The oldest extant public toilets in London can be found Wesley’s Chapel in City Road.

The gentlemen’s facilities, located off to the side of the chapel, were designed by the famous Thomas Crapper & Co and consist of enclosed wooden-walled cubicles, a series of urinals and wash basins.

The well-appointed toilets were installed in 1899 – more than 100 years after John Wesley’s death and long after many other parts of the Georgian and Victorian complex of buildings (including Wesley’s house) were built – but remain in working order even today.

Crapper, who had founded his company in the 1860s, championed the concept of the flushing toilet (although the idea had already been invented) and was responsible for the invention of the ballcock system. And contrary to common belief, Crapper – who received several royal warrants for his work – did not lend his name to a slang word for excrement – its origins go back much further.

WHERE: Wesley’s Chapel (with The Museum of Methodism and John Wesley’s House), 49 City Road (nearest Tube stations are Old Street and Moorgate; WHEN: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday/ 12:30pm to 1:45pm Sunday; COST: free (donations appreciated); WEBSITE: www.wesleyschapel.org.uk

PICTURES: Top – Ra Boe/Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-3.0; Right – James O’Gorman/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 (images cropped)

 

The name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.

Fetter-LaneRather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.

The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.

Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).

It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)

And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).

Charterhouse-Square-GardensThe final in our series on historic garden squares in London (for this year, anyway), we’re taking a look at Charterhouse Square.

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.

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.

The Charterhouse School was founded in 1611 – the seventh year of King James I’s reign – on the site of a former Carthusian monastery in Smithfield.

It owes its creation to Thomas Sutton (1532-1611) who bought the site – which then contained a Tudor mansion – from Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, in 1611, the year of Sutton’s death.

A Yorkshireman, Sutton (who is buried in the chapel in Charterhouse) is said to have been the “wealthiest commoner in England” at the time, having made a fortune after discovering coal. He used his resources to endow a school and an almshouse on the site.

Among the school’s alumni were John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, and novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

The school – which is this year celebrating its 400th anniversary – moved to Godalming in Surrey in 1872 and the site was subequently occupied by the Merchant Taylor’s School while the almhouse continued to operate on the western part of the land (it still does today under the name Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse).

The school later became the medical college of the nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital and is now occupied by Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

For more on the Charterhouse, see www.thecharterhouse.org (tours run on Wednesday afternoons at 2.15pm from April until August and cost £10 per person). For more on the Charterhouse School, see www.charterhouse.org.uk.

A squirrel spotted playing among the tombstones of Bunhill Fields Cemetery in the Borough of Islington. The Dissenters’ graveyard – burial place of the likes of writers John Bunyan and Daniel Defoe, artist and poet William Blake and Susanna Wesley, mother of Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley – was recently given a Grade I listing on the national Register of Parks and Gardens. For more information on the cemetery, see our previous post here.