In this latest part of my ‘Wesley’s Footsteps’ series the Wesley in question is Charles rather than John.
It is perhaps unfortunate that most Methodists today know Charles Wesley solely for his hymn writing, for he was a considerable evangelist in his own right. In the early years of Methodism, like his older brother John he travelled extensively, preaching wherever he could find people willing to listen, and visiting the fledgling Methodist societies.
Charles’ day to day involvement with the Methodist movement lessened with the passing of time. The first reason for this was that Charles, unlike John, was a family man. He married Sarah Gwynne in 1749 and they settled into a house in Bristol. With the birth of their children (they had eight, but only three survived infancy) Charles pretty much limited his travels to the journey between Bristol and London. In 1771 Charles moved into a new house in Marylebone, then on the outskirts of London, and was later joined by the rest of his family. The need to provide for his family, and his encouragement of his musical prodigy sons Samuel and Charles Jr. brought him into occasional conflict with John, who considered his nephews’ musical recitals trivial.
The other reason for Charles’ increasing distance from John was that of the two he was by far the more loyal to the Church of England. He was very critical of any actions by John which he perceived as sowing the seeds of schism, in particular John’s irregular ordinations of 1784, and grew increasingly concerned by Methodism’s increasing separation from the Church of England. The difference of opinion between the two brothers is represented by their final resting places: whereas John was buried in unconsecrated ground next to the chapel he built in City Road, Charles arranged for his funeral to take place in the parish church of St Marylebone, requesting of the rector “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” After his death on 29th March 1788 his body was carried to the burial ground by six clergy of the Church of England.
Neither the house where Charles and Sarah lived or the old church of St Marylebone survive (the present day church was built 1813-7 immediately to the north of the old church.) However the site of the house in Wheatley Street, now occupied by the Kings Head public house, is marked with a blue plaque and Charles is commemorated in the adjacent Wesley Street. A memorial garden on the site of the old Parish Church includes a list of famous parishioners formerly buried in the churchyard, including Charles Wesley and there is an obelisk-shaped memorial commemorating Charles and other members of his family buried here.
For more photos of Charles Wesley’s Marylebone, see this album.