02 June 2014

John Wesley's House Blog

An update on our Georgian Chapel museum 

As many of you know, The Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s House, the house in which Wesley lived between 1778 until his death in 1791, explore the story of Methodism from its origins in the 18th century to the present day. The museum re-opened in May 2013 following a major investment which allowed for conserving and improving the historic structure of the building and a phased re-display of the museum’s most significant objects. We are very happy to have to announce completion of the third phase, a large showcase, ‘Compassionate Mission’, which explores the social mission of Methodism. This was unveiled formally on Wesley’s Conversion Day 24th May by the Senior Pastor of Kwanglim Methodist Church South Korea, and the President of the Methodist Conference.

In case you have not been to the museum or are unfamiliar with our project, one of our key refurbishment aims was to emphasise the Georgian architecture of the building; like John Wesley’s House, the Chapel and crypt were part of George Dance the Younger’s development of the City Road area in the 1770s. Dance was the ‘Comptroller of the King’s Works’ in the City, a post held by Christopher Wren a century before him, and the deeds of the Chapel contain signed drawings of some of the elevations of the Chapel site.  

It was therefore very appropriate that the refurbishment returned the Chapel’s crypt to its original outline, revealing wooden columns and ceiling beams as well as emphasising the very interesting floor consisting of 19th century grave markers.

The new display is now organised thematically, with individual themes presented in clearly separate areas yet spatially and intellectually linked. Where possible, the display cases were arranged around the periphery of the space, to emphasise the architecture, facilitate a more open space and create interesting vistas throughout the museum. In order to draw attention from the comparatively low ceiling, ambience lighting has been installed in the showcases at the top and bottom, especially around the periphery of the space. In this way only a few ceiling spotlights to highlight important objects and areas without showcases were required, and display cases now appear weightless, as if floating in space.

Now the third phase of the development is complete, visitors can explore in depth Methodism’s social causes and commitments over the last two hundred and fifty years. Alcoholism and abstinence, including tee-totalism in the 19th century, are illustrated through engravings, coins and commemorative medals, and there are displays on the abolition of slavery, including the pen with which Wesley wrote his last letter to Wilberforce. The Sunday School movement forms an important part of the story, including a display of gold and silver medals awarded to the children of the Russell family in the early 1900s, all of whom earned special recognition for regular, long-term attendance and commitment. Funding of social causes and mission work abroad and overseas are also explored, as are the challenges of war with an exhibit on conscientious Methodist objectors during WWII.

Funding is still required to put in place our last showcase and an interactive table display. They will trace the spread and development of Methodism internationally, and give an insight into Methodist communities – with over 100 million believers today worldwide. Although we are nowhere near achieving our aim yet, we are looking creatively at possibilities to obtain further funds and hope to complete the museum by 2015 – watch this space!

In the meantime, do look in as entry to museum and house are free; go to http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/museum.htm for further information!

 By Christian Dettlaff, Curator at John Wesley's House

1 June 2014