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The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll

Contributed by Richard Ratcliffe

The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll comprises a unique set of 50 large leather bound volumes which are located in the Archives at Westminster Methodist Central Hall in London. The volumes contain the names of over one million people who donated a guinea [£1/1/- or £1.05] to the Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth Century Fund [or The Million Guinea Fund] between 1 January 1899 and 30 June 1904.

The Wesleyan Church was by far the largest of all the Methodist groups in the 19th Century and in 1898 it launched an appeal to raise One Million Guineas from One Million Wesleyans [even though membership of the Wesleyan Church at that time was approximately 420,000] to finance a huge programme of evangelical work and social action and to build a headquarters building in the heart of London to be the world centre of Wesleyan Methodism.

Initially no one was allowed to donate more than One Guinea [£1.05] but donors could make additional donations “In Memoriam” for loved ones who had died or moved away from home.

The Fund Raising Committee decided to ask all donors to write their names and addresses on special pages which were distributed to all Wesleyan Churches and Circuits in England, Wales, Scotland and Overseas. The pages were eventually bound into 50 volumes which were called “The Historic Roll.” The volumes were arranged in District order, then by Circuit and by Church within each District. Altogether the 50 volumes comprise over 17,000 pages and contain the names of more than 1,025,000 donors.

When the One Million Guinea Fund closed in 1904, £1,073,682 had been donated. The site of the Royal Aquarium, opposite Westminster Abbey was purchased and construction of the Westminster Wesleyan Methodist Central Hall began in 1909.

The grand opening took place on October 2nd 1912. Shortly afterwards the 50 volumes of the Historic Roll were made available for inspection by visitors.

The Minute Book of the Twentieth Century Fund Committee [1898-1909] gives a clear picture of the aims and objectives of the Fund.:

  • £300,000 to assist in the purchase of sites and the erection of Wesleyan Methodist Chapels, Sunday Schools or Mission Halls in the United Kingdom and for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Homes.
  • £200,000 for educational work in educational institutions associated with the Wesleyan Methodist Church and for furthering the mental improvement and training of local preachers.
  • £100,000 for Foreign Missionary work.
  • £100,000 for Home Missionary work including Temperance work.
  • £250,000 for the purchase of a suitable site in London and for building a monumental Connexional Building.
  • £50,000 for developing the work of the Children’s Home to save all children of Methodist and Nonconformist parentage from Workhouse Schools and also provide for orphan children of Methodist Soldiers and Sailors.

Grants would also be made to the Irish Wesleyan Methodist Conference and to Foreign Districts and these would be not less than the amounts raised locally in those districts.

The Historic Roll would include the names of all donors and collectors whether members of the Methodist Church, teachers, or scholars in Sunday and Day Schools, communicants, seat holders [people who paid pew rents to reserve their seats] or other worshippers, adherents and friends of Methodism at home and abroad.

To qualify for a place on the Historic Roll:

  1. All persons who gave or collected one guinea or more.
  2. All persons on whose behalf or in memory of whom one guinea or more had been contributed.
  3. All persons who after bona fide efforts during the period up to 1st January, 1901 cannot in the judgement of the Circuit Committee be reasonably expected to comply with the above conditions.
  4. In no case would the amounts given or collected be recorded in the Historic Roll.

In 2002, the Historic Roll was copied onto microfiche and a microfiche reader/printer installed in the Visitor Services Centre at Westminster Central Hall. Family and church historians can request a search to be made by e-mail or by post and obtain an estimate of the cost of photocopying the entries for a particular Wesleyan Chapel or Circuit, or purchasing sets of microfiche for a Circuit or District.

A complete set of microfiche covering all 50 volumes of the Historic Roll comprises 1646 fiche. Each microfiche contains a maximum of 12 pages of the Historic Roll. District sets range from 17-48 microfiche. Volumes 1-49 cover Wesleyan Methodist Districts and Circuits in England and Wales. Volume 50 covers Wesleyan Circuits in Scotland, France, India, China, Hong Kong, South Africa and Gibraltar.

A considerable number of entries give the home addresses of the donors and the addresses of family members who had moved to other places within the British Isles or had emigrated to countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

There are many pages of entries for whom donations were made “In Memoriam.” Some of these entries are accompanied by brief comments giving details of dates of birth and death and of offices held in their Chapel or Circuit. …

There are also pages that were completed by Sunday School scholars attending named Wesleyan Chapels who had donated one shilling [5p]. The children would have saved their farthings and halfpennies to collect their shillings for which they would have received a John Wesley medallion. The Treasurers’ Account Book shows that the Children’s Collection raised £4,162/0/1 - .and that 90,000 medallions were struck.

Adult donors who had contributed at least a guinea received a signed certificate printed on thin card [approximately A3 size] as their official receipt. Several hundred thousand of these were printed and some still turn up in collections of family memorabilia.

A master index of all the Wesleyan Chapels listed in the Historic Roll [more than 6,900] has been compiled and can been consulted either at Westminster Methodist Central Hall or on the Westminster Methodist Central Hall website < www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk

For further information about the Historic Roll please contact Visitor Services at Westminster Methodist Central Hall, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH, or

E-mail or telephone 020 7654 3826.

Further Reading:

This booklets is available from The Family History Partnership and at Westminster Methodist Central Hall.

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