North Leigh: 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, 'North Leigh: Nonconformity', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, (London, 1990), pp. 235-236. British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

A P Baggs. W J Blair. Eleanor Chance. Christina Colvin. Janet Cooper. C J Day. Nesta Selwyn. S C Townley. "North Leigh: Nonconformity", in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, (London, 1990) 235-236. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Blair, W J. Chance, Eleanor. Colvin, Christina. Cooper, Janet. Day, C J. Selwyn, Nesta. Townley, S C. "North Leigh: Nonconformity", A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, (London, 1990). 235-236. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,


James Barfoot and his wife were in 1577 the only Roman Catholics recorded in the parish, (fn. 21) and there seem only to have been one or two thereafter. (fn. 22) One of two men refusing the Protestation Oath in 1642 may have been George Stuart, Seigneur d'Aubigny. (fn. 23) Edward Perrott (d. 1729), a supporter of James II, was listed in 1706 as a papist. (fn. 24) Then and in 1738 there were said to be one or two papists 'of the lowest rank' who had moved to North Leigh from Kiddington, a centre of Roman Catholicism. (fn. 25) An aged widow was mentioned as a Catholic in 1759. (fn. 26)

Friends' meetings were held at the house of Thomas Taylor, a North Leigh freeholder (fn. 27) imprisoned in 1659 for not paying tithes and fined in 1670 with his son Thomas for not attending church. Another North Leigh man, Edward Franklin, was twice imprisoned for not paying tithes. (fn. 28) Meetings in 1669 were said to be attended by 60 or more, (fn. 29) presumably drawn from the area around since in 1676 and 1682 only five Quakers were reported to be living in North Leigh. (fn. 30) In 1738 there were still two Quaker families. (fn. 31) In 1768 there were only an octogenarian and his daughter. (fn. 32)

Later nonconformity in North Leigh was predominantly Methodist. In 1771 villagers were said to be going to hear preachers in the neighbourhood, (fn. 33) but in the 1790s North Leigh seems to have acquired a meeting house of its own, in Chapel Lane, (fn. 34) led by Joseph Shepherd (d. 1835). (fn. 35) The North Leigh meeting numbered 10 or 12, but, as with the Quakers, the village seems to have become the focus for a wider area: a large body of people was said in 1802 to attend meetings and to be instructed by numerous teachers, some from the neighbourhood, some itinerant. North Leigh Methodists seem at that time to have attended the parish church in the mornings and the meeting house in the afternoons or evenings. (fn. 36) Open-air services and camp-meetings were held in the 1820s at the crossroads by Ashford mill, and Methodist numbers increased sharply in the 1820s, perhaps the reason why, in 1825 and 1826, two houses were licensed. By 1827, when the chapel was rebuilt, there was a congregation of 30, and a Sunday school was attended by 100 children. (fn. 37) Membership of the church averaged c. 20 in the 1840s, (fn. 38) although congregations were larger: attendance on census Sunday in 1851 comprised 50 adults and 36 children in the morning and 70 adults in the evening. (fn. 39) Membership declined to c. 9 in the 1850s, (fn. 40) partly, perhaps, because of troubles within the Wesleyan movement generally, partly because members were drawn away to a separate meeting at East End and to the Primitive Methodists. The chapel was rebuilt in 1873 with assistance from Shepherd's son, also Joseph, and immediately began to attract increased numbers. In the 1880s, as elsewhere in the area, membership increased sharply, reaching 40 in 1890, and, after a decline, a peak of 49 in 1914. Membership stood in 1939 at 14. (fn. 41) The chapel remained open in 1986. The group at East End seems never to have grown beyond six members, but meetings were held until 1963. (fn. 42)

The chapel and adjoining school form a large T-shaped building. Of coursed rubble with a clay tiled roof, it has pointed windows including an imposing west window of five lights.

Primitive Methodists were holding regular services at North Leigh by 1840. In 1845 the circuit quarterly meeting recommended that the North Leigh society be 'broken up for slandering the quarter day'; there was instead to be fortnightly open-air preaching. (fn. 43) The breach was temporary, and in the 1860s North Leigh Primitive Methodists were attending the chapel at New Yatt in Hailey parish. The success of Primitive Methodist revival meetings was in 1866 offered by the vicar as a reason for Anglican failure. (fn. 44) In 1880 a Primitive Methodist chapel was built at East End. (fn. 45) In the early 20th century membership averaged c. 5 and congregations c. 30, but, despite improvements to the chapel in 1908, support seems to have declined. At the time of the union of Methodist churches in 1932 attendance was estimated at 20. (fn. 46) The chapel presumably closed soon after. In 1986 it was in private use. It is a small red-brick building with vitrified headers, a roof of Welsh slate, and wooden lancet windows.

Christian Brethren started meeting in North Leigh in the early 20th century, in members' houses until in 1972 the North Leigh Windmill Gospel chapel opened west of the windmill. In the 1980s congregations usually numbered c. 30. (fn. 47)


  • 21. Returns of Recusants, 1577 (Cath. Rec. Soc. xxii), 110; O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 3/1/18.
  • 22. Recusant Roll 1 (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii), 256; Recusant Rolls 2 and 3 (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxi), 73.
  • 23. Protestation Returns, 100; above, Intro.
  • 24. O.R.O., Reg. of Papists' Estates, ff. 169-72.
  • 25. Hist. MSS. Com. 12, 10th Rep. IV, Stonyhurst, p. 179; W.O. Hassall, 'Papists in early 18th-cent. Oxon.' Oxoniensia, xiii. 80; Secker's Visit. 109.
  • 26. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 556, ff. 129v.-30.
  • 27. Bp. Fell and Nonconf. 46; O.R.O., Oxon. Quarterly Meeting Bk. s.a. 1680.
  • 28. J. Besse, Sufferings of Quakers, i. 566, 572.
  • 29. Bp. Fell and Nonconf. 47.
  • 30. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 423; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 708, f. 111.
  • 31. Secker's Visit. 109.
  • 32. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 559, f. 137v.
  • 33. Ibid. d 562, f. 154.
  • 34. W. Myles, Hist. Methodists (1803), 330 gives a date of 1792; cf. Bodl. MS. Top. Eccles. e 1, f. 43; O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 567, f. 27 and v.
  • 35. Methodist Mag. 1835, 396.
  • 36. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. d 567, f. 27 and v.
  • 37. Ibid. c 645, ff. 56, 74; G. Osborne, 'Stonesfield and Early Methodism' (MS. in possession of Mr. J. Minards, Warrington, Ches.), 28-30; Methodist Mag. 1827, 835.
  • 38. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Methodist Circuit I/1/a.
  • 39. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 317.
  • 40. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Methodist Circuit I/1/b.
  • 41. Ibid. I/1/c-i; P.R.O., C 54/17564, mm. 43-5; County Mus., P.R.N. 5223.
  • 42. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Methodist Circuit I/1/b-d, i.
  • 43. Ibid. II/1/a.
  • 44. Ibid. MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 180, f. 835; c 32, ff. 306-7; c 335, f. 271; c 338, f. 284v.; c 334, f. 283; above, Church.
  • 45. P.R.O., C 54/18075, mm. 33-4; O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Methodist Circuit XII/1/n.
  • 46. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Methodist Circuit II/1/c-e; XII/1/o-y; XII/1/aa-ae, ag, ar.
  • 47. Inf. from Mr. H. Rhymes.