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Witney

Witney, Oxfordshire, had been a centre of the woollen industry since the Middle Ages. John Wesley visited the town 26 times between 1764 and 1790. The society there was among his favourites. The Bolton family, and Nancy Bolton in particular, were close friends. A preaching house was built in 1769 on Witney High Street. The first trust was set up in 1796.

The cause had always been well supported by the local blanket-making families, in particular the Smiths, Earlys and Marriotts. Jabez Bunting preached at the opening of a new gothic-style church in 1850, built under the leadership of John Early (1783-1862). In 1919 choir stalls and the present organ were given in memory of Charles Early (1824-1912). In 1913 the Witney Mens Bible Class, started and run by Charles William Early (1850-1943), celebrated its 25th anniversary.

From the start, the church had a vigorous Sunday School and 1851 a Wesleyan Day School was started in premises behind the church. This was enlarged in 1884 and a progressive science block added in 1897. The school closed in 1953 when Wood Green secondary modern school opened. The First Witney Company of the Boys Brigade was founded in 1902. In 1995, following the acquisition of land belonging to the church for town-centre development, the church premises were extensively altered. The gallery and pews were removed and new rooms for church and community use added on the south side.

A small Wesleyan chapel was built in Newland around 1827. Corn Street Primitive Methodist Church was built in 1843, and in 1956 was replaced by Davenport Road Methodist Church.

The Witney Wesleyan Circuit was formed in 1803. The Wesleyan and Primitive Circuits merged amicably in 1932. A further merger in 1963 brought into being the Witney and Faringdon Circuit.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

January 1764: 'The congregation in the evening, as well as the next day, was both large and deeply attentive. This is such a people as I have not seen - so remarkably diligent in business, and at the same time of so quiet a spirit, and so calm and civil in their behaviour.'

January 1765: ‘The congregation here, though of so late standing, may be a pattern to all England. When the service was ended, no one spoke, either in the evenings or mornings. All went silently out of the house and yard. Nay, when I followed a large part of them, I did not hear any open their lips till they came to their own houses.’

October 1766: ‘In the evening I preached at Witney (where a little company stand fast together), and thrice the next day, endeavouring to lay ‘line upon line, and precept upon precept.’

August 1767: ‘I preached ... in the evening at Witney. The next evening I preached on Wood Green, near the town, to a huge congregation, on “Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found; call ye upon Him, while He is near.” Scarce any were light or unattentive. Surely some will bring forth fruit unto perfection.’

October 1769: ‘... We went on to Witney, where we have now a large and commodious house. It was well filled in the evening; and (whoever else did) I found it good to be there; especially at the meting of the society. The Spirit of glory and of Christ was among them.’

October 1770: ‘I preached at Witney, in the new house, and again on Thursday morning. After service, many crowding with me into the house, I spent some time with them in prayer. It was a happy opportunity; and many praised God for the consolation they received.’

October 1771: ‘I am surprised at the plainness and artlessness of this people. Who would imagine that they lived within ten, yea or fifty miles of Oxford?’

October 1772: ‘A large congregation was present at five in the morning, many of whom were athirst for full salvation. I talked with twelve of them, who seemed to have experienced it. This is genuine Christianity!’

July 1773: ‘I went on to Witney, and had the satisfaction to find that the work of God was still increasing. In the evening I preached at the east end of the town to a numerous and attentive congregation. In the morning I met the select society, full of faith and love; although the greater part of them are young, some little more than children. At six I preached at the west end of the town, near Mr. Bolton’s door.’

October 1774: ‘I ... found more life than I expected both in the congregation and the society.’

October 1775: [Sunday] ‘I admired the seriousness and decency of the congregation at church... In meeting the select society, I was much comforted to find so few of them losing ground, and the far greater part still witnessing that “the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin”.’

July 1777: ‘In the afternoon I went to Witney and, the evening being fair and mild, preached on Wood Green to a far larger congregation than the house could have contained. I spent the rest of the evening profitably and agreeably with a few of the excellent ones of the earth. I was ready to say, “It is good for me to be here.” No! Go thou and preach the gospel.’

October 1778: ‘Since Nancy Bolton has been detained here, the work of God has greatly revived. Mysterious providence! That once capable of being so extremely useful should be thus shut up in a corner!’

October 1782: ‘I preached at Witney, one of the liveliest places in the circuit, where I always find my soul refreshed.’

July 1783: [Following a severe thunderstorm] Men, women and children flocked out of their houses and kneeled down together in the streets... The spirit of seriousness, with that of grace and supplication, continued. [At a prayer meeting on the Saturday evening] the people flocked together so that the preaching-house was more than filled and many were constrained to stand without the doors and windows. On Sunday morning, before the usual time of service, the church was quite filed. Such a sight was never seen in that church before. The rector himself was greatly moved, and delivered a pressing, close sermon, with great earnestness. When I came on Wednesday the same seriousness remained on the generality of the people. I preached in the evening on Wood Green, where a multitude flocked together, on the Son of Man coming in His glory. The word fell heavily upon them, and many other hearts were as melting wax.

[Next morning] ‘At five they were still so eager that the preaching-house would not near contain the congregation. After preaching, four-and-thirty persons desired admission into the society, every one of whom was (for the present at least) under very serious impressions...’

