Yesterday I visited Wesley’s Chapel in City Road and the Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds directly across the street. I had planned for several hours exploring the chapel – which also houses the Methodist Museum and the Foundery Chapel – and John Wesley’s house next door. But a meeting I was at beforehand overran by several hours, giving me 30 minutes for the task. Most unsatisfactory, I shall just have to go again soon, because there is much to enjoy.
John Wesley (1703 – 1791), founded Methodism in 1739, inspired largely by Moravian doctrine (which he couldn’t fully embrace because of certain creeds he considered heretical). He became a hugely popular itinerant preacher, proselytising – typically outdoors – to thousands of would-be converts and followers around Britain and Ireland. Methodism was an almost instant success, both at home and internationally.
With a grant of land from the City of London, Wesley built Wesley’s Chapel in 1778, next door the earlier – and by comparison, tiny – Foundery Chapel (which still exists). The Grade I listed church is significant architecturally because it was designed by George Dance the Younger, City of London Surveyor, the vast majority of whose works have been demolished down the years. (coincidentally, see my previous post on Pitzhanger – I’m unintentionally having a bit of a George Dance week).
We say goodbye to Wesley and cross the road to the Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds. This area has been a burial place for over a millennium, at one stage a plague pit used to deal with overflow corpses from the City. It became an unconsecrated cemetery for non-conformists from the 1660s. Bunhill Fields played that role until closed in 1852 during the programme of moving cemeteries to the suburbs as a measure to counteract epidemics. Since then it has been maintained by the City of London Corporation as a public garden. Its three most notable “residents” are Daniel Defoe, William Blake and John Bunyan. But also buried here are the noted hymnologist Isaac Watts and Richard Cromwell, eldest son and ill-fated Lord Protector on the death of his father, Oliver Cromwell. After the Restoration and a short period in exile, Cromwell Junior returned to England and lived to a ripe old age – a very lucky man given the fate of others from the Commonwealth regime.