Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Wesleyan Centenary Hall


The calm remonstrance of the Wesleyan body against the Factories Education Bill, and the statistical reasoning and historic and constitutional references on which they were founded, have given them a weight in the deliberations of the Government which is hourly increasing in importance, and it is even said they will have the effect of causing the withdrawal of the obnoxious clauses. So much for meekness and good temper. But our present purpose is not with the remonstrance, but with the building in which it was concocted, and from whence, as from another Vatican, the spiritual voice of the vast Wesleyan society is sent through its ready agents to the ends of the earth, with as great speed and certainty as the royal despatches. This building is the Centenary Hall - the Parliament House - of the connection. At the desire of many of our subscribers we have drawn sp the following account of its origin and history.
    The year 1739 was that in which John Wesley began formally to devote himself to the ministry, and to enter upon that career which terminated only in his death. As the period advanced, when a complete century from that time would have been passed through, the Wesleyan body became influenced by a wish to celebrate the circumstance in some notable manner. In 1838 it was resolved that religious services should at particular times in the following year be performed suitable to the occasion; and also that a subscription should be entered into for the furtherance of certain objects pertaining to that body. Among the objects thus proposed were such as the following :-To erect and endow a Wesleyan theological college or seminary for the education of preachers for home stations and missionaries for, to provide a Polynesian missionary ship for the conveyance of missionaries to and from several of the eastern islands, to provide superannuation allowances for aged ministers and pensions for their widows, to aid in building or repairing chapels, and to aid in another object, which we shall detail presently. The subscription was commenced, and has ultimately amounted to a sum unexpectedly large. The religions commemoration of the centenary, and the general manner in which the subscribed funds have been, or are to be, appropriated, are subjects which we do not propose to enter upon here. One portion, however, has been devoted in a manner which it is our object to notice. The Wesleyan Methodists, in the same Christian spirit which has actuated other religious bodies, have established a Missionary Society, which baa gradually increased the sphere of its operations to an important extent. The Mission-house in Hatton-garden, where the business of the society was transacted, became, every year, less and less adequate to the wants of the establishment, and the Wesleyan Centenary Committee determined to devote a portion of the subscribed funds to the purchase of a building for the transaction both of the missionary business and the general business of the body.
    In pursuance of this part of their design they authorised the purchase of extensive freehold premises, in Bishopsgate-street, formerly known as the City of London Tavern, and directed the adaptation Of them, by various alterations and additions, to the purposes above- mentioned; and to the special use of the Wesleyan Missionary Society they resolved to offer certain portions of the front buildings in Bishopsgate-street, and also to erect in the rear of use same premises, and in immediate contiguity with the general and connectional apartments, a NEW Mission House, for which, as a place of missionary, business, the locality was peculiarly desirable and advantageous. It will be seen, from this introduction, that the building is of a twofold character, both as it respects its construction and its destination ; it consists of an old building, greatly altered and thoroughly renovated, and of a new one, built behind, and in connection with the former. The two, taken together, consist of apartments for the general business of the connection, and others for the missionary business; and we may remark, that the latter portion has been liberally and gratuitously presented to the Missionary Society at the expense of the centenary fund, without any charge either for the ground or for the buildings upon the missionary fund. The building presents an elegant exterior on the eastern side of Bishopsgate-street, exactly opposite Threadneedle-street. There are three stories visible in front, the upper and middle one of which are each lighted by five large windows, while the ground story has two windows on either aide of the entrance door.
    The door opens into a large entrance ball or vestibule, on each aide of which are doors leading to several apartments appropriated as reception rooms, secretary's offices, &c; while opposite is a flight of steps leading to a square enclosure, which, under any other circumstances, would be deemed a central court or quadrangle. It occupies a vacant space between the old house and the new one, and the architect has ingeniously contrived that numerous rooms on all four sides of it shall receive light by windows opening into this square; if it were open over head, it would really be a quadrangular court, such as is found in most Eastern and in many European houses; but it is entirely closed, lighted by side windows a little below the ceiling, and painted with the same taste and neatness as every other part of the building. From this central part entrance is obtained to various parts of the building. Proceeding onwards from the quadrangle, we come to two or three apartments appropriated as warehouses, in which the printed publications, as well as other property belonging to the society, are deposited. The arrangement of the warehouses illustrate in some degree the extent of the society's transactions, and the geopraphical organization by which these transactions are carried on: here Ashantee, there Tonga; its another part Caffraria, in another Gambia, and so on: these are for the reception of packets and parcels received from, or about to be forwarded to, the foreign missionary stations of the society. Again, the home transactions by which the parent society keeps up regular intercourse with the auxiliary branches all over the country are aided and systemized by a similar contrivance. A neat of small cells or boxes, 300 or 400 in number, is appropriated to the reception of orders, &c., from these auxiliaries, each cell being devoted to, and inscribed with the name of, some particular town in the kingdom.
    These warehouses contain numerous boxes, chests, and packing. cases, in which the books, clothes, implements, and other outfittings of the missionaries are sent ; and connected with them is the necessary commercial machinery for maintaining intercourse with all the foreign stations of the society.

source: Illustrated London News, 1843

WESLEYAN CENTENARY HALL and MISSION HOUSE, Bishopsgate-street, faces Threadneedle-street. The Centenary Hall was formerly the City of London Tavern. The great Hall for Wesleyan meetings will hold 1200 persons. 1n the rear is time Mission House, built in 1842: here is the picture by Parker of the rescue of John Wesley from the flames, when a boy. The arrangement of the warehouses, for books, clothes, implements, and other outflttings of the missionaries, illustrates time extent of the Society's transactions, geographically: here Ashantee, there Tonga; there Caffraria, Gambia, &c.
    An interesting Sale of Thank-offerings from the Friendly and Fejee Islands to the Wesleyan Missionary Society was held in their Hall, June 19 and 20, 1851; including temples, cloths, and mats: spears and clubs, shells and bowls; elephants' and whales' teeth; costumes, idols, and musical instruments ;- all picturesquely grouped, and touching as a lesson of gratitude exemplary to the silken baron of civilization.

source: John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867