Located in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in City Road, this memorial to Daniel Defoe, the author of numerous books including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders as well as a journalist, pamphleteer and ‘provocateur’ or spy, wasn’t erected until 1870, almost 140 years after his death.
After he died in 1731 at the age of 70, Defoe was among the more than 120,000 people buried in Bunhill Fields, a Nonconformist cemetery which opened in 1665 and had closed by 1853. He was apparently buried under the name Dabow, thanks to a spelling mistake made by the gravedigger.
When he died in relative obscurity (he was believed to have been hiding from his creditors at the time), his fame rose after his death – due in large part to the rising popularity of Robinson Crusoe, and by the mid-19th century, it was believed that the simple headstone over his grave didn’t do justice to him.
Hence an appeal was run by children’s magazine Christian World for a more suitable memorial for the writer – named as Daniel De-Foe on the memorial – and more than £150 was raised from 1,700 people, an amount which apparently exceeded expectations.
Sculptor Samuel Horner was subsequently commissioned to carve the memorial obelisk, which features projections at the base resembling a coffin lid, to the designs of CC Creeke of Bournemouth. It was unveiled on 16th September, 1870, in a ceremony attended by three of Defoe’s great grand-daughters.
There was apparently a newspaper story that the sculptor uncovered a coffin bearing Defoe’s name in preparing the site for the monument and had to get the aid of police to prevent watchers from making off with the bones from within.
The monument, which may not mark the exact location of Defoe’s grave site due to the movement of graves in the burial ground, is now Grade II*-listed (and the burial ground itself Grade I-listed). Others buried at Bunhill Fields include author John Bunyan, artist William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism.
WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 7.30am to 7pm or dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx
It’s a church with a difference for the final entry in our Georgian series. Known as the “Cathedral of Methodism”, the Grade I-listed chapel on City Road in the Borough of Islington was first opened in 1778 just over the road from Bunhill Fields graveyard and remains in use today.
Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, had already established a London base in a former cannon foundry close by known as the Foundery when the fact the lease was expiring and plans for residential development of the area led him to look elsewhere for a headquarters for the Methodism movement (which he still then considered part of the Anglican Church).
Wesley approached the City of London for a new site and, following a massive fundraising effort, in April, 1777, the building’s foundation stone was laid. The architect for the new building was George Dance the Younger, then surveyor to the City of London, and the builder, a local preacher named Samuel Tooth.
The new chapel – which Wesley described as “perfectly neat, but not fine” – was opened on All Saints Day, 1778 – apparently Wesley spent the first 15 minutes of his sermon railing against the elaborate hats worn by female congregants.
The chapel last underwent a major restoration in the 1970s after it was found to be unsound and was reopened in 1978 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh exactly 200 years after Wesley first opened it.
Inside the chapel – which features seats upon a gallery as well as the ground floor – features a ceiling said to have been the widest unsupported ceiling in England at the time it was built (the present one is a replica; the original had been damaged by fire in 1879).
The original pillars used in the chapel to support the gallery were ship’s masts from the naval dockyard at Deptford given as a gift from King George III – these were replaced during the centenary commemoration of Wesley’s death with pillars of French jasper in 1891 but a couple of originals can still be seen in the vestibule.
Memorials inside the chapel include those to John and Charles Wesley and early Methodists John Fletcher and Thomas Coke.
Next to the chapel is the house Wesley lived in during the last 11 years of his life (this can be visited – and we’ll cover it in more detail in a later post) and underneath it in the crypt is the Museum of Methodism – well worth a visit in its own right.
Wesley’s tomb (pictured) is located behind the east end of the church (accessed through the chapel) and outside the entrance to the chapel is a statue of Wesley. The grave of Susanna Wesley, mother of the Wesleys, can be found across the road in Bunhill Fields.
WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel, 49 City Road (nearest Tube station Old Street and Moorgate); WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday (services Sunday – check website for details); COST: free but donations welcome; WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk.
The five sided square, located just to the east of Smithfield, takes its name from a Carthusian monastery which was established in 1371 on what is now its north side. Prior to this, what is now the square had from 1348 served as a location for a plaque burial pit (a number of skeletons from the plaque pit have been unearthed as part of the Crossrail project – for our earlier story on this, follow this link).
The monastery was dissolved in 1537 after the monk’s refused to recognise King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (some were later executed at Tyburn) and it was subsequently transformed into a manor house with Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, among its residents over the years (in fact he was imprisoned there around 1570 for allegedly plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – he was later executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason).
Under the will of Thomas Sutton, an almshouse and school was subsequently established on the site – the almshouse remains there while the school, whose students had included Methodism founder John Wesley and writer William Makepeace Thackeray, moved out to Godalming in Surrey in 1872. As well as the almshouse (which is open for guided tours, check this site for details), some of the buildings are now occupied by medical related institutions.
In the 1600s, the square was also home to numerous other large residences among them Rutland House, which had been the residence of the Venetian ambassador. It lost its aristocratic inhabitants in the ensuing centuries but remained mainly residential up until the late 19th century when it gradually became taken over by businesses and other organisations. Interesting to note is that the east side of the square is still home to the residential unit complex known as Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Hercule Poirot in the TV series which bears his name.
The area of the garden square itself was variously referred to as the Charterhouse Churchyard, the Charterhouse Yard and Charterhouse Close over the years and has gone through numerous incarnations with efforts to improve and formalise its look dating back to at least the 16th century. It was at least partly enclosed by the late 1600s and the fences replaced several times, notably in 1742 when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing residents to fine those who entered without authorisation. The enclosing fences have since been modified several more times.
One of the major changes to the shape of the square occurred in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway was extended between Farringdon and Moorgate. It was at this time that the road surface which surrounds the central garden, which has a Grade II heritage listing, was laid down.
Today the gardens in the centre of the square remain under the management of the Charterhouse (and hence aren’t open to the general public except on tours) but even without a tour it’s still a quiet place to walk around the outside of, evoking a strong sense of years gone past.
October 15, 2012
Credited as the founder, along with his brother, of Methodism, it was in London that John Wesley experienced the spiritual awakening that would change his life and lead to the establishment of a new religious movement.
Born on 17th June, 1720, in Epworth, not far from Lincoln, Wesley was the 15th of 19 children born to Samuel Wesley – the rector there – and his wife Susanna. Rescued from a fire in the family rectory at a young age, the event was to have a lasting impression on him leading to his later view that he was set apart for a special purpose – “a brand plucked from the burning”.
Wesley was educated at London’s Charterhouse School and then at Christchurch College in Oxford. Ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728, he spent two years serving as his father’s curate before returning to Oxford in 1729.
It was there he formed the ‘Holy Club’ with his brother Charles and fellow students including George Whitfield. It’s here that the name ‘Methodist’ was first used as a pejorative term to describe members of the group thanks to their ‘methodical’ way of living – which included religious practises like fasting as well as caring for the ill and prisoners – and which was later adopted by Wesley himself.
Following a largely unsuccessful sojourn in the newly founded American Province of Georgia with his brother Charles (they had been invited by the colony’s first governor, James Oglethorpe, to minister to the new settlers) during which Wesley was involved in a courtship that ended badly, the clergyman fled back to England.
It was in London, on 24th May, 1738, that the clergyman then had his “Aldersgate experience” in which he felt his heart “strangely warmed” while at a religious meeting in Aldersgate Street (there’s a monument – the Aldersgate Flame – to this next to the Museum of London).
Initially influenced by the Moravians (Wesley even visited one of their communities in Germany), he later developed some concerns about some aspects of their teachings and so began forming his own followers into what would become the Methodist Society. Despite considerable opposite from the Church of England (Wesley was still an ordained Anglican minister), the new Methodists continued to work among the poor of London and elsewhere in England.
Barred from many Church of England pulpits thanks to his views on everything from salvation to the role ordinary people could play in the church, Wesley began preaching to large masses in the open air – ‘field preaching’ – as he travelled extensively about the country. He is said to have preached as many as 40,000 sermons and travelled some 250,000 miles during his ministry and campaigned on many social issues – including prison reform and the abolition of slavery – while his brother Charles is credited with writing thousands of hymns.
The first Methodist chapels in the UK were opened in the late 1770s – while the first was in Bristol, the second was opened in City Road, London, in 1778. It is still in use today – you can visit it, the Museum of Methodism (housed in the chapel crypt), and the house where Wesley lived the last 12 years of his life – follow this link for more details. The statue pictured above stands outside.
While he did not ordain ministers in England and throughout his lifetime continued to consider himself an Anglican, in an act which helped lead to the creation of an independent Methodist Church (formally created after his death), in 1784 Wesley ordained ministers to head to the newly independent United States of America after the Anglican Church failed to do so.
John Wesley died on 2nd March, 1791, at the age of 87, in his house. He was entombed at the London chapel.
While at the time of his death, it’s estimated that there were 135,000 members and more than 500 itinerant preachers working under the name of “Methodist”, Wesley’s legacy was to become far greater as his ideas spread across the globe. It’s now estimated that there are around 70 million Methodists around the world.
Other monuments commemorating Wesley in London include Methodist Central Hall in Westminster – located opposite Westminster Abbey – which was built in the early Twentieth century to mark the centenary of Wesley’s death and a statue of Wesley on St Paul’s Churchyard, erected in 1988.
There’s a terrific walking guide published by the Methodist Church which links sites of relevance to Wesley’s life in London. You can download it here.