His association with the building adds to its interest.

* Interior: this incorporates both the vernacular and the classical in a refined and coherent decorative scheme. The panelling and beams in the dining room and former common room evoke the fellowship and comfort appropriate to these rooms; whilst the classical idiom is employed for the learned and spiritual occupations in the library and chapel respectively;

* Intactness: the survival of the high quality fixtures and fittings throughout the building contributes strongly to its special interest. The original plan form has been retained to a remarkable degree, allowing both the educational and residential use of the college to be understood and appreciated;

* Group value: it is situated in close proximity to a considerable number of designated buildings with which it has strong group value.


Wesley House was founded in 1921 and endowed largely by Michael Gutteridge, a Methodist businessman based in Naples who was well known in Italy for his philanthropy. The site was purchased from Jesus College, and Maurice Everett Webb (1880-1939) from the architectural practice Sir Aston Webb and Son was commissioned to design the building. Maurice Webb was the elder son of Sir Aston Webb, one of the leading architects of the late C19 and early C20. Maurice began his career as an assistant to his father and afterwards led the family firm, which continued to be known as Sir Aston Webb and Son. Early in his career he designed a number of war memorials, including that at the Royal Exchange in the City of London. His later works, many of which are Grade II designated, include university buildings (e.g. at Pembroke College, Cambridge), schools (e.g. the Memorial Reading Room at Malvern College, Worcestershire), commercial premises (e.g. the Commercial Union Assurance building on Cornhill, London), and Government buildings (e.g. the Guildhall in Kingston upon Thames, and the Governor’s House at Nicosia in Cyprus). He also continued a number of his father’s projects, including Birmingham University, Imperial College and the restoration of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, London. Maurice served as president of the Architectural Association and vice-president of the RIBA.

A perspective and plan of Wesley Hostel, as it was then known, was published in The Architect (June 8 1923). It shows the building arranged on three sides of a quadrangle with an entrance lodge and railings on the south side facing onto Jesus Lane. The garden is divided into four sections of lawn by paths running north-south and east-west. Building began in 1925 and the following year it was featured in The Builder (August 27 1926). The same plan as before is reproduced in which the north range and all but the southern end of the west range are shaded to indicate that they had been built. The article includes external photographs of the two completed ranges and internal photographs of the library in the north range and the dining hall in the west range. The Principal’s Lodge and the chapel, together forming the east range, were completed in 1929 and 1930 respectively. The lodge and railings on the south side, and the southern-most end of both the east and west ranges were not built to the original design, presumably because permission was not obtained to purchase or demolish the necessary buildings along Jesus Lane. Most of these were later demolished however to allow for the construction of the Rank building which opened in 1973. This forms the south range of the quadrangle and was built to provide a lecture theatre and accommodation for married students after they had been admitted by the Methodist Church in the early 1970s. The first principal of Wesley House was Dr Henry Maldwyn Hughes (1921 to 1937) who was also the author of several works on Christian belief. One of the earliest students was Donald Soper who became the Principal in 1937 to 1955, and was one of those responsible for the establishment of the World Council of Churches. Another alumnus was Bolaji Idowu, who headed the Methodist Church in Nigeria from 1972 to 1984.

Wesley House has been subject to some alterations, mainly to the chapel. This was originally decorated with murals by Harold Speed depicting rural scenes in a romantic style on the theme 'Man goeth forth unto his work until the evening'. The mural in the apse depicted Christ coming in glory to a despondent Adam and Eve and an improbably large serpent. The murals deteriorated and were not thought worth the cost of restoration, finally being removed in 1967-68. The pulpits were removed from the chapel around 1989. The only other significant alteration to the building has been the conversion of the original kitchen into an office, following its relocation from the west side of the dining room to the north side.


Methodist college built 1925-30 to the designs of Maurice Webb, extended in 1973.

MATERIALS: small bricks of various hues, ranging from rich red to vitrified, laid in a variation of English garden-wall bond which has one course of headers to every four courses of alternate headers and stretchers. Ashlared stone dressings. Roofs clad in Westmorland slate laid in diminishing courses.

PLAN: quadrangular plan laid out around a lawn in the tradition of Cambridge colleges, consisting of the original north, east and west ranges. The east range contains the Principal’s Lodge and chapel, the north range houses the library and classrooms, and the west range contains the former common room and the first-floor dining hall. The north and west ranges also house students’ accommodation and study rooms, some of which have been merged to create flats. The 1970s south range facing onto Jesus Lane is not included in the designation.

EXTERIOR: the building is in an elegant, dignified neo-Tudor style. It has three storeys, with some double-height rooms, and pitched roofs with wide eaves, the underneath of which are clad in slate. The roofs are surmounted by tall, slender, multi-flue chimney stacks which have a decorative shape on plan and stone cappings. The principal elevations are the inner faces of the north, east and west ranges which have a stone plinth and a second-floor sill band, embellished with intermittent carvings of figures and animals, including an angel, lion and bird. The original cast iron rainwater goods have hopper-heads bearing a ‘W’ for Wesley and various dates indicating when different parts of the building were completed. The fenestration consists of recessed stone mullioned windows in moulded stone architraves with various numbers of leaded lights in metal casements.

