Lincoln College

The 18th Century

In the first half of the eighteenth century Lincoln's most distinguished Fellow was John Wesley, elected to a fellowship in 1726.

Wesley was a sociable young man who found his collegiate surroundings thoroughly agreeable. In his early years he shared fully in the recreations as well as the duties of a young Fellow. Lute-playing, wine-drinking, card-playing, walks in the countryside and dalliances with young women figure in his journals.

As a tutor, between 1729 and 1735, he became more preoccupied with serious matters, both academic and spiritual. It was at this time that the 'Holy Club' was set up in Oxford. This society used often to meet in Wesley's rooms in Lincoln to read the Bible, to pray and to sing hymns, and they practised what they preached by visiting the prisoners in the Oxford gaols, supplying some of their physical wants and giving them legal advice, as well as caring for their spiritual needs.

Oxford contemporaries were critical of Wesley and his friends, some of them undergraduates in Lincoln, dubbing them 'Methodists' or 'Bible-moths'. After Wesley's departure for Georgia as a Missionary chaplain in 1735, his visits to the College became less frequent; though he was residing in College shortly before his famous 'conversion' Aldersgate experience of 24 May 1738. (Paradoxically, a former Lincoln student, John Potter, who had ordained Wesley himself, was at this time Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church from which Wesley was to draw away so many followers.) Wesley remained a Fellow until his unfortunate marriage in 1751, continuing to draw his stipend and to regard the College with affection. (Throughout his life he published as 'John Wesley, Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College'.)

Until 1737 he occupied rooms in Chapel Quad, and according to oral tradition subsequently resided in what is now called the 'Wesley Room' in the Front Quadrangle. Wesley's fundamental ideas were formulated and his spiritual life was quickened during his time of residence at Lincoln. Consequently the great religious revival which he sponsored, and which gave rise to the Methodist Church, may be said to have originated at Lincoln College.