The Wesley Guild Manuscript Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of non-current records dating from 1896 to 1987 including minute books, reports and some material relating to local and overseas guilds. Some of the papers were created by the Division of Ministries and the Young Methodism Department, because of the close administrative link with those bodies at various times. The collection was used by Rev. William Leary in the writing of the Guild's centenary history.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Wesley Guild originated as a youth movement aimed at countering secular influence and retaining young people within the Church. The Guild idea was first suggested by the Wesleyan minister W. B. Fitzgerald and was championed at the Liverpool Conference of 1896 by C. H. Kelly, Book Steward and former Secretary for Sunday School affairs. The Guild as it was approved by the Conference was defined as a "Young People's Society closely linked to the Church, holding weekly or periodical meetings for devotional, literary or social purposes, and centring around various branches of Young People's work". There were however no age limitations imposed and the Guild gradually acquired a membership which was not particularly youthful.

Fitzgerald served as the first General Secretary of the Guild and by 1909 there was 2,200 local Guilds with 152,000 members. There was then a sharp decrease attributable to the effects of the First World War and an increase in secular attractions. From 1922 however membership again increased, reaching a peak of 174,202 senior and 57,790 junior members in 1934, after which it again declined to a membership of between 25,000 and 50,000 by 1970.

George Allan took over as General Secretary in 1910 and remained in that position for twelve years. He was replaced by Alfred Robinson and in 1943 the Guild became one of the responsibilities of the Methodist Youth Department.

In December 1970 a working party was established to produce a paper on the future of the Guild. The conclusion was a realisation that while the Guild was no longer attractive to young people, it was still very much alive as an organisation for older church members. To the original basic principles of the Guild Charter - the four Cs of comradeship, consecration, culture and Christian service, were added new objectives aimed at making the Guild more adult and modern in outlook.

In 1973 the Methodist Church was restructured and the Guild became part of the Division of Ministries. A National Guild Secretary was appointed and a committee established to deal specifically with Guild matters. These changes helped to revitalize the organisation at a time when its value and relevance was being called into question. The 1980s saw a renewal of Conference Guild Rallies and increasing inter-guild activity. Currently there are just over a thousand guilds nationwide.

The programme of meetings produced by individual guilds cover a broad spectrum of activity from social gatherings to worship.

Overseas Guilds

The first overseas guilds were established by missionaries. As early as 1908 there were 120 overseas branches in British colonies and in China, with a membership of over 7,000. By 1932 the number of active overseas guilds had increased to 196. Current statistics are difficult to acquire although indications are that in many places the work is flourishing. The overseas work has been from the earliest days partly supported with financial contributions from the British Guild.

Guild Mission Hospitals

In 1910 W. B. Fitzgerald and Stanley Sowton conceived the idea of using the Guild to raise money for missionary work. A plea went out asking for guilders to form themselves into groups of ten, each of which pledged to raise one penny a month for Medical Missions. In 1912 Dr John Stephens was appointed Wesley Guild Missionary in West Africa and in the same year an appeal was started to raise funds for the construction and maintenance of a Guild Hospital at Ilesha in Nigeria. Building was delayed by World War 1 but the foundations were finally laid in 1922. A year later the annual contributions to this work exceeded £1,000 and this figure doubled by 1925. After independence the Nigerian government took over the Ilesha Wesley Guild hospital, but retaining it's original name.


The collection is arrnaged into the following series:

  • WG/1 - Minutes and associated papers
  • WG/2 - Magazines
  • WG/3 - Local Guilds
  • WG/4 - The Overseas Guild
  • WG/5 - Wesley Guild conferences
  • WG/6 - Printed material
  • WG/7 - Miscellaneous

Access Information

The archivist must be consulted concerning access to records created within the last fifty years

Acquisition Information

The papers of the Wesley Guild were deposited in September 1995 by the National Guild Secretary, Mrs Jean Long (accession no MA 9273).

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the Collection was produced by Gareth Lloyd in 1996. The present catalogue has been produced to replace this with an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.


Rev. William Leary Wesley Guild: The first Hundred Years - One Heart, One Way, One Hundred (1995)

Corporate Names

Geographical Names