October 1783: ‘The flame which was kindled here by that providential storm of thunder and lightning is not extinguished, but has continued ever since, with no discernible intermission. The preaching-house is still too small for the congregation.’

October 1784: ‘At twelve I met the children, and was pleased to find that the impression which was made on them by the storm last year is not yet worn out; and the whole society, still double to what it was, appears to be much in earnest.

‘I met the select society and found many of them who for several years have lost nothing of what they had received, but do still love God with all their heart...’

October 1785: ‘... Witney, where the power of God used to be eminently present.’

October 1787: ‘The house at Witney would nothing near contain the people in the evening... I deeply love this people; they are so simple of heart, and so much alive to God.’

October 1788: ‘I preached at Witney, which I generally find a very comfortable place. I think much of the impression which was made on the people here at the time of the great storm remains still.’

October 1789: ‘I found a lively people, many of whom were hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Of what use to a whole community may one person be, even a woman, that is full of faith and love!’

October 1766: ‘In the evening I preached at Witney (where a little company stand fast together), and thrice the next day, endeavouring to lay ‘line upon line, and precept upon precept.’

August 1767: ‘I preached ... in the evening at Witney. The next evening I preached on Wood Green, near the town, to a huge congregation, on “Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found; call ye upon Him, while He is near.” Scarce any were light or unattentive. Surely some will bring forth fruit unto perfection.’

October 1769: ‘... We went on to Witney, where we have now a large and commodious house. It was well filled in the evening; and (whoever else did) I found it good to be there; especially at the meting of the society. The Spirit of glory and of Christ was among them.’

October 1770: ‘I preached at Witney, in the new house, and again on Thursday morning. After service, many crowding with me into the house, I spent some time with them in prayer. It was a happy opportunity; and many praised God for the consolation they received.’

October 1771: ‘I am surprised at the plainness and artlessness of this people. Who would imagine that they lived within ten, yea or fifty miles of Oxford?’

October 1772: ‘A large congregation was present at five in the morning, many of whom were athirst for full salvation. I talked with twelve of them, who seemed to have experienced it. This is genuine Christianity!’

July 1773: ‘I went on to Witney, and had the satisfaction to find that the work of God was still increasing. In the evening I preached at the east end of the town to a numerous and attentive congregation. In the morning I met the select society, full of faith and love; although the greater part of them are young, some little more than children. At six I preached at the west end of the town, near Mr. Bolton’s door.’

October 1774: ‘I ... found more life than I expected both in the congregation and the society.’

October 1775: [Sunday] ‘I admired the seriousness and decency of the congregation at church... In meeting the select society, I was much comforted to find so few of them losing ground, and the far greater part still witnessing that “the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin”.’

July 1777: ‘In the afternoon I went to Witney and, the evening being fair and mild, preached on Wood Green to a far larger congregation than the house could have contained. I spent the rest of the evening profitably and agreeably with a few of the excellent ones of the earth. I was ready to say, “It is good for me to be here.” No! Go thou and preach the gospel.’

October 1778: ‘Since Nancy Bolton has been detained here, the work of God has greatly revived. Mysterious providence! That once capable of being so extremely useful should be thus shut up in a corner!’

October 1782: ‘I preached at Witney, one of the liveliest places in the circuit, where I always find my soul refreshed.’

July 1783: [Following a severe thunderstorm] Men, women and children flocked out of their houses and kneeled down together in the streets... The spirit of seriousness, with that of grace and supplication, continued. [At a prayer meeting on the Saturday evening] the people flocked together so that the preaching-house was more than filled and many were constrained to stand without the doors and windows. On Sunday morning, before the usual time of service, the church was quite filed. Such a sight was never seen in that church before. The rector himself was greatly moved, and delivered a pressing, close sermon, with great earnestness. When I came on Wednesday the same seriousness remained on the generality of the people. I preached in the evening on Wood Green, where a multitude flocked together, on the Son of Man coming in His glory. The word fell heavily upon them, and many other hearts were as melting wax.

[Next morning] ‘At five they were still so eager that the preaching-house would not near contain the congregation. After preaching, four-and-thirty persons desired admission into the society, every one of whom was (for the present at least) under very serious impressions...’

October 1783: ‘The flame which was kindled here by that providential storm of thunder and lightning is not extinguished, but has continued ever since, with no discernible intermission. The preaching-house is still too small for the congregation.’

October 1784: ‘At twelve I met the children, and was pleased to find that the impression which was made on them by the storm last year is not yet worn out; and the whole society, still double to what it was, appears to be much in earnest.

‘I met the select society and found many of them who for several years have lost nothing of what they had received, but do still love God with all their heart...’

October 1785: ‘... Witney, where the power of God used to be eminently present.’

October 1787: ‘The house at Witney would nothing near contain the people in the evening... I deeply love this people; they are so simple of heart, and so much alive to God.’

October 1788: ‘I preached at Witney, which I generally find a very comfortable place. I think much of the impression which was made on the people here at the time of the great storm remains still.’

October 1789: ‘I found a lively people, many of whom were hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Of what use to a whole community may one person be, even a woman, that is full of faith and love!’

Sources

  • Witney (High Street) Methodist Church Centenary 1850-1950 (1950)
  • Witney and its townships (ed. S Townley), The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A history of the county of Oxford Vol XIV 2004 pp151-154; 159-160

Entry written by: KEC
Category: Place

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