The Wonderful Wesleys!


If I dropped the word ‘Wesley’ into a dinner-party conversation, there is a reasonable chance that someone would say ‘Methodist’. ….but maybe not much more. In fact within a relatively-small family there was a large amount of (largely-unknown) talent.

Many people know the phrase at the beginning of the Methodist Hymn Book

Rev John Wesley

Rev John Wesley

which says ‘Methodism was born in song’, and this was largely due to the brothers John and Charles, who were both Anglican Ministers  but decided  to set up a new church …and we now know this as Methodism.

The two brothers showed a considerable appreciation of music, as well as the emotional effect which music can have within worship. John (1703-1791) was a friend of Pepusch, who arranged the music for ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ .

Charles  (1707-1788) had two sons (Charles Jnr., and Samuel) who as children, gave musical concerts at their father’s home in Marylebone.

Charles .Jnr (1757-1834) could, before he was three, play on the harpsichord, any tune he heard, adding a correct bass. He was an organist at various London churches, and composed choral and organ works.  The promise of this child prodigy was never completely fulfilled.

His brother, Samuel (1766-1837) was also a gifted child. By eight he had composed an oratorio. He became the finest organ soloist of his day, and was a great extemporizer, composer of choral music, he was one of  the first to recognise and promote the music of J.S.Bach, and was a friend of Mendelssohn. In his late teens he temporarily joined the Roman Catholic Church, and at 21 he fell into a street excavation, and was incapacitated for some seven years.

Samuel had a son, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) who certainly continued the talent. He was a chorister of the Chapel Royal, and then organist of three London churches, where he showed his expertise in extemporization. Prime Minister Gladstone recommended that Queen Victoria give him a civil list pension of £100 per year. He is still well remembered by church musicians for his anthems, hymns, and services.

Another child of Samuel Wesley, was Eliza Wesley (1819-1895), who was 40 years a church organist and published correspondence from Bach to her father. Other  brothers included…R Glenn Wesley,who was an organist at the Cathedral of Methodism ; Rev Charley Wesley, sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal; Matthew Erasmus Wesley, who was treasurer of the Royal College of Organists; Rev Francis Gwynne Wesley who bequeathed a scholarship to the Royal College of Music for the study of Extemporizing; and Gertrude Wesley who was a soprano and harpist……when the Wesley line finished.


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