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JOHN WESLEY and the “Other Cathedral”

Gillian Laidlaw delves into the history of John Wesley and the Methodist movement, Wesley’s Chapel in City Road and its museum and buildings


any of us who live in the Barbican can see St Paul’s Cathedral from our homes. But how many of us

know that there is a second cathedral nearby? Wesley’s Chapel in City Road is often called “the Cathedral of Methodism”. It was the Methodist movement’s first purpose built chapel in London and followed many years of association between Methodism and this area.

The Father of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, was a son of Susanna whose father, Samuel Annersley, had been rector of St Giles’s Cripplegate. Susanna married a clergyman who was briefly curate at St Botolph’s Aldersgate, but at the time of John’s birth in 1703 they were living at Epworth in Lincolnshire. John came to school in London and from 1713 to 1720 he received a classical education as a “gown-boy” at Charterhouse. He went up to Oxford where he and his younger brother Charles became the centre of a group of religiously inclined students who were nicknamed the “Holy Club”. Another nickname was “Methodist” because of their methodical Christian life. They became Anglican clergymen. They frequently lodged with a friend in Little Britain and there, on 21st May 1738, Charles experienced his “conversion”. On 24th May 1738, while worshipping with friends in a room in a house in Old Nettleton Court, John experienced his “heart strangely warmed”, often referred to as his “conversion”. These experiences convinced the two brothers that improvements in how Anglicanism was taught could revive the Church of England. The distinctive feature of Methodism became preaching, often at

Wesley’s Chapel and statue on City Road

open-air meetings. John began this life-long habit shortly after his “conversion” and travelled throughout the country but London remained his base. This event is commemorated in the Conversion Place Memorial, the Aldersgate Flame, adjacent to the entrance to the Museum of London in modern Nettleton Court as close as possible to Old Nettleton Court which no longer exists.

Evangelical Christian revival movements of the 18th century resulted in the creation of a number of non-denominational groupings, of which Methodism was one. The first Methodist society was formed in July 1740. It met at The Foundery near Moorfields. This had been a cannon factory which was badly damaged in a fire. After many years of disuse John Wesley bought the lease and converted it into a collection of rooms which served as his London headquarters for over 45 years. In addition to a room which held a congregation of 1500 there was a smaller room for bible classes, space to publish and sell books,

a school, the first free dispensary in London and accommodation for preachers and poor widows. John lived there too when he was in London. Gradually Methodist societies were established across the country. The brothers John and Charles worked closely together; nowadays Charles is probably best known for the many hymns which he wrote and which are still sung every Sunday in churches across the world.

As an ordained Anglican clergyman John Wesley sought to keep

Interior view of Wesley’s Chapel


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