Slap-bang between the hipster haven that’s Shoreditch/ Old Street and the stylish arts and culture district that’s the Barbican isn’t exactly where in London you’d expect to find a small, charming but hugely important slice of religious history. But such is the diverse – in some ways, jumbled up – nature of the city’s geography and how its evolved over its many centuries that, quite frankly, this is actually far from the most surprising patch of the capital in which to discover a museum dedicated to the man who started the Methodist Christian movement on the site of his chapel and one-time home.
The Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s Chapel and House then give visitors a fantastic opportunity to step back into 18th Century London – and the fascinating history of Protestantism. The Georgian townhouse is a fine, charismatic example of the sort of middle-class home of its era, its interior preserved as much as possible from Wesley’s time (he spent the last 11 winters of his life here). At times, it was home too to the chapel’s preachers and their families – some of whom are buried in the garden along with Wesley and his sister.
Indeed, in its study you’ll come across the man’s ‘electric machine’, with which he attempted to cure the poor and vulnerable’s illnesses, and the chair in which he sat as he wrote his many speeches and essays on theological thought and study – original versions of which, as well as sundry other artefacts and relics of Methodism’s early establishment and evolution, such as Wesley’s death mask and a lock of his hair, are stored in the museum (located in the neighbouring chapel’s crypt).
All of which means it’s a particularly interesting if small and perfectly formed place for a visit should your place of stay be nearby (perhaps you’ll be staying at The Montcalm Brewery hotel on Chiswell Street London?). Either way, the site’s very accessible by Tube – the nearest station is the Northern line’s Old Street.
The chapel is just as beautiful a building as the house. Opened in the autumn of 1778, it was the first church for Methodists specifically erected not just for preaching purposes but also to accommodate the Holy Communion, thus making it an incredibly significant space for the now 80 million-strong, global Methodist movement.
The site’s open Mondays-Saturdays from 10am to 3.30pm (final entry’s half-an-hour before closing), but it’s closed for services on Sundays and on Thursday lunchtimes, as well as between Christmas and New Year and on English Bank Holidays, except Good Friday. Tours around the site take place constantly, but should you expect to be part of a group of six or more visitors you’re requested to call ahead to book in advance. And, while entry is free, donations for the upkeep of the site are certainly more than welcome.