The Wesley Church: A Picture of Sad Decay

There is a strong move afoot to “revitalize” the downtown area of Kingston – spearheaded partly by Jamaica’s dominant cellular phone company, Digicel, which is building a high-rise headquarters down near the waterfront (a waterfront already bereft of all its character by so-called “development,” but that is another story). I am just hoping that downtown doesn’t turn into a place of high-rises, shopping malls and parking lots; and that its spirit – and the spirit of its people – is preserved.

Tower Street, downtown Kingston
There are other interesting buildings, large and small, all around the Wesley Church. Will these be torn down, or will they be “revitalized”?
The new Digicel building under construction in downtown Kingston
The new Digicel building under construction in downtown Kingston – the firm’s new global headquarters in fact, and set to be a totally “green” building (wind turbines on the roof, solar energy etc).

Development is a word I am a little afraid of in the Jamaican context. Of course, development is not all about buildings – but buildings are also important, of course. They are the urban landscape in which we humans live and move and breathe. In downtown Kingston there are many absolute gems of all shapes and sizes: small homes, warehouses and businesses – and larger, grander edifices. Many of them are in disrepair, and I hope that they will be fixed and maintained as the living, breathing past of downtown. We have already lost many of them – they have been demolished or simply fallen down. Oh, and this has happened in the uptown area where I live, too; many lovely old homes have vanished in our neighborhood, to be replaced by poky townhouses with gates and guards.

Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
The side of the big, grand church situated on a large piece of land. A man was cutting the grass with a machete when we were there. Which made me somehow even more sad.

One building which we discovered just recently (and we can’t believe we ever missed it) is the Wesley Church on Tower Street.

Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
Rusting iron fence, woodwork falling from the portico.

There are several wonderfully preserved churches downtown – and the beautiful synagogue, too. But for some reason – I wish I knew why – the Wesley Church stands on Tower Street, trying to maintain its dignity although it has been vandalized, damaged and simply neglected. How could anyone care so little for such a magnificent building? It was officially opened in 1823, although I saw “1908” on the front of it. I understand this is because the church was damaged in the 1907 earthquake and some changes were made to its frontage then. It is now in a terrible state, and the photos I took speak for themselves…

Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
Rather surprisingly, this (rusting) ironwork on the front has remained intact – I am not sure if it is original.

I am no architect (I don’t even know the correct terms for the features pictured here) and I am no church-goer either. But it was painful to see this. Can anyone tell me why this building has been abandoned? Does anyone know if there are any plans to fix it? Can anybody help, before it’s too late?

Tonight, I will join hundreds of others in a special 5K “night walk/night run” sponsored by Digicel and other private sector entities, as well as the Ministry of Tourism. The aim is to Take Back the Night” downtown – to prove that downtown (a much-feared place for years) is in fact “safe.” Digicel and others mean well (and presumably aim to make money out of the downtown revival – and why not?) But please, please, don’t destroy the soul of downtown. Respect and embrace the past.

Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
The wooden ceilings of the porch, and inside, are collapsing.
Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston (2)
One of the windows – empty except for (broken) metal grilles.

And please remember splendid buildings like the Wesley Church. I know it takes money, but it could be restored. The church sign says “Operation Peace,” rather sadly. Peace is not a word we have associated with downtown Kingston for a long, long while. But it could mean something, again, if we all try hard enough. And does Operation Peace still exist?

Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
Graffiti scribbled on the front of the church.

Please let me know your thoughts – and if you have any additional information or knowledge to contribute, I would welcome it. Meanwhile, I am donning my walking shoes tonight!

Digicel's "Take Back the Night" 5K Run/Walk tonight
Digicel’s “Take Back the Night” 5K Run/Walk tonight
Boys fighting
We need an “Operation Peace” so badly: here is a newspaper photo of boys fighting, with an adult attempting to intervene, in Kingston.
Wesley Church, Tower Street, downtown Kingston
Broken windows. Help needed!

