John Wesley was familiar with the city from his schooldays at Charterhouse and it became his main base after his return from Georgia in 1738. Between preaching tours his winters were spent in and around London. His headquarters for nearly 40 years was the Foundery in Moorfields, replaced by his City Road Chapel in 1778. In addition he had West Street Chapel in the West End, Snowsfields Chapel, Southwark and others in Spitalfields etc.
Compared with Cornwall or the industrial North, London Methodism grew slowly; but was significant because of its location in the capital and as the focal point of Wesley's movement. The London Circuit was divided into East and West in 1807 and further sub-division did not take place until the 1820s. The first Sunday School in London was launched at 74 Golden Lane in April 1798 on the initiative of Samuel Mather, the circuit Superintendant, when the area was rapidly developing with working-class housing. A day school was added in 1837. The school moved from Golden Lane to Radnor Street in 1919.
A major boost to chapel-building was provided in the rapidly expanding outer suburbs by the Metropolitan Chapel Building Fund in the 1860s. In the inner suburbs the East End Mission was launched by the Conference of 1861 under the leadership of Alexander M'Aulay at Bow .
In response to Andrew Mearns' revelations in The Bitter Cry of Outcast London (1883), the London Mission Committee became convinced that new initiatives were needed to meet the particular needs of the situation in the capital. The London Wesleyan Methodist Mission was launched by the Conference of 1885 and the East London Mission was launched that year, the Central London Mission, centred at Clerkenwell, in 1886 and the West London Mission in 1887. The Forward Movement saw the building of a number of central halls as focal points for urban mission.
At the time of the 1851 Religious Census the London Registration Division extended from Kensington to Poplar, and south of the river from Greenwich and Lewisham westwards to Lambeth and Camberwell, taking in parts of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. The Census recorded 154 Methodist places of worship, of which 98 were WM and 21 PM. Otherwise, only the WMA and WR had any significant presence in the capital. Total attendances on Census Sunday were 62,442 (80% of them WM). This represents 2.6% of the population and 7% of attendances across all denominations.By 1902-3 the number of chapels had risen to 383 (231 in the County of London, plus 152 in Greater London) and 254 of these were WM. Adult attendances totalled 21,169 in the morning and 39,531 in the evening; 85% of them WM. The overall Methodist total of 60,700 represented 9% of all recorded attendances.
Welsh-speaking Wesleyanism in London dates from 1807, when Edward Jones preached in Lambeth Fields and a society was formed, meeting at first in the English chapel at Lambeth.until a chapel was built for them at St. Mary Axe in 1811. Three ex-Presidents of the Wesleyan Conference preached at the opening service: Adam Clarke, John Barber and Walter Griffith. But the debt on the chapel proved too great for the society and it was taken over in 1830 by the English Methodists. Not until the 1880s was Welsh-speaking Methodism strong enouggh to open a new chapel near John Wesley's in the City Road in 1883. This was destroyed during the World War II blitz. In the 1950s it was replace by a new church in Chilltern Street, shared for some years by a group of Chinese Christians.
Primitive Methodism was weak in London, compared to its Northern and Midland strongholds, even after its Bookroom and connexional offices moved there in 1843. By 1901 less than 3% of its membership in England and Wales was in the capital, despite the pioneering missions established by Thomas Jackson, James Flanagan and others.
By the 1980s the 33 boroughs and the City of London had a population of some 9 million; in 1997, some 7 million. By 1989 there were only 252 Methodist Churches in the London area (90 in Inner London, 162 in Outer London, reflecting the outward shift of population). Two thirds of these were in the north, but the largest congregations were in the south-west. Total adult attendances were 20,600 (7,900 in Inner and 12,700 in Outer London). Membership stood at 24,000 (5,800 in Inner and 19,100 in Outer London).The 1990s have seen a reversal of the post-war migration to the suburbs and new towns, with new growth in the inner city, largely as a result of the rise of multi-racial congregations. Methodist worship now occurs in many languages; e.g. Cantonese and Mandarin at Kings Cross; Urdu and Punjabi at Southall; Tamil at Hammersmith; and Korean in several places. Church plants from these congregations are to be found throughout the region. Methodism ministers to the needy and is a participant in the London Churches Group and the London Church Leaders Group. Most inner-city Missions have day centres and other social work programmes caring for the homeless and the poorest.
Until 1957 there were six Methodist Districts covering London and most of the South-East, but with the appointment of separated Chairmen these were reduced to four. A proposal to create a new Greater London District in the 1980s was rejected in favour of retaining the four Districts, with a co-ordinating task given to the London Committee administering the London Mission Fund, which supports work in the region in regard to both ministry and property. After being turned down by the Conference of 1988, a new single London District eventually came into being in September 2006, with outlying circuits being relocated in other Districts. The Methodist Council now raises and administrs the London Mission Fund, appointing its trustees (who now form the London Committee).
The membership of the London District as at October 2012 stood at just over 18,000, with an average weekly (all-age) attendance at 17,000. The District has three District Chairs.
See also Islington; Metropolitan Methodist Lay Mission; Stoke Newington.
'This area presents social, economic and religious difficulties such as are hardly known elsewhere. Within the area there are, here and there, small districts which are homogeneous, i.e. almost wholly aristocratic, or middle-class, or slum, as the case may be. In other cases, riches, poverty and vice touch each other… Lying at the back of the great thoroughfares lined with fashionable shops, there are districts of tenement houses, crowded with families, the hard-working and the idle, the decent and the vicious… The Cornish miner and the Lancashire weaver have homes. In inner London, people of the same class have a room or perhaps two.
'The special character and peculiarities of the masses of Inner London… The causes are to be found in the rush and hurry of life, the keenness of the competition to exist, the changed conditions of housekeeping, the constant and in a certain way necessary and familiar contact with vice and wrong… The result is that the typical Londoner is smart and keen with a certain superficial quickness; that he loves amusement and an escape from his monotony; that he craves sensation and will have nothing to say to staid decorous methodis in religion… He is not anti-Christian. He id irreligious and indifferent.'
First annual report of the London Mission, printed in the Methodist Recorder, 16 July 1886