The Old Rectory in Epworth, the home of the Wesley family, will be open for free tours as part of National Heritage Day on Sept. 14
The Old Rectory in Epworth, the home of the Wesley family, will be open for free tours as part of National Heritage Day on Sept. 14
Susanna Annesley was born January 20, 1669 in London. She was the daughter of Samuel Annesley, a prominent dissenting pastor nominated by Oliver Cromwell to serve as lecturer at St. Paul’s. He lost favor after the Restoration and passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662. She was the 25th of 25 children in her family.
At the age of 13, Susanna left her father’s church for the Anglican Church. It was around this time that she first met Samuel Wesley. Six years later, they married as Samuel completed college and was named rector at Epworth.
They had 19 children, 10 that survived to adulthood. They were poor. Samuel was twice jailed for debts. They did not always agree. He left their home for months in protest of one of their disagreements. They had difficult times with two fires at their home, the second completely destroying everything they owned. The children were farmed out to family and friends for months as a new home was built.
Susannah was known as an educator, teaching her three sons and seven daughters. The Epworth Old Rectory has a booklet Educating the Family extracted from a letter Susannah had written her son John.
In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will, and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time, and must with children proceed by slow degrees, as they are able to bear it; but the subjecting the will is a thing that must be done at once – and the sooner, the better.
The way of teaching was this. The day before a child began to learn, the house was set in order, everyone’s work appointed them and a charge given that none could come into the room from 9 til 12, or from 2 til 5; which you know, were the school hours. One day was allowed the child to learn its letters, and each of them did in that time know all its letters, great and small, except Molly and Nancy, who were a day and a half before they knew them perfectly.
When Samuel died, the family moved from the Epworth Rectory and the building’s contents were sold to cover debts. Susanna left to live with her children, eventually moving to London to live with John at the Foundery and eventually his home at Wesley Chapel. She died July 23, 1742 and was buried at Bunhill Fields across the street from Wesley Chapel.
Samuel Wesley was born December 17, 1662. He was the son of the dissenting pastor John Wesley, rector of Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset. His mother was the daughter of John White, rector of Trinity Church, Dorchester.
John Wesley was imprisoned for not using the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, imprisoned again and ejected in 1662. He died at the age of 42. Samuel was being educated as a dissenter. But he had a change of view and enrolled as an Anglican at Exeter College in Oxford. He served wealthy students to pay his way through school. In 1688, he completed his degree at Exeter and married Susanna Annesley. They moved to Epworth when he was named as rector there in 1697.
He was a supporter of royalty, an unpopular stand in Epworth. The marshy area had been ordered drained years earlier by the king. A portion of the newly created lands went to the king, another portion to the men who drained the land and finally a portion to those who lived there. This change in land ownership angered the locals and they did not look kindly on supporters of the king. This led to fires being set to the rectory and damage to its fields and livestock. Wesley stayed in debt especially after fire destroyed the rectory and he built a new home in its place.
The Foundery Press book on Samuel Wesley describes his imprisonment
All for the sake of a third pounds debt. His creditor seemed set on punishing Wesley and would not give Samuel 24 hours to find the money. The unsuspecting Samuel came out of church after christening a baby and was arrested in his own churchyard. News filtered through Epworth. Far from taking pity on Susanna, the villagers proceeded in the rector’s absence to wreak havoc on his farming endeavors. Samuel remained imprisoned for five months.
The Wesleys had three sons and seven daughters who lived into adulthood. The sons all graduated from universities at Oxford.
Samuel held his parish and family to strict standards. His public condemnation of church members contributed to the ill treatment of the family. He was at odds with his wife and left Epworth in protest for months. When his daughter Hetty ran away and returned home unmarried and pregnant, he was unforgiving. When John preached sermons in Epworth on the subject of mercy, Samuel did not mend his relationship with Hetty and took issue with the criticism.
Samuel was an author. He published articles that helped him pay his way through university. His life’s work was a study of the Book of Job written in Latin. His son John completed and published the work after Samuel’s death on April 5, 1735 He was buried at St. Andrews Anglican Church in Epworth.
When Samuel Wesley died, the Wesley family moved from the Old Rectory in Epworth. John Wesley returned to the town where he grew up and preached to the town’s people. Rev. Graham Carter of the Old Rectory Board of Trustees discusses a sermon Wesley gave standing atop his father’s grave.
