The sculpture is a symbolic representation of the preaching of John Wesley. The monumental hand is positioned upright, and curled into a fist around a cross. As the inscription details, the pedestal is a short set of steps, representing the medieval horse block Wesley preached from in Wednesbury, some two miles away.
The bronze hand grasping the cross suggests a period of great spiritual and social upheaval. It represents in a dramatic and robust way the acceptance of Wesley's message by the people of the area. The relationship between the hand and the cross draws upon other symbols of power and revolution among ordinary people, thereby underlining the way in which Wesley was seen by many as a social as well as a religious reformer, and Methodism as a precursor of the socialist movement. It also alludes to the social unrest in West Bromwich and more especially Wednesbury following Wesley's visits to the town, notably in 1743, when the local gentry put pressure on local miners to disrupt Wesley's meetings and plunder the homes of those who sheltered Methodist ministers.
The artist's brief, prepared by PACA, stated that the theme for the sculpture was to be the commemoration of the preacher John Wesley. Four sculptors were shortlisted and invited to submit maquettes and drawings, and Chris Dunseath was chosen for the commission in April 1989. The piece was cast at the Morris Singer Foundry in Basingstoke. Following installation, the work was unveiled by Councillor Davis, leader of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.
Reaction to the sculpture was mixed. The Wednesbury Methodist minister, Rev Barker, queried the decision to site the sculpture in West Bromwich, given that Wesley had much closer associations with Wednesbury. Another Methodist, Martin Ludlow of Aldersgate Church in London, argued that a figurative monument to Wesley would have been more appropriate, and suggested Manning's figure of John Wesley holding his Greek New Testament in Westminster Hall should have been used as a model.
This sculpture cost £16,000. (1)
John Wesley (1703-1791) was an evangelist and the founder of the Methodist religion. Born in Lincolshire, England, he was educated at Oxford where, with his brother Charles, he founded the Holy Club. He was ordained a priest in 1728. In 1735 both went as missionaries to Georgia where they established the principles of Methodism. He founded the first Methodist Chapel in Bristol in 1739.
Wesley's itinerant preaching brought him to West Bromwich and the surrounding area. The medieval horse block from which he preached was preserved at the Wesley Chapel in Springhead, Wednesbury, until its demolition.
On plaque on steps: THIS SCULPTURE, BY CHRIS DUNSHEATH, IS DEDICATED/ TO JOHN WESLEY, PREACHER AND RELIGIOUS REFORMER,/ WHO PREACHED MANY TIMES IN THE 18TH CENTURY/ IN WHAT IS NOW THE BOROUGH OF SANDWELL,/ INCLUDING THE NEARBY OAK HOUSE./ HIS BIBLICAL TEACHING RESULTED IN A REVIVAL/ OF THE METHODIST MOVEMENT// THE HAND AND CROSS IS A SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATION/ OF HIS MESSAGE BEING ACCEPTED BY THE PEOPLE./ THE STEPS REFER TO THE MEDIEVAL HORSE BLOCK/ FROM WHICH WESLEY PREACHED. THE HORSE BLOCK/ IS CURRENTLY SITED BESIDE THE WESLEY CHAPEL/ AT SPRINGHEAD IN WEDNESBURY.// THIS SCULPTURE WAS UNVEILED ON 23RD OCTOBER 1989/ BY COUNCILLOR R. DAVIS, LEADER OF SANDWElL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL.
PMSA recording information