Methodism comes to Stonesfield

Right up until the early 1800's the Church of England was the primary source of authority in Stonesfield. It's at this point in time that in Stonesfield and its surrounding parishes we find nonconformists taking hold and becoming a greater influence.

The Methodist movement, which would later become the Methodist Church, began in the mid 1700's with a small group of students including brothers John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, who met at Oxford University.

Although the movement started within the Church of England, in 1795 (after the death of John Wesley) there was a formal separation and the Wesleyan Methodist Church was born. In 1807 the Wesleyan Methodists then also saw a major split themselves with the Primitive Methodist Church being formed, the Primitive Methodists believing that they were truer and purer to the teachings of John Wesley. Both groups would ultimately reunite in 1932 to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain, which remains today.

Methodism is and always has been prevalent in Stonesfield, and within the Oliver family also. With a walk around Stonesfield you can see first hand several markers of Methodism from throughout the years.

There is the original Wesleyan Chapel built in 1826 by Michael Osborne at a cost of £150. Today this is a private house.

The Primitive Methodists of Stonesfields also sought to hold services in the above chapel, but when met with opposition in 1855 they built their own chapel on the opposite side of the village. The original date stone still survives and the house is also now a private dwelling, see below

In 1866 the Wesleyan Methodists built a new chapel and the old original chapel continued as a Sunday School for many years. Below are side by side views of the Wesleyan Chapel (as it was called) in 1912 next to the same building as it looks now (now called the Methodist Church).

As previously mentioned, many branches of the Oliver family have attended the Methodist Church. The picture below is of the Stonesfield congregation in July 2000 and many Oliver's and people with Oliver connections are present; Mildred Oliver, Phyllis Morris, Ken Barrett, Kathleen Albert and Mary Evins included.

Now for a really exciting aspect to this story, what I've also discovered is that for several years prior to the Wesleyan Chapel being built in 1826, cottage meetings were held in the village. Even more fascinating is that amongst the small group of people responsible for establishing Methodism in Stonesfield we find David Oliver (see also the 'Oliver's discover dinosaurs?' article).

Just 5 years after the formation of the Wesleyen Church the handwritten letter below, dated 22nd March 1800, is to the Bishop of Oxford from David Oliver and 4 others registering a building (a cottage within Stonesfield) occupied by John Castle as a place of religious meeting. In full it reads:

To the Right Revd Father in God the Bishop of Oxford or whom it may concern.

We whose names are underwritten being Protestant Dissenters from the Church of England commonly called Methodists, beg leave to acquaint you that a Building lately in the occupation of Mr John Castle in the Parish of Stonesfield in the County of Oxford & within your jurisdiction is intended for a place of meeting for Protestant Dissenters for the public worship of Almighty God.

We therefore request that it may be Registered in your Registry pursuant to the statute in such case made & provided & a certificate granted accordingly.

Stonesfield 22nd March 1800

Richard Auger
Richard Hounsslow
Joseph Howes
Thomas Howes
David Oliver

(Click and hold your mouse pointer on the image, then drag, up and down to pan across the document).

I think that for one of our ancestors to have been at the local forefront of such a movement and to have been so passionate about the vision and values of the movement is something we should be very proud of. Similarly to the letter regarding dinosaur bones, this again very much shows that David was an intelligent and capable man.

Having been researching the family in such a wide sense and having come to learn that Methodism has been a big part of life for so many Oliver folks, it seems very appropriate to have discovered this and its gives it a very deep rooted sense of meaning.

The 1800 letter is copyright of the Oxfordshire Records Office.