Methodist Micro-loans

The Foundry was the home of several of John Wesley’s ministries in London. The former cannon works (Old King’s Foundry) was purchased by Wesley as a chapel in 1740 and was referred to simply as “The Foundry.”  Over time, the Foundry became home to a school, a bookstore, a clinic, a home for the elderly who were destitute, and on Tuesdays, beginning in 1744, a place for members of the Methodist Societies to find micro-loans.

Originally, the loan limit was 20 shillings or one pound. In today’s dollars that is something less than $100. It was capitalized with 50 pounds. During the life of the loan program, many tradesmen who had sold tools during times of unemployment were able to buy new tools through the micro-loan program. For example, during a very severe winter a stone mason might not find work. In order to survive, he would be forced to sell his hammers and chisels. With the return of good weather, he would not be employable without his tools.

The most famous of the micro-loans went to James Lackington. Lackington became the most successful book dealer in London, and it all began in 1774, when the 26-year-old Methodist applied for a loan to start a used book business.  The loan’s upper limit by then had been raised to five pounds; he received the full five pounds. Within a few years, Lackington was a very wealthy man, and his book store, “Temple of the Muses," was London’s largest.

Unfortunately, James Lackington did not stay within the Methodist fold.

His departure reminds me of the old tale of the single mother with three small sons ranging in age from six to ten.  The Sunday School at the Methodist church noted their absences over a period of several weeks and went to their home to inquire. The mother, obviously embarrassed, told the Sunday School Superintendent that she didn’t have enough money to provide new Sunday clothes for the boys and was reluctant to send them in tatters. The Superintendent shared this news with the pastor, and together they found enough money to buy the boys each a new suit, which were delivered to the home. For the next three weeks, the pastor and Sunday School Superintendent were on lookout for the boys, but alas they did not come to church or Sunday School. The pastor went round to call on the mother. He asked had they not received the clothes, and she replied that indeed they had, but the boys looked so good in them they were now attending the Episcopal church.