15 thoughts on “The Wesley Church: A Picture of Sad Decay

  1. It’s so sad to see this church is such a state of decay
    I know this church very well there was also a school almost ajoining the same wesley church called WESLEY school which I attended as a girl
    The entrance to the school was on Rosemary or maiden lane. From the school we could gain entrance to the church although the main entrance to wesley church is on Tower st. I remember this been a beautiful grand building.
    I wonder what happened to the school?


    1. Yes, it is a large and imposing building, crumbling away… which is tragic. It’s an architectural gem, quite apart from its historical significance. I will definitely have to ask about the school. Please spread the word and I do hope the Methodist Church could rescue this building before it’s too late…


    2. Yes Althea. I was also a student at Wesley School (1950-1954) I also attended the church and remembered the wonderful music from the pipe organ. Fond memories of my youth while attending both the Church and the school. It is a shame for the church to waste away like that. Wish something could be done to preserve it.


      1. Oh, how lovely that must have been! I wonder if the pipe organ is still in there. No, it is steadily crumbling – it is a great shame. You could write to the Methodist Church in Jamaica and see what they are doing about it. They need to raise some funds to fix it up. The problem is that it is in a depressed part of downtown Kingston, and much of the congregation may well have gone away, never to return. Nevertheless, there is great interest in reviving downtown at the moment. If it is not used as a church anymore, it would make a great meeting hall, concert hall or could even be converted into apartments! I have seen this in downtown areas overseas…


  2. Hi, I am interested to know if my ancestor Nairne gravestones circa 1880s at Wesleyan Chapel Kingston survive? Would be thankful for any information, Richard, London, UK


    1. Hello Richard. I belong to a very interesting Facebook group called “Jamaica Colonial Heritage Society” and put a little note on the page. All very knowledgeable people, so I hope to have an answer for you. Thank you for your interest, and please share this article – I do wish the Methodist Church in the UK might take this beautiful building under its wing. It could even be converted into apartments and the grounds “greened” if it is not used as a church any more. It is a crying shame!


  3. Emma, as a lover of downtown Kingston (indeed all JA), a fanatic about Jamaica’s heritage of buildings of many styles – even the high rises and gated town house complexes have their characteristics, style and island ambience, and as a one-time Methodist your article was saddening and I hope a plea to those on high (no pun intended) to rescue this building before too late. No doubt the downtown congregation has long ago dwindled to a level unable to support the church, but what of the national organisation? Could it have been sold, can it still? Does Ja have anything like preservation orders? I would love to follow up on this one. Thanks for raising the issue.


    1. You are most welcome! Sorry to reply so late… Yes, there are preservation orders but this does not stop a place actually falling down before your very eyes, like some of the lovely Georgian buildings in Falmouth… The Jamaica National Heritage Trust (government agency) sounds grand but has no money at all. Also when it does actually do something it is not necessarily the most important or useful project that is undertaken. I wish someone could use their influence to do something about this. The Methodist Church has clearly given up on it. I am sure their congregation has become very small but that doesn’t mean that they should let such a marvelous building crumble like that. Why don’t they do a worldwide appeal for funds, or something? A plea to those on high? Jamaica hardly has enough money to pay for food and oil, so I don’t think the Government is at all interested. It would have to be a private sector/church effort.


  4. *Sigh* I do remember that when I was a part of the Methodist Youth Chorale we along with other choirs went downtown to do some recording in that church. I couldn’t not believe that it was even still being used as a public space (though I’m not sure how often of if it’s just for ‘special’ thinks like what we went for) Do hope that some love can be shown to it though!


    1. I felt really sad when I saw this beautiful building – a really large building, seemingly abandoned. We only came across it by chance as we were visiting a nearby office. I don’t think it could now be used…looking inside, we could see that the ceiling was falling down. When were you there? I really hope it is rescued, before it is too late. I am hoping someone will see this post and somehow come to the rescue. I wonder how the Methodist Church feels about it. Couldn’t they raise some funds? I don’t know.


      1. Think it was about two years ago. the windows were broken and there was nothing much on the inside. I really don’t understand why they thought it was ideal to film at that location with the building in that state and not even trying (well I don’t know if any effort was made) to do something about it seeing that it is so iconic!


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