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BARBICAN LIFE


his followers within the Church of England. He described Methodism not as a new religion but as a return to fundamentals – “love of God and all mankind”. He ensured that the timings of Methodist meetings did not clash with those of Church of England services and considered St Luke’s Old Street his parish church. But by the 1770s the movement was drifting away from the established church. The lease on The Foundery was due to run out in 1785 and so in 1776 John Wesley applied to the City of London for a new site. In 1777, at the age of 74 years, he laid the foundation stone on part of a field which had been recovered from swamp by dumping soil from the excavations for St Paul’s Cathedral nearly a century earlier. This site in City Road became the location for “the Cathedral of Methodism” with a house next door in which John Wesley lived for the final 11 years of his life.


The architect was George Dance


the Younger, the City of London Surveyor who was laying out the nearby Finsbury Estate on part of Moorfields. The builder was Samuel Tooth, a class leader and local preacher who belonged to the Foundery Society. Wesley described his new chapel as “perfectly neat, but not fine”; it is indeed well proportioned but not as ornate as other buildings of the period. The first service took place on All Saints’ Day, 1st November, 1778. Apparently Wesley spent the first 15 minutes of his sermon berating women in the congregation for wearing elaborate hats. He always felt more sympathy for the poor and in his later years became obsessed with the growing affluence of his followers. About a year later he moved into the house next to the Chapel and occupied the three first floor rooms; the rest of the building was used by visiting preachers. When he was there during the winter months – for the rest of the year he travelled the country preaching – he ensured that everyone was in bed by 9pm and attended morning prayers at 5am. John Wesley died in 1791 and is buried in the small, peaceful graveyard at the rear of the Chapel. Charles Wesley remained a staunch high churchman throughout his life and insisted on being buried in the


consecrated ground of Marylebone churchyard.


The Chapel is a fine oratory church designed to hear the word of God preached from a central pulpit. It is a rectangular space with a large gallery. The pulpit was originally a three-decker following the fashion of the time; John could see directly into the gallery from the top, preaching deck. The gallery was originally supported on wooden ships’ masts from Deptford’s naval dockyard, a gift from George III. These were replaced in 1891 by pillars of French jasper. When the Chapel was built the John Adam style ceiling was reputed to be the widest unsupported ceiling in England. Its decoration of white and gold is reflected in the edge of the gallery. Originally there was no organ, no stained glass and no monuments; electric lighting was installed in 1898. Over the years many changes and additions have been necessary, not least as a result of several fires and the gradual decay caused by the swampy ground on which the Chapel was built. Surprisingly for the area it suffered no major damage during World War II; firemen paid special attention to protecting the Chapel. By 1972 it was in such a bad state of repair that it was declared unfit for public use. A major fund raising exercise resulted in restoration which allowed the building to be reopened by Queen Elizabeth II on the 200th anniversary of its original opening, 1st November 1978. The history of Methodism is written and celebrated in the monuments, memorials and stained glass of the Chapel. The museum in


the crypt describes the history and life of the Wesleys and the establishment and spread of the movement across the world. It receives a constant flow of international visitors. Wesley’s house is a rare example of a middle class 18th century London home with features and fittings original to the period. On display are objects associated with the life of the Wesleys.


In recent years Methodism and Anglicanism have become closer again. The Anglican Methodist Covenant encourages joint worship, study and events. Wesley’s Chapel and St Giles’s Cripplegate have their own local version; the Rector, the Rev’d Katharine Rumens attends services at the Chapel and Superintendent Minister, the Rev’d Dr Leslie Griffiths visits St Giles’s. After 273 years the legacy of John Wesley continues to be felt in our part of London.


Barbican Life wishes to thank Christian Dettlaff, Curator of The Wesley Chapel Museum, and the Heritage Stewards, for their help in the preparation of this article.


John Wesley’s study


John Wesley’s statue head (detail)


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