Wesley's Chapel - City Road
Tomorrow morning, Margaret Thatcher will make her final journey from Westminster, down the Strand and along Fleet Street to St Paul's cathedral, where her funeral service will take place; no doubt amidst much media coverage and discussion, whereby the differing opinions surrounding her life and death which have evidently divided the nation, will be broadcast, repeated and written about in equal measure. I have no interest in adding to this, but thought I'd take the opportunity to mention another building of worship, aside from St Paul's, that played a part in Baroness Thatcher's life, albeit it, in very different circumstances.
If you head from St Paul's cathedral, out past Moorgate and up the City Road towards Old Street, you will pass by a Methodist Chapel, called Wesley's Chapel, and it was here, in 1951 that Margaret Thatcher, then aged 26, married the millionaire divorcee, Denis Thatcher. It was also, where her two children, Mark and Carol Thatcher were Christened and the Communion rail that surrounds the altar was given to the chapel by Thatcher herself.
Perhaps Margaret Thatcher's association with Methodism is unimportant, but what strikes me as being slightly more pertinent is perhaps the effect of watching her father, Alf Roberts, who when Margaret was a young girl, was a famed preacher in the Lincolnshire Methodist circuit. When Margaret went to Oxford University, she joined the Wesley Memorial Chapel there and became a lay preacher, later using her skills for rhetoric and public speaking on a political platform rather than religious.
We pass by the building on my Sunday east London walk, and aside from its minor relevance to the events taking place tomorrow, is an interesting building and place to visit in its own right.
John Wesley (1703-1791), whose statue stands in the courtyard is considered (along with his brother Charles) as being the founder of Methodism. The first Methodist chapel operated out of an old cannon foundry just behind the present site, and the current building, completed in 1778 by George Dance the Younger under the instructions of Wesley, was what the preacher described as 'perfectly neat, but not fine'. Aside from visiting the chapel itself, which has undergone numerous alterations over the years, there is a museum down in the crypt (currently closed for refurbishment until the end of May) which tells the history of Methodism from Wesley until the present day, and you can also visit John Wesley's house, on the right of the courtyard as you enter, a fine example of a Georgian town house.
Wesley was what was known as a circuit preacher, so he would spend most of the year riding around the country on horse back, preaching to various different communities dotted around the country. He would only stay here over the winter months, but the house was also occupied by numerous other preachers and servants. If you're interested in London curiosities, then amongst other things, you might like the chair that Wesley had made especially, which replicated the sensation of being on a horse, to ensure the muscles in his legs, important for horse riding, didn't dwindle.
If you do visit Wesley's Chapel and even if, whilst you're there, you don't need the toilet, I'd recommend visiting the gentlemen's toilets (even if you're a lady) as they are original Thomas Crapper's, still in perfect working order after being first installed in the late 19th century. Crapper's name might be familiar to you, as he is often attributed with inventing the flushing toilet. In actual fact, he was a plumber, who gained his first Royal Warrant in the 1880's and facilitated the whole process rather than inventing it, as is often said. I particularly like the hand pulls, which come complete with the simple instructions 'pull and let go'.
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