The New Room (John Wesley's Chapel)
George Whitefield invited John Wesley to preach outdoors for the first time to the miners of Bristol in 1739. Within a few weeks’ work started on building the New Room as a meeting place for two of the religious societies in the city, thus creating the world’s first Methodist building.
The current building dates from 1748 when the New Room was doubled in size. Its lower floor became known as John Wesley’s Chapel. It is still in regular use for worship as well as being used for cultural and educational activities and exhibitions. Upstairs John Wesley created twelve rooms around a beautiful central octagonal window. These provided accommodation for himself and any visiting preachers assigned to the Bristol circuit. They now contain a highly interactive Museum devoted to telling the story of John and Charles Wesley and the relevance of their work today.
Being well placed in the heart of the city, the New Room became a centre for the Wesleys’ work in Bristol. It was where John’s strong sense of social justice was first expressed. The New Room became a base for running a school for the poor, for providing food and clothes to the needy, for offering free medical care to the sick, and for helping those in the nearby prison. It was also the first place to use John Wesley’s ‘class’ system, where members were divided into sub-groups for mutual support and development. The New Room has been described as ‘the cradle of Methodism’.
The New Room was one of John Wesley’s three key centres. Many of the annual conferences were held there, including the one that first created Methodist circuits. Bristol’s trading links encouraged the growth of American Methodism. Thomas Webb, Francis Asbury, and others committed themselves to working there and sailed from nearby Pill (see page….). It was in Bristol that Wesley ordained some lay preachers in 1786 to become clergy in America and the New Room was a launching pad for his anti-slavery campaign.
The Broadmead Courtyard at the front of the New Room has been described as a green oasis in the heart of the city. It contains Wesley’s stable and the world-famous statue of him on horseback. A new Visitor Centre opened in 2017 in what was the old Horsefair Courtyard. The equally iconic statue of Charles Wesley graces its entrance. Facilities at the Centre include a beautiful atrium cafe, a shop, education and conference facilities, and one of the best libraries on Methodist history in the country. Researchers can use the latter by prior arrangement.
The Museum at the New Room
This new highly interactive Museum was opened in 2017. It tells the story of the Wesleys and eighteenth-century Methodism and its relevance today. Many of the hands-on displays are designed to be accessible to children as well as adults. They have been produced by Cod Steaks, a local Bristol company who are used to working not only in museums but also in television, films and theme parks. An audioguide provides the opportunity to hear early Methodists describing aspects of their lives. There is also a separate audioguide designed for use by children.
The Museum is housed in the twelve upstairs rooms of the 1748 building. Visitors see John Wesley’s study and bedroom and the main living room of the preachers as part of their visit and children have the opportunity to dress up in the latter. Among the displays are ones on eighteenth-century Bristol, the slave trade, the role of lay preachers, medical self-help, eighteenth-century education, and the spread of Methodism across Britain and America. Every room also contains significant historic artefacts. Some of the rooms present issues of social justice and other concerns raised by John Wesley - all of these still have a relevance to the world today. Prepare to be challenged as well as entertained and informed!
Concessions: Family Ticket 1 (1 adult and all children) £9; Family Ticket 2 (2 adults and all children) £14; Groups of 10 or more (booked in advance) - Adult £5/Senior (over 65) £4/Student £3/Child (5-16) £2.
Guided Visits for Tour Groups of 15 or more; Package 1 (Guided Tour of Chapel, Talk and Museum entry) - £10 per person; Package 2 (Guided Tour of Chapel, Talk, Museum entry and Charles Wesley's House) - £15 per person.
School Visits: £2.50 per child for self-led visit with accompanying teachers/helpers free; £4 per child for guided tour/workshop with accompanying teachers/helpers free.
Additional visitor information
Download a guide to Methodist Heritage Sites in Bristol (Pdf)
The New Room
Getting there [ST590734]