The story we all remember about John Wesley and Epworth is the fire that destroyed the Old Rectory in which the Wesley family was living. Samuel Wesley believes all of his family is out of the burning building and then from the second story window, John appears trapped in the flames. John Telford describes the story in his biography of Wesley:
On February 9th, 1709, the memorable fire at the Rectory took place. It broke out between eleven and twelve at night, when all the family were in bed. The roof of the corn-chamber was burnt through before any one was aware of the danger. Some of the fire fell upon Hetty Wesley’s bed, in a little room adjoining. She at once ran to call her father, who lay in the red chamber. He had heard some one crying “Fire !” in the street a little while before, but did not understand that his own house was in danger. He roused his family and told them to make baste, because the roof was falling fast, and only a thin wall or door kept the flames from the staircase. They bad not even time to put on their clothes. Mr. Wesley, with the nurse and two of the children, got downstairs into the garden; the servants and two others escaped through the window. After three fruitless attempts Mrs. Wesley waded through the fire, which scorched her legs and face. At last all were safe save John, then five and a half years old. He had been asleep in the nursery, with three of his sisters, his little brother Charles, and the nurse. When the alarm was given, the nurse snatched up Charles, the youngest child, and bade the rest follow her. John was left in bed fast asleep. In a few minutes he awoke, and, seeing how light the room was, called to the maid to take him up. As no one answered, he put his head out of the curtains and saw streaks of fire on the ceiling. The child jumped out of bed and went to the door, but found that all beyond was in a blaze. He then climbed on the chest which stood near the window. The Rector tried to rush through the flames, which enveloped the staircase, to rescue his boy; but though he made two attempts, holding his trousers above his head as a kind of shield, the fire beat him down. He then went into the garden; and, calling his family around him, all kneeled down whilst he commended the child to God A man below, however, had seen John, and would have run for a ladder; but another spectator said there was no time to lose, and suggested that a light man should be set on his shoulders, so as to lift the little fellow out of the window. The first time the man fell down, but he was helped up again, and was thus able to reach the child. Just as they rescued him the whole roof fell in. Fortunately, it fell inwards, or the boy and his brave deliverers would have been crushed by the weight.
When John was brought to his father by the brave men who had rescued him the Rector cried out, “Come, neighbours, let us kneel down; let us give thanks to God ! He has given me all my eight children; let the house go; I am rich enough.” Nothing was saved. In about fifteen minutes the building, with all its furniture, books, and papers, was utterly destroyed. John Wesley’s wonderful escape always filled him with gratitude. In one of his early prints a house in flames is represented below his own portrait, with the words, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire” • One interesting reference to the event is found in his journals. On Friday, February 9th, 1750, whilst holding a watchnight service in his West Street Chapel, London, “About eleven o’clock,” he says, “it came into my mind, that this was the very day and hour in which, forty years ago, I was taken out of the flames. I stopped, and gave a short account of that wonderful providence. The voice of praise and thanksgiving went up on high, and great was our rejoicing before the Lord.” Both he and the Methodist people knew by that time for what blessed work he had been spared.
The Old Rectory has several prints of famous paintings of the event displayed in the stairwell of the house.
Behind the Old Rectory in Epworth, UK, you will find John Wesley’s Physic Garden. It opened in July 2006 and was created to celebrate the contribution made by Wesley to the well-being of the poor who were unable to pay for a physician. He wrote An Easy and Natural Way of Curing Most Diseases in 1747. The garden is an interpretation of a typical Georgian garden and not a reproduction of what was at the site. We placed photos from our visit on the JohnWesleyBlog flickr page.
You can find Wesley’s booklet also known as Primitive Physic here.
We had a great tour at the Old Rectory in Epworth, UK, thanks to our guide through the Wesely house, Amy. She shared details of the Wesley family and important information discovered in the restoration of the house. Afterwards, she talked with me about the seven Wesley sisters.
A book written about the Wesley women is Seven Sisters in Search of Love by Frederick Maser.
Meet Amy, the tour guide for the Old Rectory, Epworth UK, the family home of John Wesley and see photos we took while Amy showed us the house on the JohnWesleyBlog flickr page. Amy provided an excellent tour, knew the story of the Wesley family and the details of the house. She pointed out specifics learned from the preservation efforts and shared stories about the Wesley family.
The Epworth Old Rectory souvenir guide states:
After Samuel Wesley’s death in 1735, the house continued to be the home for successive rectors of Epworth. Although it was recognized as the childhood home of John and Charles Wesley, it was not protected or preserved in any way, so each rector made it his own. Over the years, doors were moved, extensions were put up and taken down, plants grew across the front of the house and outbuildings were added.
By the 1950s, the Rectory was in a state of some disrepair, and the Church of England made the decision to build a new Rectory at the other end of the town. The Methodist church saw this as an opportunity to acquire it. Funds were raised from the world-wide Methodist community, and in 1954, the house was purchased by the Methodist Church.
In 2002, Epworth Old Rectory achieved the status of a Registered Museum and in 2009, it became an Accredited Museum. It is a Grade 1 listed building.
The Old Rectory in Epworth UK is held on trust by the British Methodist Church for the World Methodist Council. It is part of Methodist Heritage which oversees Methodist heritage sites in Britain including:
The Epworth Old Rectory souvenir guide indicates
Plans are well advanced to complete the process of returning the rectory to the way it may have looked when the Wesleys lived there. Much research has been carried out so that the restoration is as near to the original as possible. It is a major project that entails installing underfloor hearing, replacing floors with traditional materials and analysis of wall finishes. Alongside this is a plan to improve access, interpretation and visitor facilities. The project has four phases:
- Putting the hearth back into the home and external conservation
- Improving access and interpretation
- Restoring the Rectory
- New visitor center and car park extension
John Wesley’s life began in Epworth, UK. His family lived in the Rectory in the northern England community where his father served as the Anglican pastor. One of the shaping moments in young John’s life was a fire that destroyed the rectory. He was trapped in a second floor room and the family was unable to return to the house to save him. Neighbors formed a human ladder and pulled him from the flames as the room’s ceiling crashed down in flames. This fire occurred in February 1709. By December of that year, the family had returned to their new home at the site, the building today known as the Old Rectory. It is Methodist Heritage site. A Board of Trustees heads an organization working to restore the building that now serves as museum honoring John and Charles Wesley. Rev. Graham Carter chairs the board. He talks with us about the family and the house.