Friday, 13 January 2017

The Museum of Methodism

49 City Road
London EC1Y 1AU

Thursday 12 January 2017

If we are honest, Linda and I were not expecting much from this visit, but we were wrong: we had a fascinating  and informative time, and saw some remarkable buildings and objects.

The first pleasant surprise is to step off the horrible City Road into the calm courtyard of this headquarters of the Methodist movement.  We started in the Museum, with a brief film about the life and work of John Wesley, which is supported by a wall time line. The key points of Wesley's life are outlined, beginning with his birth in Lincolnshire (one of 19 children) in 1703, and his miraculous rescue from the fire which destroyed the Epworth Rectory, convincing his mother (and later himself) that he was a 'brand plucked from the burning' (Zechariah 3 i-ii) and chosen to serve God.  His father's patron, the Duke of Buckingham, ensured that he was educated, first at the London Charterhouse and then at Oxford, and he was ordained into the Church of England. 'Methodist' was the derisory nickname given to him and his friends of the 'Holy Club' by their fellow students, but they were happy to live their lives in a methodical way and did not object. 

The key moment in his life was probably his evangelical conversion in 1738 when, as he said, 'I felt my heart strangely warmed' and became convinced emotionally as well as intellectually of the truth of his faith. The very next year, he bought the derelict cannon foundry on the City Road, and set up a chapel, school, and dispensary and his own home: effectively a community centre. Not that he spent much time there: over the next 50 years, he travelled about 250,000 miles, preaching to the poor. 

At this stage, we were offered a tour of Wesley's House, which can only be visited in the company of one of the knowledgeable people who staff the Museum, so off we went. It is a handsome house, built with money from Methodist congregations in the 1770s. Wesley was based here from 1779 to his death in 1791. We started in the basement, where there was very little light, but our guide's torch showed us some relics of the man himself and his innumerable journeys on horseback. His shoes (small feet, but then he was not very tall) his spurs, his travelling writing desk and some of his clothes are all on display in the house. So is his rattle from when he was a baby. We were also amazed by an 'exercise horse' on which one sits and bounces up and down.  The travelling season went from March to September, so keeping the muscles in trim over the winter was important.

 On the ground floor were two rooms with opportunities for entertaining his many visitors, and some fine furniture, including a lovely corner cupboard.  Upstairs again was his study, with a fine view of the Dissenters' cemetery opposite, where his mother Susannah is buried.

His ideas on medicine were often strange, and we saw his machine for using static electricity for dealing with anything from fevers to rheumatism and hair loss.  He believed that tea was an evil drink, despite the fact that the great Josiah Wedgwood had made him a personalised and magnificent teapot, which is on display in the Museum.

We also saw an extraordinary cockfighting chair (close up of a similar one here) given him by a convert and useful as a work chair for someone who spent so much time on horseback.  The handsome 1690s grandfather clock was rumoured to have come from Epworth, but it seems unlikely that such a clock would have survived the fire of 1710.

Next to his bedroom is his prayer-room.  This is known as 'the power house of Methodism'. He rose at 5.00 every morning and spent time with his bible. He called himself a 'one book man' but was in fact very widely read.  His successor as head of the Methodists destroyed a number of his secular books, including his Shakespeare, which is a pity, as he wrote comments in the books he was reading, and his take on some of Shakespeare would be interesting.  Upstairs again there was a spare room, for visiting preachers, or for his brother Charles.  It is a small room, but the bed will fold up into the wall to make more space.

After the house, we visited the original Foundery Chapel, with a neat little organ, and a few wooden pews, before going into the main, magnificent chapel. The pulpit, which is original, began life with three storeys, to enable the preacher to he heard in the galleries, but it now has a mere two! The altar rails were a gift from Margaret Thatcher, who was married here.  Her children were baptised in the font.

Then it was back to the Museum. where we saw a wide range of items about the life of Wesley and the history of his movement to the present day.  A bible, said to have survived the fire at Epworth, and certainly showing signs of having been singed, has pride of place, together with the pulpit from the original chapel.  We were not very excited by the many portraits of the heroes of Methodism, but we did enjoy commemorative ceramics and prints, as well as the display of modern reprints of some of Wesley's many publications, including his works on Abolition. The Museum also has some fine vinyl recordings of Methodist hymns.  Actually, whether one has any religion or none, most people are familiar with Hark the Herald, and Love Divine, so we all know something of Methodism.

There was a range of trowels from the laying of foundation stones, too.

We also enjoyed the displays of collecting boxes, ancient and modern. Wesley was unashamed about 'begging' for the needs of the poor, and to this day, the Methodist Movement funds charities for children and old people, at home and abroad. 
Ever since Wesley declared 'the world is my parish', this has been a worldwide movement.  The split form Anglicanism only occurred when Wesley ordained ministers to go abroad though he was not himself a bishop. So the museum has a section about the Caribbean, where Methodism arrived in the 1770s and is strong today, and around the world. There are almost two million Methodists in South Korea, for example.

Finally, we ventured into the historic gentlemen's toilets, among the first public flush loos in London, and were suitably impressed. (There are everyday toilets as well...)

Before we left, we ventured into the rain soaked garden to see the memorial to the founder and also to note the modern office block, the rent of which helps to support the whole complex

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