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-uprose 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.