Wesley College Melbourne Australia
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Renewing Wesley College and building for the future

The original school. An image from the 1866 Prospectus

Wesley College, as pictured in the first prospectus and annual report 1866

Anyone driving past the St Kilda Road campus over recent times, would have noticed that the old Music School and the back of Adamson Hall have been completely demolished to make way for the new state-of-the-art, four-storied Music School. Together with the rejuvenation of Adamson Hall, the Menzies Wing has also been refurbished in line with contemporary teaching practices. All these initiatives will be a great boon to the College community generally and were made possible through generous benefaction and the Wesley College 2016 appeal.

Of course, if you take a look at any of the College sites you can find ample evidence of a number of developments designed to provide enhanced facilities for both students and staff. The College Council master planning process endeavours to anticipate the needs of our growing College community. There have been many developments at Glen Waverley since it first opened its doors in 1966, with notable additions like Old Wesley Collegian architect, Daryl Jackson’s Senior College in the early 1990s and more recently, the reworking of the Coates Pavilion, and the construction of magnificent new sporting and recreational facilities. 

Elsternwick has seen a gradual program of renewal, with new Science laboratories and plans for a much-needed updating of Fitchett Hall. One of the most interesting developments in recent years has been the construction of an environmentally friendly mess hut for Chum Creek, initiated following the loss of the original building in an accidental fire. Building projects like these, and at other locations such as the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School and Clunes (where the College has built a village within a village), will not only benefit future generations of Wesley students, but countless other members of the community who make use of our facilities on a regular basis through the Community College.

Foundations in place. Preparing for the 1934 rebuild. 

Foundations in place - preparing for the 1934 rebuild

As the College approaches its 150th birthday in 2016, it seems appropriate to reflect on one or two great landmark moments in the physical building of Wesley College at the St Kilda Road site, where it all began in 1866.

In the 1860s, a group of high-minded and visionary folk worked together to establish a Methodist school that would offer a wellrounded, classical, liberal Christian education. Wesley College opened in 1866, owing a great deal to people like Walter Powell, Daniel Draper and James Waugh. The very distinguished architect, Charles Webb, designed a purpose-built College building. Charles Webb was a high-profile architect responsible for many Melbourne landmarks including the Grand Hotel (Windsor), the Royal Arcade and the South Melbourne Town Hall. Webb broke with tradition by designing a building in one Melbourne’s favourite styles, the Italianate. Some of the original façade remains today, hidden behind the art deco façade of the College. Webb’s design gave Wesley a building which looked more like a grand home than an institution

The land for the building was “gifted” by the colonial Government of Victoria, which was making land available for educational, social and other purposes.

The Methodist Church, along with the College founders, appealed to the Wesleyan and wider community to give support for the project. This early fundraising activity firmly established a precedent that applies equally today. While governments have supported the College in various ways from the beginning, Wesley College and its educational programs are essentially funded through school fees, budgeting through the College Council, and generous benefaction of the Wesley community. We all appreciate on any day we visit the College that the view of Wesley from across the Front Turf on St Kilda Road, is as ideal an educational view as any in the country. Our founders were not myopic - they were planning and building for the future. Indeed, this cherished view owes much to the vision and generosity of those who have gone before us.

The immacuately groomed forecourt of an earlier era

The immaculately groomed forecourt of an earlier era  

Through the remainder of the 1800s and until the early 1930s there were additional buildings constructed in and around the main building. The long serving Headmaster LA Adamson, who was in office from 1902 to 1932, had decided to keep the student numbers to around five hundred. One great innovation was the opening of Adamson Hall in 1908 as the “heart of the College”. This was funded through the benefaction of the Wesley community, but in the main by LA Adamson himself. The name Cato also started to appear more and more in the story of Wesley College, as Fred J Cato, self-made businessman, sent his boys to Wesley. Cato served on the College Council and his family gave generously for many decades, including to the Elsternwick campus.

However, by the 1930s, the old school was in desperate need of renewal. When Adamson died in 1932 the full impact of the depression was being felt and money was short. Adamson’s long serving deputy Harold Stewart took over the helm and fairly soon afterwards a remarkable turn of events occurred that would change the course of Wesley College forever. A reading of Andrew Lemon’s recent history explores this story fully. In summary, Alfred and George Nicholas, manufacturers of the highly successful Aspro tablet, and Wesley parents, offered to rebuild the College over the school holidays of 1933. As was noted at the time, it was to be “as a memorial to LA Adamson, and the better to give his spirit wider scope, Wesley is to have an entirely new body. The faith of two men in all that Adamson of Wesley stood for has moved them – the Nicholas brothers – to do for Wesley such a service as few men anywhere have ever done – to spend a fortune inthe cause of boyhood”. This gift was an estimated $70 million in today’s money. The College would be transformed from a splendid Italianate mansion to a stunning art deco temple of learning with a classical-styled portico front and two sweeping arms ( now the Menzies and Holt Wings) designed to draw you into the bosom of this seat of learning. The bulk of the project, which involved the redeveloping the old building and adding the wings, was completed in the holiday period with many hundreds of workers onsite. The project was truly finished with the opening of the Chapel in 1937. The plans for the new school were masterminded by the architect to the Nicholas brothers, Harry Norris, who designed many fine art deco buildings in the inter-war years, such as Burnham Beeches in the Dandenongs.


The St Kilda Road library. Circa 1935   The St Kilda Road library - 2011.

 The St Kilda Road library - then and now.

 “The New Wesley” or “Aspro College”, as it was cheekily called by passers-by, continues to be the core building of the St Kilda Road site. Since the 1960s, many of the buildings have been renewed and redeveloped. But now is the time to build new buildings…as evidenced with the opening of the new Preparatory School in the 1990s at 625 St Kilda Road and the start of Wesley College 2016 redevelopment, with buildings being designed by Cox Architects. Signature projects like these speak volumes about the College’s commitment to provide outstanding facilities where students can flourish in the best contemporary educational environment that can be provided. Wesley College is fostering an architectural landscape that makes a statement about the value of education for present and future generations, an environment where Wesley people can flourish and still dare to be wise, in the manner its founders so fondly wished.