History of the Wesleys

The name Wesley and Epworth are synonymous. For it was there in the 18th century that John Wesley and his younger brother Charles were born and between them went on to found the Methodist movement that eventually spread throughout the world.

Their parent were Susanna and Samuel Wesley, who was rector of Epworth's St Andrew's Church between 1697 and 1735 and is buried in the churchyard.

John was born in 1703 and Charles in 1707 and were two of the 19 children their mother gave birth to, although only ten of them survived infancy.

Samuel Wesley, however, was not much liked by his parishioners. As well as being a priest he was also a Tory and an ardent Royalist. Charles 1st, the monarch of the time, had brought in the services of Dutch expert Vermuyden to drain the wetlands that formed much of the Isle of Axholme, in which Epworth stands.

It was a process that robbed a great many people of their land, which Charles 1st then gave in large portions to his supporters, amongst them being Samuel Wesley.

In 1709 the original rectory, standing on exactly the same spot as the current building, was consumed by a fire thought to have been started by disgruntled locals.

The young John Wesley was pulled from an upstairs window with flames licking at his heels. His mother felt the rescue had been a sign that John had been singled out by God for greatness.

In 1714 John became a pupil at Charterhouse School in London and six years later he went to Oxford's Christ Church College where he studied with the objective of following in his father's footsteps as a Church of England clergyman.

In the meantime in 1715, at the age of eight, Charles was sent to Westminster School in London. His oldest brother, Samuel, was an usher - subordinate teacher - at the school.

In 1725 John was ordained Deacon and acted as a curate for his father before being elected a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, as a lecturer in Greek and Hebrew in 1726.

In the same year Charles went to Christ Church College where, in 1727, he founded what was nicknamed by other students the 'Holy Club'.

John returned to Oxford in 1729 he found Charles has changed and was taking his studies and religion very seriously. With fellow, like-minded students they were engaged in Bible reading, praying together and had embarked upon a programme of benevolent activities among the poor and in the local prison.

Charles soon acknowledged John's gift of leadership and quickly handed over to his older brother but remained at the centre of things, even after he graduated and became a tutor in 1730.

It was not until 1735 that Charles was ordained, a move that allowed him to accompany John to the new British colony of Georgia in America in the same year. However, their hard rules and firm beliefs are not welcomed by the settlers.

In 1736 Charles returned to London and two years later he was joined by John. During their time in America they met a devout sect of Christians from Germany and their influence was a turning point in John's life.

In 1738 Charles' evangelical conversion took place and he began to write his first hymns. During the next 50 years he became the most prolific hymn writer of all time, with 6,000 published and another 3,000 unpublished.

The following year saw the formation of the Methodist Society and later in the same year they started meeting at a building called The Foundry in London.

The bothers travelled throughout the country as itinerate evangelists and although they both has misgivings about preaching in the open air both soon became heavily involved in 'field preaching'.

However, they often faced antagonism and mobs frequently involved themselves in Methodist-baiting.

Charles died on March 29, 1788, and was buried on the consecrated ground of Marylebone Churchyard in London. John died on March 2, 1791, at his home in London's City Road and was buried in the graveyard at the rear of a chapel he built next door. Like all the Wesley family they died in the Anglican faith.

At the time of John's death it was claimed there were 300,000 Methodists and by 1903 that figure had risen to 30 million worldwide.

Methodists from all over the world still flock to Epworth to see The Old Rectory, now a museum, where John and Charles grew up.

They join the town's Wesley Trail, which takes in the Wesley Monument, a life-like statue of John preaching, the Market Cross where he preached, the 12th century St Andrew's Church, and the Wesley Methodist Memorial Church, which was opened in 1889.

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