South Leigh: Nonconformity

Pages 252-253

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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James Barfoot, who in 1574 bequeathed a tenement in South Leigh to his son William, was a member of a recusant family in North Leigh. (fn. 71) Mary Skinner, wife of the lord of South Leigh, was fined repeatedly for recusancy between c. 1621 and 1630; three other inhabitants, including Skinner's daughter, were fined c. 1625. (fn. 72)

No nonconformists were returned in 1676, but in 1682 there were two Quakers named Shepherd, two Anabaptists, William Anker and Thomas Barfoot, and possibly an Anabaptist schoolteacher. In 1697 Barfoot was willing to subscribe the Articles but asked for a license for a meeting house. (fn. 73) In 1738 there was no meeting house in the parish, but about a third of the inhabitants were Anabaptist; the number was said to be decreasing. (fn. 74) Between 1759 and 1771 five long-established Baptist families were reported to attend the meeting house at Cote, in Bampton. A visiting teacher was occasionally preaching in a farmhouse in 1805. The five Baptist families 'did not avow their sect' in 1808 but continued to be reported up to 1834. (fn. 75)

In 1771 John Wesley preached at South Leigh, traditionally in the house of a man named Winter who had heard Wesley's first sermon in the church in 1725. (fn. 76) In the early 19th century it was reported that half the families in the village were dissenters. (fn. 77) In 1817 Methodists met in a private house, probably one of two registered for the purpose in 1814. (fn. 78) They were said not to be making much headway, although dissenters included several of the principal farmers. (fn. 79) In 1828 Jonathan Harris's house was registered, and in 1837 the Methodist group in the village had seven members; in 1831 it was claimed that more would attend services if a larger site was found, and over 40 children from the village regularly attended the Wesleyan Sunday school in Witney. (fn. 80)

William Widdows's cottage at Church End was later used for meetings and seated 180, presumably in outbuildings; it was served from Witney, and in 1851 average attendance at the evening service was 100. (fn. 81) The group remained fairly small, rarely exceeding 20, but in 1876, when membership was only 11, a small stone chapel in the Gothic style, designed by Charles Bell, was built. (fn. 82) In 1878 many people attended both church and chapel. (fn. 83) Membership leaped suddenly from 11 to 62 in 1883, and although two years later it had fallen to 38 it remained above 20 until the end of the century. Thereafter there was a gradual decline to single figures until the union of Methodist churches in 1932; in 1942 there were 17 members. By 1968 monthly but not Sunday services were held in the chapel, which was sold c. 1969 and converted into a private house. (fn. 84)

South Leigh was put on a Primitive Methodist preaching plan in 1846 and camp meetings were held there. Meetings held in a private house in 1850 presumably continued, since in 1861 the Quarterly Meeting gave permission for South Leigh to acquire land for a chapel, but nothing came of it. There was a proposal that there should be preaching in the village in 1921. (fn. 85)


  • 71. O.R.O., MS. Wills Oxon. 3/1/18; above, N. Leigh, Nonconf.
  • 72. 'Oxon. Recusants', O.A.S. Rep. (1924), 33, 35, 42, 52-4, 56; above, Manors.
  • 73. Bp. Fell and Nonconf. 33, 35, 61 n.; O.R.O., Cal. Q. Sess. viii. 802.
  • 74. Secker's Visit. 145.
  • 75. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 557, f. 61; d 560, ff. 81v.-82; d 563, ff. 61v.-62; d 565, ff. 137v.-138; d 569, f. 103; d 571, f. 99; b 39, f. 306.
  • 76. Wesley's fnl. ed. N. Curnock, i. 59-60; v. 432; Youth's Instructer and Guardian, vol. xvi, no. 182, pp. 37-8.
  • 77. O.R.O., MSS. Oxf. Dioc. d 707, f. 158v.; c 433, f. 180.
  • 78. Ibid. d 577, f. 96v.; c 644, ff. 141, 155.
  • 79. Ibid. d 581, f. 82v.; d 707, f. 158.
  • 80. Ibid. c 645, f. 106; O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit, 1/1/a, s.a. 1837; Youth's Instructer and Guardian, vol. xvi, no. 182, pp. 37-8.
  • 81. Ch. and Chapel, 1851, no. 398; O.R.O., tithe award and map.
  • 82. O.R.O., Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit, I/1/b-e; Pevsner, Oxon. 770.
  • 83. O.R.O., MS. Oxf. Dioc. c 344, f. 373v.
  • 84. Ibid. Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit, I/1/e-i, VIII/1, XI/5/a; County Mus., P.R.N. 840; local inf.
  • 85. Ibid. Witney and Faringdon Meth. Circuit, II/i/a-b, d; XII/1/d.