The New Room
Allchurches Trust is proud to be supporting a major heritage project to provide the oldest Methodist building in the world with 21st century museum and visitor facilities.
Nestled between shops and cafes on Bristol’s pedestrianised Broadmead shopping precinct is a small cobbled yard. Venture through the door at the back of the yard and you’ll find yourself in a very different world. Here all is clarity and light in the pure classical forms, the balconied symmetry and double pulpit of The New Room, a meeting house built by the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley in 1739 as a place to preach and help those in need.
Brothers John and Charles Wesley were ordained Anglican ministers but from their emphasis on preaching and educating the poor developed a different practice of Christianity that became known as Methodism.
David Worthington, Manager of the New Room, explains: “There are now 75 million Methodists worldwide for whom this, being the oldest Methodist building in the world, is a very special place. We welcome visitors every day – I’ve just said goodbye to a party of 25 South Koreans – but when our £4.5m redevelopment project is complete we’ll be able to host so many more.
“We have raised £2.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and are deeply grateful for the support of Allchurches Trust. This is a historic building, the birthplace of a major Christian denomination and we have so much to share with visitors. The issues that motivated John and Charles Wesley are still very much alive today. John Wesley was involved in the anti-slavery movement, equality for women, and was a campaigner for social justice. Even those who are not familiar with Methodism will probably have enjoyed singing the hymns written by his brother Charles that remain as stirring and as popular as ever.”
David has an extraordinary depth of knowledge combined with a passionate determination to make the New Room into a place commensurate with its historical and religious significance. The chapel itself has been beautifully restored. Communion is held every Friday lunchtime and people come at all times of the week to benefit from the chapel’s peace and tranquillity.
The project will see the Preachers’ Rooms above the chapel re-open as a new and expanded museum. These rooms will tell the story of the Wesleys and Bristol in the 18th century and how the Methodist movement grew and established itself across the country. The new facilities will also include a library and archive section, conference room and, of course, a café.
David said: “Of those 75 million Methodists in the world today, eight million are Americans and for them, this place is older than their country! As well as being a place for the people of Bristol, I’m keen to put us firmly on the American tourist trail. It’s wonderful to see the pleasure they get when they visit and I’d like many more to head this way.”
He adds with a twinkle “Did you know that Hilary Clinton is a Methodist? Who knows, she might have time on her next trip!”