Fri. 29 – I preached at Highgate, in the palace built in the last century by that wretched Duke of Lauderdale; now one of the most elegant boarding-houses in England. But, alas! It is not Publow! (John Wesley’s Journal, November 1782)
In the 18th Century Highgate was a village on the old road climbing north out of London. Over the years Highgate attracted many of London’s rich and famous, attracted by clean air, plentiful water supply and fine views over London. Many built fine houses in the district.
One such building is Lauderdale House. The original house was built in 1582 by Richard Martin. However, it is named after one of its most prominent owners, the rakish and unscrupulous Scottish statesman Sir John Maitland (1616-82), 1st Duke of Lauderdale, close adviser to Charles II. John Wesley’s dismissive estimate of Lauderdale undoubtedly relates to his notorious lifestyle and cynical politics: “Though a man of considerable learning and intellectual attainment, his character was exceptionally and grossly licentious, and his base and ignoble career was henceforward unrelieved by a single redeeming feature.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed.)
In the years after Lauderdale’s death the house changed hands many times and in 1760 was rebuilt in Neoclassical style. It was in this house that Wesley preached in 1782. Wesley’s Diary indicates that subsequently he visited Highgate on several occasions for ‘tea, conversation and prayer’, though a Journal entry for December 1785 suggests that the work was not proving to be particularly fruitful:
Thur. 22. – I preached at Highgate. Considering how magnificent a place this is, I do not wonder that so little good has been done here. For what has religion to do with palaces?
It was almost two years later that Wesley preached again at Highgate, this time at a boarding school in Linden House (no longer extant). He was clearly pleasantly surprised by the response:
Thur. 13 [December 1787] – I preached in the evening at Miss Teulon’s, in Highgate. I never saw such a congregation there before. Will, there, then, be good done here at last? Well, nothing is too hard for God!