Wesley the Architect?

Wesley’s City Road Chapel

Wesley’s City Road Chapel

Have you ever considered John Wesley as an architect--not the architect of our denomination, but actually designing a church building. That church is City Road Chapel in London.  It is also referred to as Wesley’s Chapel and was built to replace John Wesley's earlier London chapel, The Foundry.The site was purchased from the Corporation of London in 1776. After considerable funds had been raised, the foundation stone for the new chapel was laid on April 21, 1777. On that day Wesley preached on what God had accomplished through him and the Methodists (Numbers 23:23). Although Wesley designed the building, he was wise enough to use the architect George Dance the Younger, surveyor to the City of London, to provide the building plans. Built by Samuel Tooth, a member of the Foundry Chapel and one of Wesley’s lay preachers, City Road Chapel was opened on All Saints’ Sunday, 1778.

Even though Wesley called his chapel "neat, but not fine," its Georgian lines and other features are quite attractive. It faces Bunhill Fields across the street, where his mother Susanna is buried along with several notable Non-Conformists. Wesley's tomb is behind the chapel.

Wesley used City Road Chapel as his London base. The chapel was the first Methodist church in London built for the celebration of communion and preaching. It is not the first Methodist church, however; that honor belongs to the New Room in Bristol.

In 1891, to mark the centenary of Wesley's death, the chapel was refurbished. The original oak masts that supported the gallery, a gift to the chapel from King George III, were replaced with marble pillars from around the world. As it was the Civil War era, the chapel received two pillars from America: North and South.

One year after the completion of the chapel, Wesley built a house on the property. He spent the last 11 winters of his life here and died in his bedroom on March 2, 1791. An art print from the era shows Wesley on his deathbed surrounded by several friends and associates. Having visited the house myself, I can only wonder how all fifteen people fit into such a small space (11ft. x 14ft.). Artistic license? 

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got married at Wesley's Chapel in 1951. A devout Methodist, she attended services here from time to time, but the security arrangements eventually made it very difficult to do so. She donated the current communion rail.