The Opening of the School
On 16 May 1844 a ‘gathering of Ministers and gentlemen’ met in Belfast and agreed to form a Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School in Ireland ‘for the purpose of affording a thorough literary, scientific and commercial education, with a sound, religious and moral training, in strict accordance with the principles of Wesleyan Methodism.’ The provisional committee originally proposed a boarding and day school for boys in the vicinity of Belfast. Later the committee unanimously decided that the Wesleyan Connexional School should be established in Dublin which was the hub of Ireland’s transport system and had a far greater population. The Wesleyan Methodist Conference, meeting in Cork in June 1845, approved of the plans and a committee was set up.
A large, dilapidated dwelling house, No. 79 St.Stephen’s Green, sited on what is now part of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was leased from the trustees of The King’s Hospital.
The inauguration of the Wesleyan Connexional School, the predecessor of Wesley College, Dublin, is recorded in the manuscript Minutes of the Management Committee, Volume 1 –
The opening of the Wesleyan Connexional School, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin took place on Wednesday morning, the 1st October, 1845. The Minutes also record that three boarders and nine day pupils were present.
Growth creates problems
The Wesleyan Connexional School laboured under severe handicaps right from the beginning, and as it developed, some of these handicaps became more severe.
Firstly, its financial basis was very insecure. There were no Government Grants in those days, and unlike similar and competing schools, the Connexional School never had any endowments. Secondly, the school premises, leased for 41 years – the maximum under existing law – were dilapidated and required a new roof. No. 78 St. Stephen’s Green was leased in 1851 to reduce the overcrowding.
Thirdly, demands for additional pupil places added to the pressure on the existing inadequate facilities. Fourthly, there was a continuous turnover of teachers and many of them were under-graduates without training for teaching.
The lease under which Nos. 78 and 79 were held was due to expire in 1877 and, despite numerous negotiations, it was not clear that the Governors of The King’s Hospital were prepared to renew the lease, or to agree to terms which were acceptable to the Trustees of the Connexional School. In 1872 the Trustees authorised Conference to raise funds for the procuring of suitable premises and for the erection of buildings for a new institution in Dublin.
A new institution
The Methodist Centenary Church, the successor of John Wesley’s first chapel and headquarters in Whitefriars Street, was opened in 1843 on St. Stephen’s Green, about 100 metres from the Connexional School. The members were very concerned to prevent unsuitable development near their church and in 1846 they petitioned against an extension of the Bray-Harcourt Street Railway line to a proposed terminus station in St. Stephen’s Green.
To prevent some other nuisance, Mr. Swanton, Circuit Steward of the Centenary Church, advanced money in 1872 for the purchase of a site adjacent to the Church on behalf of the Connexional School Trustees. The site was purchased, the Methodist Conference gave its approval and plans and specifications for the new building were prepared. The new school was opened in 1879 and the Methodist Conference also granted the request of the Trustees that the new institution should be called Wesley College.
In June 1911 the Wesley College Trustees put the following proposal to the Methodist Conference : ‘This committee, having had the fact brought under their notice that at the present time there is no school in the southern provinces under Methodist management offering to girls the advantages of an Intermediate education, suggests to the Conference that the present is a suitable occasion for opening Wesley College to girls who desire to secure such training as will fit them for professional and business careers’. The Conference responded favourably and the Trustees purchased No. 110 St. Stephen’s Green as a girls’ hostel. In September 1911 six boarder-girls and fifteen day-girls together with the new boys, joined the 175 (approximately) boys already in the College. The Governors purchased Tullamaine, Upper Leeson Street (1918) and Epworth Hall, Winton Road (1919) to accommodate junior and senior boarder girls, and a small hockey pitch and tennis courts.
The construction of a new west-wing at St. Stephen’s Green was commenced in 1923 and included a new kitchen, domestic staff quarters, music rooms, a woodwork room and a domestic science kitchen. The wing was completed with the building of the Chapel in 1927 and the girls’ dining hall – later called the junior dining hall – in 1931.
