On 26th July, 1898, the following news item appeared in “The Birmingham Daily Argus.”
The Wesleyan Conference was crowded yesterday when Mr R W Perks, M P proposed to inaugurate the scheme for collecting a million guineas from a million adherents of that body to celebrate the opening of the Twentieth Century. British Methodism said Mr Perks had today no fewer than 2,000,000 adherents and the wealth of the country represented a sum of £200 per head – men, women and children.
He would like to see £200,000 devoted to educational purposes, some to fight the cause of Methodist children in the country parishes where the population was largely Nonconformist but where the schools were in the hands of bigoted clergymen; a Central Hall in London which might be bought at a cost of £250,000 to seat 3,000 people and have attached to it all the offices and rooms needed by the Methodist departments. Dr Stephenson’s home might receive £50,000 to help the effort now being made to prevent a single Methodist child from being brought up in a pauper school. The raising of the money he thought could be done by inscribing every Wesleyan’s name on a “Church Roll” and those who could afford to give more than a guinea could subscribe the surplus at the rate of a guinea in the name of any poor person on the roll.
Rev W L Watkinson, ex President of the Conference, seconded the proposal to raise the million guineas. The Conference at once passed it and referred it to a Committee to decide the methods of procedure.
The Fund became known as “The Twentieth Century Fund” or “Million Guinea Fund.”
The MINUTE Book of the TWENTIETH CENTURY FUND Committee gives a clear picture of the aims and objectives of the Fund.
The first meeting of the Twentieth Century Fund officers was held on 1st August 1898. It was agreed that registers should be sent to all Circuits for Circuit use, together with sheets for local Chapels, Sunday Schools, class meetings and family use. Collection books for weekly and monthly contributions and boxes for family use would also be sent.
At a General Committee of the Twentieth Century Fund held at Wesley’s Chapel on 25th and 26th October, 1898 attended by 160 ministers and laymen, it was agreed that a HISTORIC ROLL should be opened on 1st January, 1899 and closed on 1st January, 1901 and that a list of donors in every Church or circuit should be read out at services held that day. The Historic Roll would be preserved with the historical documents of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It was also agreed that the Twentieth Century Fund would be used for the following purposes:
- £300,000 to assist in the purchase of sites and the erection of Wesleyan Methodist Chapels, Sunday Schools or Mission Halls in the United Kingdom and for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Homes.
- £200,000 for educational work in educational institutions associated with the Wesleyan Methodist Church and for furthering the mental improvement and training of local preachers.
- £100,000 for Foreign Missionary work.
- £100,000 for Home Missionary work including Temperance work.
- £250,000 for the purchase of a suitable site in London and for building a monumental Connexional Building.
- £50,000 for developing the work of the Children’s Home to save all children of Methodist and Nonconformist parentage from Workhouse Schools and also provide for orphan children of Methodist Soldiers and Sailors.
- Grants would also be made to the Irish Wesleyan Methodist Conference and to Foreign Districts and these would be not less than the amounts raised locally in those districts.
It was also agreed that the HISTORIC ROLL would include the names of all donors and collectors whether members of the Methodist Church, teachers, or scholars in Sunday and Day Schools, communicants, seat holders [people who paid pew rents to reserve their seats] or other worshipers, adherents and friends of Methodism at home and abroad.
To qualify for a place on the Historic Roll:
 All persons who gave or collected one guinea or more.
 All persons on whose behalf or in memory of whom one guinea or more had been contributed.
 All persons who after bona fide efforts during the period up to 1st January 1901 cannot in the judgement of the Circuit Committee be reasonably expected to comply with the above conditions.
 In no case would the amounts given or collected be recorded in the Historic Roll.
The Fund which was known as “The Million Guinea Fund” finally closed on 30th June 1904, having failed to reach its target in 1901. In the end it raised £1,075,727.13s.8d.
In 1908 the Committee agreed to bind the 17,000 pages showing the names of the donors even though 13 Circuits out of 815 Circuits in the Wesleyan Connexion had not returned their pages. A special bookcase was commissioned and placed in Westminster Central Hall following its opening in 1912 and this is where the Historic Roll resides.