Philip E. Robinson

In the early 1830s, one of Sheffield’s Wesleyan ministers, the Rev. Samuel Dousland Waddy (1804-1876) felt that it was desirable for a school to be established which would “supply a generally superior and classical education, combined with religious training in the principles of Methodism”.  This idea found favour with some other members of Sheffield’s Wesleyan community, who were approached regarding the financing of the project, being offered shares at £50 each.  Support was later gained from other towns and cities in the North and Midlands, but no proprietor was allowed to own more than three shares.  The prospectus offered “many advantages to families of wealth and influence among the Wesleyans” and a sum of over £13,000 was soon subscribed, to be paid in calls of £10 per share.

A building committee was formed, in order to build what at first was called the “Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School”.  The piece of land selected, which comprised “5 acres, 2 roods and 20 perches” was purchased, freehold, in 1836 from Mr William Newbould for £4,218.18s.  A Sheffield architect, William Flockton, designed the building and supervised its construction.  The cost of building and fitting out the school was as follows:

  Land, including legal expenses 4,374   15   8
  Buildings and surrounding walls 19,752   7   6½
  House furniture 2,983   16   7
  School furniture    585   12   0  
  TOTAL £27,696 11s. 9½d.

Construction took a little over eighteen months, and the school accepted its first 90 boarders on 8 August 1838.  By 1841 the number of pupils had increased to 172, and yearly receipts were £7,914.

A description of the school when it first opened is as follows: “The building is entered through a large hall, on the left of which is the Governor’s room and library.  The dining room accommodates two hundred masters and pupils, and is hung round with portraits of benefactors.  Family worship is conducted here every morning and evening.  A committee room is on the right of the hall, and beyond are the matron’s apartment and the kitchens.  The eastern wing is divided into six schoolrooms for the study of the classics, mathematics, French, German and drawing, and a large apartment is reserved here for writing and general commercial instruction.  Beneath is a lecture room and a laboratory, with a collection of fossils etc.  There are weekly scientific lectures, and chemistry is taught in classes.  The chapel is at the western extremity of the building, and contains an organ.  There are covered playgrounds for the pupils in wet weather.  The upper portion of the building contains the dormitories, and Governor’s and Masters’ apartments.  There is good accommodation in cases of sickness, and general appliances for all lavatory purposes.  The scholars have a good swimming bath in their playground.  The College is not restricted to the sons of Wesleyans, and pupils have been received from Africa, America, Australia and the Continent”.

The first headmaster was John Manners, M.A., Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, the other staff being as follows:

  Rev. John Maclean Governor and Chaplain
  William Davey Bersey, A.B. Second Master
  John Exley, M.A. Third Master
  Monsieur Henri J. Vully French
  Hugh Parkin Writing
  Edward Jones Music
  Mrs Entwistle Matron
  Corden Thompson, M.D. Physician
  James Wild, M.R.C.S. Surgeon
  John Jones Treasurer
  Rev. Samuel D. Waddy Secretary
  Thomas Branson Secretary

The change in name to Wesley College seems to have taken place in 1844, when a “Royal Warrant, constituting the Sheffield Wesley College a college of the University of London was forwarded to Mr Waddy by Sir James Graham, which empowered the college to issue certificates to candidates for examination for the several degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts, and Bachelor and Doctor of Laws”.  This was shortly after the Rev. Samuel Waddy, the original promoter of the college, had become governor and chaplain in place of the Rev. John Maclean, who had returned to circuit work.  Samuel Waddy remained as governor and chaplain until 1862.


Joseph Hunter: “Hallamshire: The History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield in the County of York – a new edition with additions by the Rev. Alfred Gatty, D.D., Virtue & Co., London, 1859.

“Encyclopaedia of World Methodism”, 1974