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Orphan House, Newcastle

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Located in Newcastle, Wesley's northern headquarters, this was the earliest Methodist building in the north of England. It stood outside the Town Walls on the west side of what is now Northumberland Street. (The site is now marked by a plaque.) Building began in late December 1742 and full occupation began probably when Grace Murray took up her duties as housekeeper in the summer of 1743. The total cost was about £700, of which £100 was donated by a sympathetic Quaker as the result of a dream.

Like the Foundery and the New Room, it was a multi-purpose building, consisting of a chapel (with later galleries) on the ground floor, rooms for the Bands and classes on the first floor, and domestic rooms on the second floor. Despite the name, it does not appear that orphans were ever housed there, though the care and education of needy children were no doubt important parts of the work. The Wesleys spent much time there, including long spells in the 1740s, and John Wesley continued to lodge here up to his last visit to Tyneside in 1790. A study, reached by stairs from the 2nd floor, was built for him under the roof. In addition to accommodating the travelling preachers, the Orphan House gradually acquired a longer-term residential community, including women and retired preachers. It also became the regular home of the Newcastle preachers who (following reductions in the size of the circuit) lived here with their families for lengthening periods in some of the upper-floor rooms.

Controversies between the conservative high-church trustees and the more radical members and itinerants broke out after Wesley's death. Secessions led to the building of new chapels, including Brunswick (1821) nearby. Partly as a result of this, the old building lost its raison d'être and was demolished in 1857. It was replaced by WM day schools, opened in January 1858, but no longer in existence. Wesley's study was removed to Cleveland House, the home of Solomon Mease in North Shields.

Quotations

W.W. Stamp, The Orphan House of Wesley (1863) p.16:

'The lower part of the House was the chapel, fitted up with pulpit and forms, the men and women sitting apart. Above the chapel was a large compartment lighted from behind, the centre of which was used as a band-room; opening from which, on either side, were several class-rooms for the use of the Society. On the highest stor[e]y, a kind of Scotch 'flat', were suites of apartments, subsequently appropriated for the residence of the preachers and their families; while on the roof was a wooden erection, about eleven feet square, with tiled covering, generally known as "Mr. Wesley's study". A narrow staircase, little more than two feet wide, led from the preacher's dwelling below, to a small floor in the actual roof of the building, opening from which was the doorway to the study. This apartment, even in the tidiest days of the Orphan House, must have been of the most homely description. Its exposure to the wintry blasts would also render it an undesirable retreat for any to whom warmth and comfort were matters of moment. Such, however, was the apartment designed and appropriated by the self-denying Wesley for his special residence when sojourning in Newcastle. Here, at different periods, much of his valuable time was spent; here also, as various intimations in his Journal show, he loved to be.'

John Wesley's Journal:

'20 December 1742: 'We laid the first stone of the house. Many were gathered from all parts to see it; but none scoffed or interrupted while we praised God and prayed that He would prosper the work of our hands upon us. Three or four times in the evening I was forced to break off preaching that we might pray and give thanks to God.'

25 March 1743: 'This evening I preached in the shell of the new house, on the rich man and Lazarus. A great multitude were gathered togeher there, most of whom stayed with us and watched unto the Lord.'

4 June 1790: 'In this and Kingswood house, were I to do my own will, I should choose to spend the short remainder of my days. But it cannot be, this is not my rest!'

Sources

  • W.W. Stamp, The Orphan House of Wesley, with notices of early Methodism in Newcastle upon Tyne (1863)
  • Geoffrey E. Milburn, The Travelling Preacher: John Wesley in the North East 1742-1790 (1987) pp.23-31
  • WHS Proceedings, 20 pp.127-29
  • WHS(NE) Sept 1986, March 1993

Entry written by: GEM
Category: Place

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