Curbridge: Church, nonconformity

Pages 222-224

A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 14, Bampton Hundred (Part Two). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.

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Origins, Status, and Services

Evidence for an early chapel at Curbridge is lacking. (fn. 1) The possibility that an unexplained piece of glebe in Curbridge village marked the site of a lost chapel is discussed above, (fn. 2) though reference in 1241 to a Curbridge felon seeking sanctuary in Curbridge church was probably an error for Witney church, which stood just within the township. (fn. 3) By the 15th century and until the 19th Curbridge inhabitants worshipped at Witney church, of which the south door was called the Curbridge door, (fn. 4) and the south transept aisle, by 1485, the Caswell aisle. (fn. 5) The township was usually represented in church affairs by its own churchwarden, although sometimes in the 16th century by a sidesman only. (fn. 6)

A proposal in 1815 by local farmers to build a chapel of ease for Curbridge was not supported by the rector, Robert Barnard, who regarded accommodation at Witney as adequate and was unwilling to fund a separate curate. (fn. 7) A later rector, Charles Jerram, held weekly lectures at Curbridge from 1834, and in 1836 a small chapel with attached schoolroom, financed by private donations, was opened. At first it was licensed only for divine service, but later acquired a burial ground and in 1847 was consecrated. (fn. 8)

Curbridge chapel remained dependent on Witney, its upkeep supported by collections and donations; by 1872 there was a building fund. (fn. 9) The chapel was served by curates who usually also served Hailey; in the 1880s they held daily services, with two each Sunday. (fn. 10) William Mills, long-serving curate in the 1860s, was popular, despite being judged weak and inefficient by the bishop. (fn. 11) Cyril Jenkyn, curate in the early 20th century, was instrumental in rebuilding the chapel in 1906. (fn. 12)

After the Second World War the growing popularity of Methodism was attributed to neglect of the cure. In the 1960s one of Witney's curates was given special charge of Curbridge and of the new chapel of St Luke on the Windrush estate, and close co-operation was established with the Methodists until their chapel closed in 1978. After the closure of St Luke's and of Crawley church the team vicar of West Witney, appointed in 1988, had sole charge of Curbridge. (fn. 13)

Church Architecture

The chapel of 1836 (Fig. 69), dedicated to St John the Baptist, was built on largely waste land next to the pound on the north side of Main Road. It was of stone with a central south doorway, two- and three-light, squareheaded, mullioned windows with drip-moulds, a bell-turret, and an undivided interior providing about 100 free seats; there was a small attached schoolroom on the north. (fn. 14) Proposals to rebuild were made as early as 1865 (fn. 15) but, apart from the addition of a porch and in 1895 a small apsidal chancel designed by C. C. Rolfe, few changes were made until 1906 when the derelict building was demolished. (fn. 16)

A new church designed by Nicholson & Corlette was built to the north-east, within the extended churchyard.

69. Curbridge: St John's chapel (demolished 1906) in 1873.

The cost (around £750) was met by grants and private donations, notably from the curate, Cyril Jenkyn, and Thomas Foreshew, a director of Clinch's brewery with land in Curbridge. (fn. 17) The building comprised a chancel and nave of coursed limestone rubble with red pantile roofs, carried down low on the south over a vestry and organ chamber, and surmounted by an open bell-turret and tall chimney. The style of the exterior, a picturesque mixture of southern Romanesque and Early English features, has been described as Mediterranean. (fn. 18) The plain plastered interior is English in character and has original rood beam, pews, pulpit, and other interior furniture, painted green with red, white, and black decoration. An organ replaced a harmonium in 1958. (fn. 19) The stained-glass east window is of 1906. The church plate includes a silver paten of 1876 and an electro-plated chalice and alms plate. (fn. 20) The single bell of 1836 was given by Charles Jerram, rector. (fn. 21) The churchyard was enlarged on the north east in 1898, and a small strip added on the south east in 1974. (fn. 22) Registers of christenings and burials begin in 1847. (fn. 23)


The Wenmans of Caswell, though never listed as recusants, were related to prominent recusant families and probably had Roman Catholic sympathies. (fn. 24) Six recusants were named in 1621, of whom at least four were of the family of William Tempest of Caswell, gentleman, (fn. 25) but no other reference to recusancy in Curbridge has been found.

Three houses in Curbridge were licensed for Nonconformist meetings in 1816 and 1825, probably by Methodists: the township was briefly on the Witney Primitive Methodist circuit plan in the mid 1820s, (fn. 26) and Wesleyan Methodists were preaching there every Sunday by 1832. (fn. 27) Curbridge was again included in the Witney Primitive Methodists' circuit in 1845, and from 1860 efforts were made to secure a permanent chapel site there. (fn. 28) Not until 1871, however, was a wooden chapel, bought from Shilton, erected outside the village on the west side of the Bampton road, on land belonging to the Hickmans, who were chapel members. (fn. 29) The meeting was served from Witney, and in 1900 had a congregation of 40 and 19 members. (fn. 30)

