It’s 53 years ago this month that the World Cup trophy – offiicially known as the Jules Rimet Trophy – was stolen from Methodist Central Hall in Westminster (OK, it’s not a very round figure, but it’s a fascinating story).

The trophy had arrived in the UK in January for the tournament to be held later that year and was mostly kept at FA headquarters at Wembley. But in March, it went on show at a stamp exhibition being held at the hall (pictured).

Despite being kept under (relatively) constant guard in a glass cabinet, the trophy was discovered missing just after 12pm on 20th March (the crime had apparently occurred while the guards were on a break). Scotland Yard immediately set about investigating the theft but to no avail (the FA, meanwhile, secretly commissioned a replica to be made, just in case the trophy couldn’t be recovered).

A couple of days later Joe Mears, chairman of the FA, received an anonymous package. It contained the removable top lining of the trophy and a demand for £15,000 in return for the trophy. An exchange was to be set up involving codes placed in newspaper personal ads.

The FA chairman then worked with Scotland Yard to set up a false exchange. On 24th March, Flying Squad Detective Inspector Leonard Buggy, posing as Mears, met a former soldier who turned out to be Edward Betchley in Battersea Park, showing him a briefcase filled with newspapers covered with a layer of £5 notes. Betchley then accompanied Buggy in a car, ostensibly driving to pick up the trophy, but he got spooked along the way and jumped out.

Betchley was arrested minutes later but refused to reveal the trophy’s whereabouts, claiming he was just the middleman come to collect the ransom (he was later convicted of demanding money with menaces with the intent to steal).

The trophy was actually discovered a week after it was stolen by a collie-cross named Pickles who found it lying near a neighbour’s car outside the Norwood home of his owner, Thames lighterman David Corbett. Pickles – who went on to become something of a celebrity in his own right appearing in TV shows and even a film, The Spy with a Cold Nose – has, of course, since died (his collar is on display in the National Football Museum in Manchester).

The crime has never been officially solved although there were claims last year that late London gangster Sidney Cugullere and his brother Reg were behind it.

England, meanwhile, did go on to beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final that year. Life, meanwhile, didn’t turn out so well for the trophy. It was stolen again in 1983 in Brazil and this time was not recovered.

PICTURE: David Adams

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Opened on 22nd January, 1876, this short-lived building at the junction of Tothill and Victoria Streets in Westminster – across the road from Westminster Abbey, was designed as an entertainment venue offering a space for art exhibitions, concerts and plays in similar fashion to that of the famous Crystal Palace then located in Sydenham.

The classically styled and highly ornamented two storey building was designed by Alfred Bedborough and built of Portland stone and red brick. Its initial board of directors included composer Arthur Sullivan (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), retailer William Whiteley, and financier Henry Labouchére, covered an area of almost three acres.

It featured a central hall which stood 340 feet in length and 160 feet wide and was covered with a barrel-shaped iron and glass roof. The interior featured palm trees and other exotic plants, fountains, sculptures, space for a 400 member orchestra, and, 13 large tanks for sea creatures which were fed with fresh and sea water from four cisterns

These tanks, which gave the premises its name as well as its nickname, ‘The Tank’, didn’t prove all that successful. They were initially left empty, prompting author Charles Dickens to note that they become something of a “standing joke”, and even as late as 1896 were described as providing a “beggarly show of fish”.

As well as the main hall, the premises also boasted multiple smaller rooms including eating and drinking establishments, an art gallery, ice-skating rink, reading room, telegraph office, and, at its west end, the Aquarium Theatre, which in 1879 was renamed the Imperial Theatre. There was even apparently a division bell installed for MPs visiting from the nearby Houses of Parliament.

By the 1890s, the entertainments had become more low-brow and the building had become associated with illicit sexual liaisons. Its popularity declined.

In 1903, it was sold to the Methodist Church and Methodist Central Hall was built on the site in 1911. The theatre, however, wasn’t demolished until 1907 – the interior, however, was saved and apparently re-erected as the Imperial Palace of Varieties in Canning Town in 1909 (which itself was destroyed by fire in 1931).

PICTURE: A from 1896 book, The Queen’s London: a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, showing the Royal Aquarium in c1876.

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.