Following the decision of the 1836 Conference to encourage Methodist day schools, Wesley College was founded in Sheffield in 1838 as the Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School, the inspiration of the young Samuel Dousland Waddy, who served as its Governor from 1844 to 1862. At a time when Kingswood and Woodhouse Grove schools were available only to the sons of ministers, but middle-class Methodists were increasing in numbers and prosperity, it served as a boarding school for the sons of Wesleyan laymen in the North and Midlands. In 1844 it became Wesley College and was affiliated to London University, enabling it to prepare men for a London degree. Under the headship of the Irishman Dr. Henry Shera from 1854 to 1888 it enjoyed considerable success, its pupils in the 1850s including Mark Guy Pearse, T.B. Stephenson and Thomas George Osborn. But by 1888 numbers were declining, partly because of the establishment of other Methodist proprietary schools such as The Leys and Rydal. It was given a new lease of life by J.J. Findlay, who was headmaster for three years only, 1888-1891. William H. Dallinger, Governor from 1879 to 1888, introduced science into the curriculum.
By the dawn of the twentieth century the number of boarders was in decline, despite the successful headship of the Rev. Valentine W. Pearson. The school felt the effect of the 1902 Education Act and in 1903 the Governors sold it to the Twentieth Century Fund, expecting it to be taken over by the Board of Management for Methodist Residential Schools. Instead it was resold to Sheffield City Council and became part of the newly formed King Edward VII School.
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