In 1902 a new chapel with 100 sittings was built on Main Road on land given by Alfred Allsworth, the village postmaster; many chapel trustees were from prominent village families, notably the Beckinsales, Goulds, Townsends, and Hickmans. (fn. 31) The old chapel continued as a school until demolished in 1908, when a schoolroom was added to the new chapel. (fn. 32) The chapel and Sunday school flourished in the early 20th century, with as many as 80 'adherents' in the 1920s; (fn. 33) the chapel became part of the United Methodist circuit in 1932. As late as the 1970s the rector of Witney acknowledged the predominant influence of the Methodists in Curbridge, particularly with the young, (fn. 34) but by then membership had fallen to fewer than 20, and services ceased in 1978. (fn. 35) The chapel, of squared and rusticated stone, with a Welsh slate roof and decorative bargeboards on the gable, continued in use for parish council and other meetings. (fn. 36)

Some Curbridge inhabitants were members of Cote Baptist church in 1883, and in 1910 A. W. Townsend of Manor Farm was deacon. (fn. 37)


  • 1. None was listed in confirmations of churches and chapels to the bishop of Winchester: e.g. Reg. Pontissara, ii (Cant. & York Soc. 30), p. 420.
  • 2. Above, intro. (growth of settlement).
  • 3. Oxon. Eyre, 1241 (ORS 56), p. 140; above, Witney, intro. (borough bdies); churches.
  • 4. Bodl. MS Top. Oxon. d 217, f. 31.
  • 5. Oxon. Wills, 37; above, Witney, churches (archit.).
  • 6. ORO, MS dd Par. Witney c 9, passim.
  • 7. Ibid. MS Oxf. Dioc. c 662, ff. 117–21.
  • 8. Memoirs of C. Jerram, ed. J. Jerram (1855), 326–8, 350; ORO, MSS Oxf. Dioc. c 746, ff. 178–85; c 2167, no. 3.
  • 9. ORO, PAR/83/4/F1/1–5; Witney Express, 1 Aug. 1872.
  • 10. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1883).
  • 11. ORO, MS Oxf. Dioc. d 178, p. 618.
  • 12. Ibid. c 2073, faculty pps. 1906.
  • 13. 'Witney Par. Diary', 170 sqq; for St Luke's and Crawley church, above, Witney, churches; Crawley, church.
  • 14. ORO, MSS Oxf. Dioc. c 746, ff. 178–83v.; c 2167, no. 3; PO Dir. Oxon. (1877); illust. (1873 and c. 1880) in Bodl. MSS Top. Oxon. b 91, no. 329a.; c 852, f. 73v.
  • 15. Oxf. Jnl. 7 Jan. 1865.
  • 16. Kelly's Dir. Oxon. (1883 and later edns); ORO, PAR/83/11/A1/1; ibid. MS Oxf. Dioc. c 2073, faculty pps. 1895, 1906.
  • 17. ORO, PAR/83/10/A1/1; ibid. MS Oxf. Dioc. c 2073, faculty pps. 1906; Witney Gaz. 15 Dec. 1906, 6 Apr. 1907. For Foreshew, M. Bee, 'Clinch and Co.', Oxon. Local Hist. vol. 2, no. 3 (1985), 77–9.
  • 18. Pevsner, Oxon. 567.
  • 19. ORO, MS Oxf. Dioc. c 2073, faculty 1958.
  • 20. Evans, Ch. Plate, 183; for plate in 1899, cf. ORO, MS dd Par. Witney b 20.
  • 21. Ch. Bells Oxon. i. 112.
  • 22. 'Witney Par. Diary', 101; ORO, MSS Oxf. Dioc. c 2074, churchyard pps. 1898; c 2073, conveyance 1974.
  • 23. ORO, PAR/83/1/R2; PAR/83/1/R5.
  • 24. Complete Peerage, vi. 489 sqq; Burke's Extinct Baronetcies (1838 edn), 556–7; cf. VCH Oxon. vii. 211; above, Witney, Rom. Cath.
  • 25. H. E. Salter, 'Oxon. Recusants', OAS Rep. (1924), 30. For Tempest's connection with Caswell and Brize Norton, Cal. SP Dom. 1603–10, 593; B. Stapleton, Oxon. Catholic Missions (1906), 73–4.
  • 26. ORO, NM2/B/A5/1, s.a. 1826–7.
  • 27. Ibid. NM2/A/A5/1, s.a. 1832.
  • 28. Ibid. NM2/B/A5/2, s.a. 1845; NM2/B/A5/4, s.a. 1860.
  • 29. Ibid. NM 2/B/A5/5, esp. s.a. 1870–1; W. J. Embling, 'Rich Memories of. . . Primitive Methodists' (TS [n.d., after 1957]), 4: copy in COS; for site, OS Map 1:2500, Oxon. XXXI. 11 (1880 and later edns). Though the chapel was variously said to be of stone or tin, Witney Gaz. 1 June 1901 confirms that it was of wood and plaster.
  • 30. ORO, NM2/B/A2/11.
  • 31. Embling, 'Primitive Methodists', 4; Witney Gaz. 1 June 1901, 24 May, 18 Oct. 1902; ORO, NM2/B/A5/6–7.
  • 32. ORO, NM2/11/F2/1, passim; NM2/B/A5/7.
  • 33. Ibid. NM2/11/F2/2, passim; NM2/B/A2/11–43 (for membership figures); Embling, 'Primitive Methodists', 12–13.
  • 34. 'Witney Par. Diary', 172.
  • 35. ORO, NM2/C/A1/110; NM2/E/A1/1; Witney Gaz. 16 Nov. 1978.
  • 36. Local information.
  • 37. Regent's Park College, Oxford, Angus Libr., Cote church book 1882–1972.