The eleven-bay north range has three gabled bays at the centre which have full-height, stone-clad canted bay windows, allowing light to flood into the library. The middle bay incorporates a round-arched timber door divided into six panels by wide fillets, set in a square-headed, moulded stone architrave with roundels in the spandrels and a coat of arms forming the keystone. The flanking bays are lit at ground-floor level by three-light mullioned windows. All three bays are lit at first and second floor by double-height bay windows which have twelve lights with three transoms and elaborately designed lead cames. The lights along the top row have trefoil heads and there is an additional light on the returns. The windows have a parapet of stone carved brattishing with a crenellated shield at the centre. Either side of this central group are four bays of irregular width. The inner bays have a door of the same design as that already described, without the coat of arms; a two-light mullion at first-floor level; and a single-light mullion at second-floor level. Then, moving outwards, the next bay has three-light mullions at all levels, followed by four-light mullions, and lastly three-light mullions. The gabled corner bays, which are angled at forty-five degrees to the flanking ranges, have a narrow window in the gable head, and a three-light mullion at first and second-floor level. The ground floor of the bay in the north-west corner has a three-light mullion, whilst that in the north-east corner has a round-arched doorway, in the same style as those on the north range, leading to a small porch providing access to two rooms.

The west range has, from the left, four projecting bays under a roof which has a sweeping right-hand slope. The first and third bays are lit by three-light mullions at ground-floor level, and above by double-height, nine-light windows with two transoms, which light the dining hall. The second bay has a full-height canted bay window consisting of fifteen lights with four transoms, surmounted by a stone-clad gable. The fourth bay has a round-arched doorway and timber door in the same style already described, and two-light mullions on the upper floors. This is followed by two recessed bays, the first lit by three-light mullions on all three floors, and the second by four-light mullions.

The east range has, from the left, the three-bay Principal’s Lodge. The first and third bays are lit on all three floors by four-light mullions. The second bay has a round-arched timber door set in a moulded round-arched architrave with a keystone, flanked by two-light mullions all under a moulded lintel. The floors above have three-light mullions. To the right is the gabled chapel which, together with the library, has the most elaborate architectural treatment, giving the impression of a Tudor gatehouse. The ground floor is clad in stone, whilst the upper stages are in brick. It has outer square turrets with chamfered corners and a stone plinth, surmounted by a crown-like feature consisting of stone ogee-curved ribs meeting together under a decorative finial. The centrally placed, double-leaf door is divided into ten panels by wide fillets. It has a projecting, elaborate door surround which has a four-centred arched opening with multiple hollow mouldings and a frieze inscribed with ‘DISCITE A ME QUIA MITIS SUM ET HUMILIS CORDE’. Above is a double-height canted bay window of twelve lights with three transoms of diminishing height. The mullions and transoms have ovolo mouldings and fillets. As with the library windows, the lights along the top row have trefoil heads and there is an additional light on the returns. The bottom row of the returns has canopied niches with trefoil heads, presumably intended for sculpture although none was ever placed there. There is a single line of additional lights on either side of the canted window which is surmounted by stone carved brattishing with a lamb at the centre.

The rear and side elevations, which can only be seen clearly from the grounds of Jesus College, are subsidiary although still imposing. They have similar mullioned fenestration with a variety of lights. The rear elevation has a central projecting section with three gabled bays lit by the double-height library windows. On either side is an oculus which lights the top of the flanking staircases. A recessed bay is then followed by a projecting gabled bay, and then two further bays.

INTERIOR: the interior of the original building retains a high proportion of good quality fixtures and fittings, including fireplaces, window ironmongery with its ‘W’ design in the handles, parquet or tiled floor surfaces, and joinery and panelling which is of a rich, warm hue. The doors have either four panels, or two lower panels with one wide panel above, and retain their brass door furniture. There are a number of handsome staircases in a heavy C17 style which have panelled spandrels, closed strings, turned balusters, large square newel posts, and scrolled finials and pendants.

The four principal rooms – the chapel, library, dining hall and former common room – are given the most decorative treatment. The double-height chapel in the east range is neo-Classical in character and is richly panelled to mid-height. Round arched openings lead to the altar at the east end, and there are similar arches above the panelling in the centre of the north and south walls. The south opening contains the elaborate organ pipes encased in a curved Baroque-style frame which is supported on fluted classical columns. There is a similar projection on the opposite wall which is supported by fluted columns and flanked by fluted pilasters. It has a seat within a niche that is embellished with a shell hood, consoles and husks. There are similar seats in niches on either side of the door on the west wall, above which is the stained glass window depicting Revelation 22. The glass is predominantly pale yellow, blue and green, and shows a holy city flooded by a river of light, creating a lake of bright green leaves.

The library in the north range is also neo-Classical in character. It is a long, elegant room lit on both sides by tall windows, and in between spring moulded round arches that span the room’s width. The panelled walls incorporate the doors and the book cases which have architraves, fluted corner pilasters and pedimented ends. There is a delicate plaster frieze depicting trees and foliage. The dining-hall, on the first-floor of the west range, has panelling to mid-height which incorporates the doors, radiator grilles, and fireplace which has a stone bolection moulding surround. The ceiling has a moulded bridging beam, two moulded cross beams supported by stone corbels, and closely spaced joists. The former common room below on the ground floor has similar panelling and fireplace surrounds. The sample of student bedrooms and study rooms seen during the site visit had original fitted cupboards and shelves, and fireplaces of different designs, some with stone surrounds and green tiled sides, and others in cast-iron with original electric fires. The bathrooms retain their white and green tiles.

The Principal’s Lodge was not seen but is likely to have an interior of equal quality and interest.

The 1970s south range, known in 2013 as the Rank Building, is devoid of architectural merit and is therefore not included in the designation.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.