John, Charles & Samuel Wesley

On 30 March 1876 the Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, unveiled a white marble memorial, by sculptor J. Adams-Acton, to Methodists John and Charles Wesley on the wall of the south choir aisle of Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately the date of Charles' birth is incorrect on the monument (it should be 1707). The profile portraits of the brothers appear in a roundel at the top and below is a relief of John preaching from his father's tombstone in Epworth churchyard (Lincolnshire) to a large congregation. The top inscription reads:

JOHN WESLEY. M.A. BORN JUNE 17. 1703: DIED MARCH 2.1791
CHARLES WESLEY. M.A. BORN DECEMBER 18.1708: DIED MARCH 29.1788

Two quotations by John follow:

THE BEST OF ALL IS, GOD IS WITH US
I LOOK UPON ALL THE WORLD AS MY PARISH

and, at the base, Charles' words:

GOD BURIES HIS WORKMEN, BUT CARRIES ON HIS WORK

Their parents Samuel (1662-1735) and Susanna (1669-1742) had 19 children but of their sons only Samuel, John and Charles reached maturity.

John Wesley

John was educated at Charterhouse School and Christ Church, Oxford, and after ordination to the priesthood in 1728 became for a time his father's curate. Later John accompanied his brother Charles to America and published his first hymnbook in Charlestown in 1737. Returning to London John became a travelling preacher and a leader in the Methodist movement which eventually separated from the Church of England and established its own chapels. Among these was the City Road Chapel, in London (now known as Wesley's Chapel) in the grounds of which Wesley was buried on 9th March 1791. A family memorial is in a garden on Marylebone High Street in London on the site of the churchyard. In appearance John Wesley was short with auburn (later white) hair which he wore long. He married Mary Vazeille, a widow, in 1751. They had no children, although she had children from her first marriage.

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained in 1735 and travelled to Georgia as secretary to the governor, James Oglethorpe, but stayed there only a few months. Returning to England he became, like his brother John, a travelling evangelist. In 1749 he married Sarah Gwynne with whom he had 8 children, though only three survived to maturity. Charles Wesley was buried in St Marylebone churchyard, London, on 5th April 1788. A prolific poet, Charles Wesley wrote more than 6000 hymns (among them 'Hark, the herald angels sing' and 'Love divine, all loves excelling') and is widely regarded as the greatest of all English hymn writers.

Samuel Wesley

Samuel was born in 1691 and educated at Westminster and Christ Church Oxford. He was an usher (or master) at the School from 1713-33 and helped promote the first infirmary in the city of Westminster, the origin of Westminster Hospital and St Geroge's Hospital. He became Head Master of Tiverton school in Devon, where he died on 6th November 1739. His wife was Ursula Berry, who kept a boarding house for Westminster boys. Four of their young children, Nutty, Samuel, Susanna and Ursula were buried in the south cloister of the Abbey but the names are no longer visible.

A short service commemorating the conversion of John Wesley was held in the Abbey on 23rd May 1988.

A service for the tercentenary of the birth of Charles Wesley was held in the Abbey on 2nd October 2007.

Further Reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

The Wesley Memorial Volume, edited by J.O.A. Clark (New York, 1881)

Useful Links

The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History

Methodist Heritage UK

Memorial

30th March 1876

Occupation

Priest/Minister

Location

South Choir Aisle

Memorial Type

Tablet

Material Type

Marble

John, Charles & Samuel Wesley
Engraving of Charles Wesley

Langley Collection

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John, Charles & Samuel Wesley
Wesley memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

John, Charles & Samuel Wesley
Relief on Wesley memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster