Eynsham: Protestant nonconformity

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.

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A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Eynsham: Protestant nonconformity', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp153-154 [accessed 20 July 2024].

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley, 'Eynsham: Protestant nonconformity', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Edited by Alan Crossley, C R Elrington( London, 1990), British History Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp153-154.

A P Baggs, W J Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, S C Townley. "Eynsham: Protestant nonconformity". A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock. Ed. Alan Crossley, C R Elrington(London, 1990), , British History Online. Web. 20 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol12/pp153-154.

Protestant Nonconformity

In 1706 there were no dissenters in Eynsham and, except for a Quaker in 1738, none were reported during the 18th century. (fn. 22) In 1802 one Quaker and a few Methodists were reported (fn. 23) but thereafter nonconformity flourished. By 1804 the curate was concerned enough to ask whether the bishop could withhold licences (fn. 24) and by 1811 he reported that visiting teachers came sometimes thrice weekly; largely to combat nonconformity he introduced evening lectures. (fn. 25)

An unnamed Eynsham couple, who attended the New Road Particular Baptist chapel in Oxford from the 1780s and were ridiculed as the only 'meetingers' in the parish, were probably the instigators of Eynsham's first Baptist meetings. In 1808 James Hinton, minister at New Road, opened 'a pretty neat little chapel' in Eynsham, established with funds raised in Eynsham, Witney, and Oxford. (fn. 26) The chapel was in William Nutt's barn off Mill Street, behind the later White House; the surviving barn retains some meeting-room fittings. (fn. 27) In 1814 a church was formally established with a core of 15 members, many of them 'dismissed' from New Road. At first Hinton was pastor but from 1817, when there were 30 communicants and c. 200 hearers, there was a resident minister. A new chapel built west of Lombard Street was opened in 1818, and from the outset was associated with a flourishing Sunday school. (fn. 28) The congregation declined in the 1830s, probably because of the challenge of the Irvingites. (fn. 29) In 1851 average attendance at the Providence Baptist chapel was said to be 20 in the morning, 50 in the afternoon, and 70 in the evening, with as many as 70 at the morning Sunday school. The chapel was also used for a day school run by the minister. According to him the Baptists were in temporary decline, partly because of 'excitement in another religious denomination', perhaps the Primitive Methodists. (fn. 30) In 1866 the vicar reported that there were only five or six regular members of the Baptist chapel and in 1872 claimed that of the five dissenting sects in Eynsham only the Baptists regularly absented themselves from church. (fn. 31)

On the death in 1884 of Henry Matthew, resident minister for nearly fifty years, the chapel was said to be dilapidated and disused. Services were thereafter organized from Oxford, and energetic superintendents, notably Robert Alden, inspired a revival. A new Sunday school was built in 1907. In 1913 and 1921 the chapel had over 100 Sunday scholars on its roll and chapel membership was 25; a Band of Hope met there. (fn. 32) Alden sent meat from his Oxford shop to be distributed to the poor on Saturday evenings, and on Sundays he preached in the chapel. (fn. 33) There was a resident minister in 1984 and the chapel was still linked with New Road chapel. The building of 1818 is of stone with stone-slated roof incorporating traditional domestic features such as sash windows with square hoods. (fn. 34)

Methodism seems to have been introduced from Witney and North Leigh; in 1804 large meetings held on Eynsham heath were sometimes dispersed by the local magistrate, the Revd. John Robinson of Eynsham Hall. In 1805 the Methodists opened Freeland chapel on land given by William Judd. (fn. 35) The first chapel was presumably rebuilt, for the surviving stone and slate building was opened in 1817. (fn. 36) In 1851 it was said to have 250 free and 30 rented sittings; membership then was only 24, having been 31 in 1837, and average attendance was 80. (fn. 37) Until Freeland acquired an Anglican church in 1869 most inhabitants attended the Methodist chapel on Sunday evenings. (fn. 38) Membership was 14 in 1866 but revived in the early 1880s, reaching a peak of 27 in 1894; the chapel remained in use in 1984. (fn. 39)

In the early 19th century Methodists also met in Eynsham in private houses (fn. 40) but before 1822 had taken over the former Baptist meeting place in the barn off Mill Street; there was a resident preacher who may have served the Freeland chapel. (fn. 41) In 1822, when meetings in the barn were disrupted by some of the vicar's boarding pupils and by labourers who let sparrows into the building, the preachers were Robert Martin, an Oxford circuit minister, and a 'Woodstock tinker', William Leggatt, ironmonger, who was the usual Eynsham teacher. (fn. 42) A Wesleyan meeting disrupted in 1828 may have been in the house of William Buckingham, licensed in 1827. (fn. 43) No chapel was established in Eynsham until 1884 when, after meeting for a few years in an unidentified mission hall, the Wesleyans built a brick and stone chapel in Thames Street. (fn. 44) Membership in 1885 was 37 but fell steadily thereafter and in 1955 was only eight; in 1979 the chapel was sold to the parochial church council for use as St. Leonard's church hall. (fn. 45)

A separate Wesleyan meeting was formed at Barnard Gate in the 1880s; membership reached double figures in 1890, and a peak of 19 in 1910. A corrugated iron mission chapel was built beside the Oxford-Witney road c. 1906. The chapel remained in use with a small membership until c. 1970. (fn. 46)

Primitive Methodists were meeting in Eynsham by 1843, and in 1847 a rented meeting room was registered by Thomas Jackson of Witney. (fn. 47) In 1851 the Primitive Methodist meeting house in Mill Street was described as 'not a separate chapel' and may have been the barn formerly used by the Baptists and Wesleyans. On census Sunday that year 82 people attended in the afternoon and 118 in the evening. (fn. 48) A new chapel was built in 1860 in Chapel Yard, off Newland Street; (fn. 49) there were then 30 members and in 1863 an average congregation of 140. (fn. 50) The Primitive Methodists were probably then the strongest dissenting group in the parish but by 1872 there were only 12 members and by 1900 only three, with an average congregation of only a dozen. Between 1905 and 1913 the chapel was demolished. (fn. 51)

The Catholic Apostolic (Irvingite) church in Eynsham was established after a schism in the Baptist congregation. (fn. 52) In 1829 James Hinton the younger, who was preaching in Eynsham, found opposition there to his new doctrines, notably his rejection of the Calvinist view of predestination. He therefore withdrew with some 70 followers and established a separate meeting, probably that licensed in 1830 at the house of Robert Ford; by 1837 Ford had moved to the site of the later Catholic Apostolic church in Mill Street. (fn. 53) H. B. Bulteel of Oxford was closely associated with Hinton at that time but withdrew in 1833 as the congregation moved further towards Irvingism. The first 'utterances' were heard at Eynsham in 1832 and in 1834 Hinton was ordained as an 'angel' of the church in Eynsham and Oxford. In 1835 the two congregations were officially separated, Hinton remaining at Eynsham; the congregation was visited by prominent 'apostles' of the new church in 1836. Jonathan Smith of Eynsham was in 1837 ordained one of the seven 'prophets' of the Universal Church. (fn. 54) Hinton was removed to Paddington in 1838 but soon returned to Eynsham, where he was living in 1841. (fn. 55) In 1843 services at Eynsham ceased, the congregation rejoined the parish church, and the Mill Street chapel was boarded up. (fn. 56) By 1860 it was again in use with a small congregation which had seceded from the parish church; by 1863 there was a resident minister and the congregation numbered c. 20, of whom some occasionally attended the parish church. (fn. 57) Catholic Apostolic services in Eynsham became increasingly liturgical and the congregation flourished in the late 19th century. There were frequently two resident ministers and after 1876 a Gothic chapel of stone and brick was built on the original site, reputedly with funds provided by Sir Algernon-George Percy, duke of Northumberland (d. 1899), son-in-law of the Irvingite Henry Drummond. In 1901 services were held on six days a week and there were four services on Sundays. Weekday services attracted fewer than 20 worshippers but the Easter congregation in that year was 105; over 150 attended on Advent Sunday when two 'archangels' were present. Numbers declined thereafter, and in 1928 the Easter congregation was only 46. Worshippers came from a wide area, and the ministers anointed sick people from as far away as Buckingham and Fairford (Glos.). (fn. 58) Baptisms ceased in the 1950s and thereafter the congregation was drawn mostly from outside the parish; close links were developed with the Anglicans. After the death in 1982 of the deacon, Mr. Bevan Pimm, services ceased and the building was sold to the parish council. (fn. 59)

By 1866 a group of a dozen Plymouth Brethren had established itself in Eynsham with a teacher who had moved from Witney. By 1875 the congregation had divided into two and was not recorded thereafter. (fn. 60) The Salvation Army was meeting in Eynsham in 1890. (fn. 61)


