Thomas Dobson

Thesis title: Training to Teach: Westminster College and the development of Higher Education in the 20th century

Start year: 2019


Supervisor(s): Professor Bev Clack, Professor William Gibson

Research topic

Westminster College was a (Wesleyan) Methodist teacher training college between 1851 and 2000. Originally located in the City of Westminster, the College relocated to Harcourt Hill (then in Berkshire) in 1959. In 2000, it merged with Oxford Brookes University, and is now home to, primarily, the School of Education.

2019 was the 60th anniversary of this relocation to Harcourt Hill and, whilst researching this in preparation for ‘Oxford Open Doors’ (the annual heritage event organised by the Oxford Preservation Trust), it became clear how little was known about the reasoning behind this relocation. Through the use of original material in the College archive, much of which has never been studied before, the following three themes will be discussed and evaluated to understand fully why Westminster College, which had operated in London for over a century, relocated to rural location outside of Oxford in 1959. This thesis will then seek to situate the discipline of teacher training within the wider higher education sector of the mid-twentieth century.

The themes which will be investigated are:

  1. The Higher Education sector of the mid-twentieth century, focusing primarily on teacher training and the development of the educational system in England;
  2. Westminster College’s previous plans to relocate, and its relationship with the University of London (1918 - 1953);
  3. Westminster College’s relocation to Harcourt Hill, and its relationship with the University of Oxford (1953 - 1963).


Higher Education; Teacher Training; Methodism; University; London; Oxford; Architecture; Town Planning; Local Politics

General research interests

Social History; Medieval Britain; Religious architecture and buildings; Museums and the Heritage sector; Digital Heritage

Academic school / department

School of Education, Humanities and Languages


Papers delivered

  • ‘A medieval church in the modern world: St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Highworth’, UWTSD Undergraduate research conference, May 2018
  • ‘Transition, Transformation, Ambiguities: the campus on the hill’, H.S.S. research conference, September 2019
  • ‘“The Partners”: Seely and Paget, architects of the Harcourt Hill campus’, LGBT+ History Month 2020 lecture

Published works

  • ‘Update from the archive’, The Westminsterian (The Bulletin of the Westminster Society), Spring 2020
  • ‘Westminster College – a pioneer in teacher training’, The Friends of Pitt Rivers Museum magazine, September 2020
  • ‘The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History – digital access’, The Westminsterian (The Bulletin of the Westminster Society), Spring 2021

Other publicly available work

  • ‘Legends of the West – Lampeter as the birthplace of Welsh Rugby’, an exhibition organised in partnership with Visit Wales and the Ceredigion Office of Tourism., May 2017.
  • ‘British Methodist Buildings – an online database of over 10,000 photographs of Methodist buildings in Britain, January 2019 (Available online at
  • ‘”No Popery!”’ An exhibition to accompany the John Wesley Lecture, May 2019, Lincoln College, Oxford
  • ‘Westminster at War’, Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) Archives and Research Newsletter, July 2019
  • ‘Westminster at 60’ – the opening of the Harcourt Hill campus for the ‘Oxford Open Doors’ weekend, September 2019.
  • ‘”Floreat Westminsteriensis” and “Be Prepared”: Scouting at Westminster College’, OCMCH Blog and Archives and Research Newsletter, November 2019
  • ‘The Victory Bulletin’ – digitised copies of the Westminster College alumni magazine from November 1918 – June 1919. Digitised in November 2019. (Available online at
  • ‘The Women of Methodism’. An exhibition organised to accompany the ‘An Extraordinary Call’ conference, November 2019.
  • ‘Methodist Portrait Prints’ – an online database of over 2000 images of Methodist preachers and associated figures, December 2019
  • ‘Westminsterians of the Second World War’ – a digitised photograph album of the men of Westminster College who fought in the Second World War, accompanied with information about each individual. Made available for VE Day commemorations in June 2020.
  • The Voice of Methodism Association Magazine – digitised in its entirety (1965 – 1996), July 2020
  • ‘Westminster College extensions’ – a digitised sketchbook of blueprints by architects Seely and Paget (1959 – 1963), September 2020
  • ‘Thomas Birch Freeman: nineteenth century missionary from Britain who helped to build the Methodist Church across Africa’, Black History Month stories 2020, The Methodist Church
  • Web content, Westminsterians.UK, Autumn 2020
  • ‘Sarah Smetham and Baby John’, Festive tales, The Methodist Blog, The Methodist Church, December 2020
  • ‘Methodism and Monasticism’, an online exhibition created to accompany the December 2020 Methodist Studies Seminar.
  • ‘J.H. Rigg bicentenary (1821 – 2021): Westminster College’s formative Principal’, OCMCH Blog, January 2021
  • ‘Saving History – a look into the archive’, Oxford Brookes’ Beyond the Science Bazaar 2021
  • LGBT+ History month blog, OCMCH Blog, February 2021
  • Manuscripts from ‘The Smetham Collection’ – digitised as part of the Smetham bicentenary project, March 2021

Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • Associate of the ‘Association for Heritage Interpretation’
  • Secretary, ‘Religion, Collections & Heritage Group’
  • Professional Member, ‘The Art Fund’
  • Member, ‘The Museums Association’
  • Member, ‘Religious Archives Group’

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • A week in industry: Lydiard House and Park/Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, December 2012
  • PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) Leadership training, May 2016
  • BA History (First Class), University of Wales Trinity St. David, May 2018

Other affiliations

  • The Methodist Church of Great Britain
  • Methodist Heritage
  • Westminster College Oxford Trust
  • The Westminster Society
  • The Wesley Historical Society
  • The Avec Trust

Other experience and professional activities

Conferences, seminars etc. attended/organised

  • Chair of Session, Lampeter Legacies Conference, St. Anne’s College, November 2018
  • Attended an ‘Archives and Higher Education’ partnership workshop, History UK and The National Archives, University of Bristol, March 2019
  • Assisted organisation, The Wesley Annual Lecture, May 2019 and 2021
  • Attended the Ecclesiastical History Colloquium, June 2019
  • Attendance at the Alister Hardy Society’s Golden Anniversary Lecture, The Friends Meeting House, Oxford, November 2019
  • Attended ‘Great Expectations: Heritage, Communication, and the Museum’, Steven Parissien, University of Oxford Graduate Seminar in History (1680-1850), Lincoln College, March 2020
  • Attended the Methodist Studies Seminars, December 2019, May 2020
  • Attended ‘Interactivity in Museums and Heritage Sites’, Association of Heritage Interpretation, May 2020
  • Attended ‘COVID-19, Challenges and Changes’, Friends of Pitt Rivers Museum, May 2020
  • Assisted organisation of ‘Ecclesia, Academia, et Mundus: 300 years of Methodist engagement with Higher Education’ (cancelled), June 2020
  • Assisted organisation of the Methodist Studies Seminar, December 2020
  • Attended ‘Talk with a Curator – Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, with Prof. Christiana Payne’, The Ashmolean Museum (online), February 2021
  • Attended ‘Unlocking Collections’, School of Advanced Study, University of London, March 2021

Other activities

  • Heritage tours of Oxford and London attended
  • Assisted with an introduction to OCMCH art collections for the Art History Curatorial Practice Module, October 2019
  • Introduction to the Methodist collections at the John Rylands University Library, Manchester, attended, December 2019
  • Organised a Widening Participation introduction to Brookes Special Collections as part of a HPC Widening Participation Day, December 2019
  • Work Placement joint supervisor, HPC Work Placement module, Spring Semester 2020
  • Representative to the Subject Specialist Network Consortium, February 2021
  • Assisting with the Seely and Paget Centenary planning group
  • Assisting with the James Smetham bicentenary project