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Wesley's Chapel

Coordinates: 51°31′25″N 0°5′13″W / 51.52361°N 0.08694°W / 51.52361; -0.08694
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Wesley's Chapel
Wesley's Chapel and Leysian Mission
Chapel and courtyard
Location49 City Road, St Luke's, London
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationMethodist Church of Great Britain
Founder(s)John Wesley
Architect(s)George Dance the Younger
StyleGeorgian architecture
CircuitCity Road
Minister(s)The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith; Revd Steven Cooper

Wesley's Chapel (originally the City Road Chapel) is a Methodist church situated in the St Luke's area in the south of the London Borough of Islington. Opened in 1778, it was built under the direction of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. The site is a place of worship and visitor attraction, incorporating the Museum of Methodism in its crypt and John Wesley's House next to the chapel. The chapel has been called "The Mother Church of World Methodism".[1]

Along with the associated Leysian Mission, Wesley's Chapel is a circuit of the London District of the Methodist Church. The chapel has an average Sunday service attendance of about 440.[2]

History and architecture

Front of the chapel

In 1776 Methodist leader John Wesley applied to the City of London for a site to build his new chapel and was granted an area of land on City Road. After raising funds from across the Connexion[3] the foundation stone for the chapel was laid on 21 April 1777. The architect was George Dance the Younger, surveyor to the City of London, and the builder was Samuel Tooth, a member of Wesley's Foundery society. The chapel was formally opened with a service on 1 November 1778.[3] The City Road Chapel was established to replace Wesley's earlier London chapel, the Foundery,[4] where he first preached on 11 November 1739.[5]

John Wesley preaching in the City Road Chapel. Engraving by T. Blood, 1822.

Wesley's Chapel is constructed in brown brick laid in Flemish bond with dressings of yellow brick and stone. The building has Grade I listed status and is a fine example of Georgian architecture,[1] although it has been altered and improved since it was built. For example, the original plain windows were replaced with stained glass. In 1864, the gallery was modernised, its front lowered and raked seating installed.[3] Around the gallery is motif in relief supposedly designed by Wesley: a dove with an olive branch in its beak encircled by a serpent following its own tail.[6] The Adam style ceiling was replaced by a replica following a fire in 1879.[3]

Another major refurbishment of 1891 was carried out by Holloway Brothers, collaborating with the Methodist architects Elijah Hoole[7] and William Willmer Pocock. (There is a memorial stained glass window dedicated to Pocock.) The foundations were reinforced, the apse windows were enlarged to accommodate the stained glass, and new pews were installed.[3] The pillars supporting the gallery were originally ships' masts donated by King George III, but these were replaced by French jasper pillars donated from Methodist churches overseas.[4] Only the top section of the original three-decker pulpit survives.[3] An organ was installed in 1882 and the present organ in 1891; it was electrified in 1905 and in 1938 its pipes were moved to their present position at the rear of the gallery.[8]

The location of the sanctuary (including the original communion table against the wall) in an apse behind the pulpit was common in the 'auditory' churches of the 18th century, but few other examples survive today.[3] The present sanctuary in front of the pulpit dates from restoration work in the 1970s. Among other alterations, the foundations were again strengthened due to subsistence and the roof was replaced. The chapel was officially reopened on 1 November 1978, by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[3] The present communion rail was gifted in 1993 by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,[9][10] who was married in the chapel in 1951.[11]

The chapel has always been served by two or more ministers, and local preachers lead services on occasion. The first woman to preach in Wesley's Chapel was Agnes Elizabeth Slack, in 1926.[12]


The site

Exterior of the house

The chapel is set within a cobbled courtyard off City Road, with the chapel at the furthest end and Wesley's house on the right.

John Wesley's House


John Wesley's House, a mid-Georgian townhouse, was built in 1779 at the same time as the chapel.[13] It was Wesley's residence for the last eleven years of his life. He is commemorated by a blue plaque on the City Road frontage. This Grade I listed building is open to visitors as a historic house museum. It was built by Wesley and designed by George Dance the younger, at that time the surveyor of the City of London.

Wesley lived in the house for the last twelve years of his life and died in his bedroom. The house was also used to accommodate travelling preachers and their families. The household servants also lived on the premises. The house continued to be used for travelling preachers after Wesley's death until it was turned into a museum in the 1900s.

In the dining room his Chamber Horse is set up which he used for exercise; on display in the study is his electric machine which was used for the treatment of illness.[14]

Courtyard, gardens and cemetery


At the front of Wesley's House is a small physic garden which contains herbs mentioned in Wesley's book, The Primitive Physic. It details ways in which common people could cure themselves using natural medicines as they couldn't afford a doctor.[15] Wesley set up the first free dispensary in London giving out medical advice and remedies at his Foundery chapel.