  • 22. Hist. MSS. Com. 13, 10th Rep. App. IV, p. 177; Secker's Visit. 60.
  • 23. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 566, f. 126 and v.
  • 24. Ibid. c 656, f. 131; Bodl. MS. Eng. Lett. c 493, f. 82. The corresp. is printed with commentary in Oxon. Local Hist. i (3), 30-3.
  • 25. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 659, f. 161; d 570, f. 127 and v.; d 572, f. 130 and v.; d 576, f. 103 and v.; d 578, f. 99 and v.; d 707, f. 64.
  • 26. J. H. Hinton, Life of J. Hinton, 251, 281; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 707, f. 64.
  • 27. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 644, f. 94; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. b 18, f. 85 and v. For Nutt's property see O.R.O., incl. award and map (plot 45).
  • 28. Baptist Mag. (1817), 279; J. Hinton, Hist. of Associated Chs.; Hinton, Life of Hinton, 251, 281, 285; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. b 18, ff. 74-5; ibid. G.A. Oxon. c 317/20: flysheet; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. b 39, f. 139v.; ibid. CH. CXXI/1.
  • 29. Below.
  • 30. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 160.
  • 31. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 332, f. 180; c 338, f. 154v.
  • 32. H. Paintin, Centenary Souvenir Booklet: New Road Chapel Sunday Sch. Soc. (Oxf. 1913); New Road Baptist Ch. Handbk. (1921); New Road Oxf. Monthly Visitor, no. 1 (1 Jan. 1889); Bodl. G.A. Oxon. c 317/20: newspaper cutting, 1907; Harris, From Acre End, 43.
  • 33. Harris, From Acre End, 55.
  • 34. Datestone on bldg. For a drawing of 1820, Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. a 66, no. 251.
  • 35. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 644, f. 81; c 656, f. 131; d 566, f. 126; Oxon. Local Hist. i (3), 30-2.
  • 36. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 170; damaged date on bldg. (19 Nov., probably 1817).
  • 37. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 170; O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit I/1/a-b.
  • 38. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 332, f. 180.
  • 39. Ibid. Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit I/1/c-i; County Mus., P.R.N. 700.
  • 40. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 566, ff. 126 and v.; d 576, f. 103 and v. Unidentified licensed meeting-hos. may also have been Wesleyan: e.g. ibid. c 644, ff. 177, 184, 208.
  • 41. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. b 18, ff. 74 sqq.; O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 578, f. 99 and v.; d 580, f. 99 and v.
  • 42. Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. b 18, ff. 74 sqq.
  • 43. O.R.O., Cal. Q. Sess. ii, p. 407b; viii, p. 814.
  • 44. Ibid. MS. d.d. Oxf. Meth. Circuit c 21 (6), f. 112; Eynsham Rec. i. 31-2.
  • 45. O.R.O., MSS. d.d. Oxf. Meth. Circuit b 6-7; Eynsham Rec. i. 31-2.
  • 46. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit II/1/e-i; County Mus., P.R.N. 4641
  • 47. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit II/1/a; ibid. MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 647, f. 61; P.O. Dir. Oxon. (1847).
  • 48. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 161.
  • 49. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit II/1/b; XII/1/j; ibid. Palm. 1/3, pp. 38-40, 181.
  • 50. Ibid. Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit XII/1/j.
  • 51. Ibid. II/1/c; XII/1/1-r; ibid. Palm. ¼, pp. 352-3; O.S. Map ½,500, Oxon. XXXII.8 (1913 edn.).
  • 52. Mr. Timothy Stunt of Sandford-on-Thames kindly supplied refs. for the following account.
  • 53. Bodl. MS. Facs. b 61, ff. 29, 76, 86; Louisa A. Hewett, Story of the Lord's Work (1933 edn.), 54-6; O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 645, f. 166; c 646, f. 51. For Ford's property see O.R.O., Palm. IV/4-5 (plot no. 238).
  • 54. Bodl. MS. Facs. b 61, ff. 29, 52, 76, 86, 88, 90, 95, 101-3; Hewett, Lord's Work, 58-9.
  • 55. Bodl. MS. Facs. b 61, f. 114; P.R.O., HO 107/889, recording Hinton at the later Murray Ho. in Acre End Street.
  • 56. Bodl. MS. Facs. b 61, f. 120; Eynsham Churchman's .bqeMonthly Mag. 1871-3, containing articles on Cath. Apos tolic ch.: copies kindly loaned by Mr. J. Evans of Eynsham.
  • 57. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 180, ff. 429-30; c 322, f. 180; c 341, ff. 174-5; Dutton, Allen, & Co's Dir. Oxon. (1863).
  • 58. O.R.O., E.C.A.C. I/i-ii.
  • 59. Oxf. Star, 2 Sept. 1982; local inf.
  • 60. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. c 332, f. 180; c 341, ff. 174-5; c 344, f. 155v.
  • 61. Ibid. c 356, ff. 156-7.