Should you be on a city break in the UK capital and have any interest in the Christian Methodist movement – or, in fact, none at all but do have a good deal of curiosity – then you might well find spending a couple of hours taking a look at the 18th Century chapel established by John Wesley and its neighbouring house an interesting, worthwhile diversion.
Wesley was, of course, the founder of the Methodist movement – which would grow to become a group of Protestant denominations that nowadays number 80 million adherents around the world. The site, located in a cobbled courtyard off City Road near Shoreditch (to the north) and Barbican (to the west), today combines as both a place of worship and tourist attraction, containing not just the chapel and house, but also a fascinating museum to be found in the former’s crypt.
The chapel itself is a Grade-I listed building and a fantastic example of Georgian architecture. Opening in 1778, its original pillars – believe it or not – were a set of ships’ masts donated by Britain’s King George III (a little disappointingly they were replaced by stone pillars taken from foreign churches at the end of the 19th Century). The chapel boasts an active congregation with services every Sunday, so much so that it was the sight of the 1951 wedding of ’80s UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
As to the house, it’s probably one of the best preserved Georgian townhouses you’ll come across anywhere in Britain. Also Grade-I listed, it was where Wesley lived for the final decade of his life; his tomb, along with the graves of his sister, his biographer and half a dozen of his preachers, is located in the house’s garden at the chapel’s rear. A fine statue of the man stands proudly at the courtyard’s entrance, bearing the highly appropriate inscription: ‘The world is my parish’.
It was more than a century following Wesley’s death that his one-time home was transformed into a visitor attraction, but now you can visit and step inside the property (extremely easy to reach, of course, if you’re staying nearby at accommodation like The Montcalm Brewery hotel on Chiswell Street London) and take a gander around the dining room where he likes to take exercise and his ‘electric machine’ in the study, an apparatus with which he attempted to cure people’s ills.
As mentioned, in the chapel’s crypt is ‘The Museum of Methodism’. Down there you can find numerous relics and artefacts that help tell the tale of the movement’s emergence and evolution; among them are a number Wesley’s own speeches and theological essays. Meanwhile, the small physic garden in front of the house features herbs he wrote about in one of his books, with which he exclaimed ordinary people (whom then didn’t have the financial access to a doctor) might treat their illnesses.
And, if all that doesn’t persuade you this site’s worthy of a visit, then you may be interested to learn that the house contains one of the world’s original examples of a ‘gentleman’s convenience’ built by the sanitary engineer whom effectively invented the modern toilet; yes, Sir Thomas Crapper himself. It takes all sorts, after all!