John Wesley at Charterhouse School

In 1714, at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London (under the mastership of John King from 1715), where he lived the studious, methodical and—for a while—religious life in which he had been trained at home.

John Telford relates the following stories of Wesley’s time at Charterhouse:

The system of fagging seems to have been in full force during Wesley’s schooldays. His life there was one of much privation. The elder boys * took the animal food from the juniors,* so that he says, “From ten to fourteen I bad little but bread to eat, and not great plenty of that. I believe this was so far from hurting me, that it laid the foundation of lasting health.” Isaac Taylor says, “Wesley learned, as a boy, to suffer wrongfully with a cheerful patience, and to conform himself to cruel despotisms without acquiring either the slave’s temper or the despot’s.” One thing helped much to preserve his strength. His father had given him strict injunctions to run round the garden, which was of considerable extent, three times every morning. Wesley was careful to obey that injunction.

One pleasant instance of the influence he exerted at school has been preserved. Mr. Tooke, the usher, one day missed all the little boys from the playground. He found, when he began to search, that they were all in the schoolroom around Wesley, who was relating to them instructive stories, which proved more attractive than the playground. Mr. Tooke expressed his pleasure, and wished the boy to repeat this entertainment as often as he could find listeners. 

About the time that Wesley entered Charterhouse, his brother Samuel returned from Oxford to his old school al Westminster as usher. He seems to have married in 1715, and lived close to Dean’s Yard. Charles, their youngest brother, came up to Westminster School in 1716, so that the three Wesleys were all in London together for four years, until John went to Oxford in 1720. We catch a glimpse of one pleasant meeting, and see how much Wesley’s progress gratified his scholarly brother Samuel. In 1719, when the Rector was in doubt as to the future of Charles, Samuel wrote, “My brother Jack, I can faithfully assure you, gives you no manner of discouragement from breeding your third son a scholar.” Two or three months later he tells his father, “Jack is with me, and a brave boy, learning Hebrew as fast as he can.”

Wesley was elected to Christ Church, which he entered on June 24th, 1720.1 In 1630 there were twenty-seven exhibitioners at the universities from the foundation of Charterhouse, at a cost of four hundred and thirty-two pounds to the house. The number seems to have varied from twenty-four to twenty-nine. The school thus secured for Wesley the best education he could receive in England. He cherished a life-long feeling of affection for the place, and took a walk through it every year when in London. One of these visits forms a singularly interesting link to the thoughts and feelings of the schoolboy. On Monday, August 8th, 1757, he says, “I took a walk in the Charter-house. I wondered that all the squares and buildings, and especially the schoolboys, looked so little. But this is easily accounted for. I was little myself when I was at school, and measured all about me by myself. Accordingly, the upper boys, being then bigger than myself, seemed to me very big and tall, quite contrary to what they appear now, when I am taller and bigger than them.” 

One word about Wesley’s religious life at Charterhouse is necessary. At the time of his conversion, in 1738,* after describing his earlier life at home, he proceeds, “The next six or seven years were spent at school, where, outward restraints being removed, I was much more negligent than before, even of outward duties, and almost continually guilty of outward sins, which I knew to be such, though they were not scandalous in the eye of the world. However, I still read the Scriptures, and said my prayers, morning and evening. And what I now hoped to be saved by was, (i) not being so bad as other people, (2) having still a kindness for religion, and (3) reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers.” It is evident that the old notions of” universal obedience” in which he had been so carefully trained at home had broken down. He was, he says, as ignorant of The true meaning of the Law as of the Gospel. More evangelical teaching would probably have preserved him from the “outward sins” to which he refers. We must not, however, forget how sensitive his conscience was. A schoolboy who read his Bible morning and evening had not gone far astray.


This post is provides material from  online sources with links to articles and information on English History which forms the background for the development of Methodism. The major article(s) quoted here are:

The Life of John Wesley by John Telford – Chapter 3: GOWN-BOY AT CHARTERHOUSE

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