In 1957 a bronze plaque commemorating the twenty-five Wesley College Old Boys who had lost their lives in the Second World War was unveiled in the Chapel by Col. Benson E. Gentleman (President, OBU 1956). This plaque was resited in the new College buildings in 1969. Also moved from the Entrance Hall of the College in St. Stephen’s Green at that time was the Crook Memorial Window. This window had been presented to the College in 1917 by Mrs. William R. Burgess in memory of her father, Dr. Robert Crook, Governor of the College 1857-62. In 1969 it was given to Methodist College, Belfast where it was re-erected in the Library.
The First Development Fund
In the early 1950s a Development Fund was launched to raise funds in aid of Burlington House, purchased in 1948 to accommodate junior boarder boys; a new sports pavilion at Bloomfield and the reconstruction of the Chapel organ – the funds raised were insufficient so the organ remained unimproved.
The Second Development Fund
In 1956 the Methodist Conference appointed a committee to meet the Board of Governors to consider the future development of the College. While the removal of the entire College to a new site was considered, the policy eventually adopted would involve consolidating all the boarders in an area with adequate playing fields while the main buildings in St. Stephen’s Green would be primarily devoted to classrooms. A second Development Fund was launched in 1956 and by 1961 the new science block had been formally opened on the St. Stephen’s Green site, and Embury House had been purchased, extending the land-holding in Burlington Road, and serving as the Principal’s residence until building should commence.
By 1963 it became clear to the Governors that sufficient funds were not available to undertake the necessary building of a new dormitory block and additional classrooms which were urgently required in the main school. It was, therefore, decided to sell Epworth, Tullamaine, Burlington and Embury and to purchase at least 20 acres of development land in the suburbs.
In March 1964 Ludford Park, a 50 acre farm and residence in Ballinteer, was purchased for £55,000. In September the senior boarder boys were accommodated in Ludford and travelled to the College by minibus.
At this time the Minister for Education announced 60% capital grants for the construction of new secondary schools. This caused the Governors to think again and Mr. H. H. Forsyth’s proposal that the whole College should move to Ludford Park was accepted.
The Opening of the New Campus
The official opening and dedication of the new buildings at Ludford Park took place on Saturday, 7 June, 1969.
The new buildings consisted of six major blocks: Assembly, Girls’ Residence called Epworth House, Boys’ Residence called Embury House, Classrooms, Science and Gymnasium. An open-air heated Swimming Pool, tennis courts and playing fields were all located on the campus. Ludford House with its walled garden and front lawn became the Principal’s residence.
With the steady growth of pupil numbers throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s additional classrooms were required. In 1982 the Department of Education agreed to grant-aid a new building but due to a period of economic recession it was not until 1987 that the Mathematics Centre was built. In the meantime a number of pre-fabricated classrooms were acquired and accommodation in the residences was temporarily used as classrooms. A Sports Hall, all-weather hockey pitches, further tennis courts and a sports pavilion all enhanced the sporting facilities.
In 1998 work began on the construction of the new Library and Learning Resource Centre, and pupils returning to the College in September 1999 were delighted to see the magnificent new building completed and ready for use.
The Library has seating for some sixty pupils – 52 individual study cartels, large tables for project work and a ‘soft zone’ where pupils can relax while reading books, newspapers or magazines. There is a computerised cataloguing system where pupils may browse to find material relating to their study needs.
There are three computer rooms – two are each equipped with 24 Dell computers and a teacher’s machine and printer together with projection facilities. The third room is equipped with 12 Apple computers. The building also houses the Librarian’s office, a technician’s office and two additional classrooms.
The Learning Resources Centre was designed as a multi-purpose facility and facilitates the teaching of music, art, drama, theatre, film, recording and music technology. It serves as a valuable national and local resource venue for conferences, displays, exhibitions, rehearsals, recording and performances.