Wesley died on 2 March 1791. His tomb is in the garden at the rear of the chapel alongside the graves of six of his preachers, and those of his sister Martha Hall and his doctor and biographer, Dr John Whitehead.[3]

A memorial to Susanna Wesley, Wesley's mother, stands just inside the gate to the front courtyard.[16]

A bronze statue of Wesley with the inscription "the world is my parish" stands at the entrance to the courtyard; created in 1891 by John Adams-Acton, the sculpture is Grade II listed.[17] Elijah Hoole was responsible for the 10-foot high granite pedestal on which the statue stands.[18]

Victorian lavatory


The site also houses one of the few surviving examples of a gentleman's convenience built by the sanitary engineer Thomas Crapper in 1891.[19][20]

The Leysian Mission

Leysian Mission building, City Road

In 1886 former pupils of The Leys School, Cambridge founded a mission in nearby Whitecross Street. The aim was to improve the lives of the impoverished inhabitants of this part of the East End of London.[21] In 1904 the mission moved to a new site in Old Street, very near Wesley's Chapel.[21] It provided medical facilities, legal advice, financial and dietary assistance, as well as religious services and musical events. After World War II the mission sold the buildings and merged with Wesley's Chapel in 1989.[22]

The chapel today


The chapel is home to a multicultural[23] congregation with a membership of 439.[2] It is a working church with daily prayer, Sunday Holy Communion services and several weekday services. It is known for its relatively "high church" sacramental liturgy.[24] The superintendent minister is Canon Jennifer Smith.[25] Wesley's Chapel is in an ecumenical partnership with the Anglican St Giles' Cripplegate parish church, Jewin Welsh Presbyterian Chapel, and St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.[26] It shares a close relationship with the Friends meeting house at Bunhill Fields.

Museum of Methodism


The Museum of Methodism, housed in the chapel's crypt, contains artefacts and relics relating to Methodism, including several of Wesley's speeches and essays on theology, the "warmed heart" "contemplative space", Thomas Coke's writing slope or desk and Donald Soper's portable preaching stand.[27][28] The museum was created in 1978 and was refurbished in 2014, with the last case being installed in early 2016 thanks to a donation.

See also



  1. ^ a b Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1195538)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Circuit Membership Statistics Summary October 2012" (PDF). Statistics for Mission. Methodist Church in Britain. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Vickers, John A. "Wesley's Chapel, City Road, London". dmbi.online. A Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 3 June 2024. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b "History: Wesley's Chapel". Wesley's Chapel & Leysian Mission. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Wesley's Chapel – timeline". Museum of Methodism. Archived from the original on 22 August 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  6. ^ This Great Light Life & Legacy of John Wesley (video). Spiral productions. 2013. 9 minutes in. Archived from the original on 18 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ "Historic England List Entry No 1195538". Archived from the original on 3 May 2021. Retrieved 1 May 2021.
  8. ^ "Organ". Wesley's Chapel & Leysian Mission. 2008. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  9. ^ "Death of a Member: Baroness Thatcher". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 744. House of Lords. 10 April 2013. p. 1154. Archived 3 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Communion table and rail". RE:Quest. Archived from the original on 15 June 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  11. ^ Filby, Eliza (14 April 2013). "Margaret Thatcher: her unswerving faith shaped by her father". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 5 February 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  12. ^ Maria Zina Gonçalves de Abreu (2014). Women Past and Present: Biographic and Multidisciplinary Studies. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 128–130. ISBN 978-1-4438-6114-4.
  13. ^ Stephen Inwood (2012). Historic London: An Explorer's Companion. Pan Macmillan. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-0-230-75252-8. Archived from the original on 3 June 2024. Retrieved 1 November 2016. It was also resolved to provide a separate residence for John Wesley, who had lived many years in an apartment above the Foundry. ... After living nearly forty years above the Foundry, John Wesley occupied his new home in 1779. Today, it is ...
  14. ^ Johnstone, Lucy (2000). Users and Abusers of Psychiatry: A Critical Look at Psychiatric Practice. Routledge. p. 152. ISBN 0-415-21155-7.
  15. ^ "Wesley and Well-being". www.methodistheritage.org.uk. Methodist Heritage. Archived from the original on 23 January 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Wesley's Chapel and Leysian Mission, John Wesley's House and the Museum of Methodism | Methodist Heritage". www.methodistheritage.org.uk. Archived from the original on 9 March 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  17. ^ England, Historic. "Statue of John Wesley in the forecourt of Wesley's Chapel, Islington – 1195540". www.historicengland.org.uk. Historic England. Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  18. ^ "THE CENTENNIAL WESLEY STATUE". Christian Colonist. Vol. XIII, no. 32. South Australia. 15 May 1891. p. 8. Archived from the original on 3 June 2024. Retrieved 2 May 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "Visit One Of London's Most Opulent Toilets". Londonist. 30 December 2016. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  20. ^ Hodges, Kate (17 March 2016). "Wesley's Chapel Toilets". London in an Hour. Random House. ISBN 978-0-7535-5128-8. Archived from the original on 3 June 2024. Retrieved 22 March 2023. The most stylish, elegant public bathrooms in London
  21. ^ a b "Leysian Mission, London". dmbi.online. A Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original on 12 June 2020. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  22. ^ ""What is the Leysian Mission?" at wesleyschapel.org.uk". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  23. ^ Bloom, Linda (9 May 2018). "Wesley's Chapel makes history relevant today". United Methodist News Service. Archived from the original on 4 August 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  24. ^ Vickers, John A. (1994). "In the Sistine Chapel". Wesley's Chapel. London: Pitkin. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-85372-652-4.
  25. ^ "Revd Dr Jen Smith". methodistlondon.org.uk. London District of the Methodist Church. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  26. ^ "City churches to sign ecumenical partnership". rcdow.org.uk. Catholic Diocese of Westminster. 20 January 2020. Archived from the original on 28 July 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  27. ^ "Museum of Methodism". Wesley's Chapel & Leysian Mission. Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  28. ^ "Museum of Methodism" leaflet, available at the Museum

Further reading

  • George John Stevenson, City Road Chapel, London, and its Associations, Historical, Biographical, and Memorial (1872)

51°31′25″N 0°5′13″W / 51.52361°N 0.08694°W / 51.52361; -0.08694