In 1739 John Wesley was asked by the members of two religious societies in Bristol to create ‘a new room’ where they could meet. The resulting building served many purposes because John encouraged the religious society members to offer food and clothing to the poor, run a school for children, arrange visits to the nearby prison, and help the sick by running a free medical dispensary. Many of the features of early Methodism, including its ‘class system’ (a way of Christians encouraging each other), first appeared at the New Room.
The New Room was too small and not well enough built so, in 1748, it was rebuilt and doubled in size. This included creating a suite of rooms above the main room for use by John Wesley and other preachers. These now house the Museum. The new building was licensed for public worship and so was soon nicknamed ‘John Wesley’s Chapel’, but it remained a multi-purpose building that served the local community in a variety of ways.
Until the deaths of John and Charles Wesley the New Room acted as the most important centre of Methodism outside of London. Many of the early Methodist Conferences were held within it and, because of its location in Bristol, it played a particularly significant role in Methodism’s increasing involvement in America and in the movement’s anti-slavery campaign. For that reason many Methodists come from all round the world to see it.
Today the chapel and its adjacent garden are found by many to be a wonderful oasis of peace in the centre of a busy city.
Regular worship is still held here, including a Communion Service open to anyone each Friday at 1pm. The Chapel is also used as a venue for a variety of exhibitions, performances and lectures, as well as special worship events.
Features of the Chapel
The chapel we see today is as it would have been in 1748 except for the central block of pews. These were built when the building was restored in 1929-31 as copies of the seating introduced by the Welsh Calvinist Methodists, who owned the New Room from 1808 to 1929. The original seats were the benches you can see on either side of the Chapel and in the gallery. Men and women sat separately.
The early Methodists were frequently attacked by mobs. The lack of windows on the ground floor was a safety measure against such attack. The building was also designed so that it was difficult for any mob that broke in to reach the preacher quickly - witness the limited access upstairs.
Preaching services took place in the mornings (at 5.00am) and sometimes in the evenings. Wesley gave the large clock to ensure the services kept to time. The top pulpit was used by the preacher and the lower pulpit was used by a person to read the Bible readings or lead the hymn-singing. Singing was unaccompanied - the organ you can see was given as part of the building’s restoration in the 1930s. It dates from 1761 and was built by John Snetzler. Below the pulpits is the communion table at which John and Charles Wesley celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Sometimes there were special services, such as love feasts (when cake and water were shared) and watch-nights (services that lasted overnight till dawn).
The octagon was built in the roof to draw light down into the chapel. It also enable those upstairs to see what is happening in the Chapel - another security measure.
Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals
Our chaplain, Rev David Weeks, and our education officer, Rev Mandy Briggs, are always happy to discuss holding special ceremonies in the chapel.
We are part of the Methodist Church and are authorised to conduct infant and adult baptisms and dedications.
Funeral services may also be held in the chapel by arrangement.
Please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss getting married or having a blessing in the chapel. We are able to conduct weddings where one or both members of a couple lives in the Bristol registration district.
At present we are not able to offer same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies in the chapel. However we are happy to offer prayers for same sex couples before or after a ceremony held elsewhere - please contact us for more details.
For more information please email Rev David Weeks via firstname.lastname@example.org