In the late 16th & 17thCs, there were 2 prominent Roman Catholic Families of Gentry in the Parish, the Belsons & the Pigotts. The 16thC Augustine (I) Belson of Stokenchurch, the 1st of the Aston Branch of the Family, was the son of William Belson of Brill and his wife Anne, the daughter of Walter Curson of Waterperry. He was thus related on his mother’s side to one of the leading Roman Catholic Families in the County, and to Thomas Belson of Brill, who was Martyred at Oxford in 5th July 1589. Augustine’s children intermarried with other Roman Catholic Families and Anne Tempest of County Durham, the wife of his son & heir Robert Belson, was Fined for Recusancy in 1577 and again in 1620. Augustine (II) (d.1616), the son & heir of Robert & Anne, and his wife Mildred were also Recusants. Another Branch of the Belson Family lived at Kingston Blount, but no member of it was listed as a Recusant, and they may well have conformed.
The Aston Belsons appear to have been related by marriage to their neighbours the Pigotts: Julian, the Widow of Bartholomew Pigott, who was listed as a Recusant in 1577 was probably the sister-in-law of Robert Belson. Another Member of the Family, Nicholas Pigott of Stokenchurch, in Aston Parish, was reported in 1592 to be among the Recusants in the County remaining at Liberty. Later, Margaret & Elizabeth Pigott, his wife & daughter-in-law, were Fined. The Willoughbys, Lords of Aston and Kingston Manors, may also have been Roman Catholics. They had Business dealings with the Pigotts, and John Willoughby was Granted a Pass in 1614 to Travel Abroad provided he did not go to Rome.
Between 1592 &d 1622, 6 women Members of lesser Aston Families were Fined.
After the removal of the Belsons of Aston to Brill in about 1614, Roman Catholicism probably declined. The Compton Census of 1676 recorded none; the Vicar of Aston reported in 1706 that Maurice Belson was a ‘reputed Papist‘, and in 18thC visitation returns, a Farmer’s Wife was reported in 1768 and 2 Servants in 1823.
After the Restoration, there was a strong Nonconformist element in Kingston. When the Baptist Berkshire Association met at Tetsworth in 1653 Kingston was represented. In 1669 Meetings were being held at Kingston in the Houses of Richard Chitch, John North & Mrs Mary North; the Congregation, allegedly 30 or 40 in number, was reported to consist of Presbyterians, Independents, Quakers & Sabbatarians. The Compton Census recorded only 14 Dissenters, but these were Parishioners and the Meetings at Kingston were presumably attended by Outsiders as well. Chitch & North were the Preachers, together with Ralph Button, an ejected Canon of Christ Church and a distinguished Congregationalist, and ‘one Belcher‘. Belcher was perhaps the Anabaptist John Belchior (or Belcher) of Haseley, who had Preached against the Restoration at Oxford in 1660. The last 2 were described as ‘Foreigners’, who ‘under the pretence of receiving the Rent come hither to Teach‘.
Chitch’s House was still being used as a Conventicle and had been so for the last 20-yrs, when in 1682 the Vicar, Thomas Reynolds, reported to the Bishop on his difficulties with the Anabaptists. One of the Churchwardens, who was also the Constable, had been expelled for not receiving Communion, but the Dissenting element in the Parish was strong enough to choose as his successor Chitch’s son-in-law John Munday, a Smith, who was an infrequent Churchgoer and not a Communicant. The Leader of the Nonconformist group was still Richard Chitch; others included his son John, a Maltster, and another Member of the Family; William Turner, their ‘Speaker‘; ‘Mr. William Stafford – a great Oliverian‘ and an Officer under the Commonwealth, who believed that anyone who Worshipped in Church was a ‘Barbarian‘; and Thomas Bonnot, a Shoemaker and ‘Practitioner in Physic‘, who promised to come to Church; John North, a ‘stubborn & resolute Separatist‘, was still alive, and his son John said he could not go to Church while his father lived. The Vicar questioned them on their reasons for not attending Church. He found that the older Members were the most resolute Dissenters and some of the younger were afraid of their fathers. He finally arranged for 4 of the Chief Offenders to be presented at Quarter Sessions for Non-attendance, but he thought there would be great difficulty in breaking the ‘Dissenting Knot‘ because of the ‘Advice & Support‘ the Group got from John Clerke, the Lord of the Manor.
Chinnor Tithe Map c.1840
During the following decades, the Community declined and by 1738 there were only 2 Anabaptists left. In his return of 1759, the Vicar made no mention of Nonconformists; in 1768 there was one Anabaptist; at the beginning of the 19thC there was a Revival: as late as 1811 the Vicar reported that there were no Dissenters, but from 1814 onwards he said there were a few, whom he called Methodists, who met at each others’ Houses or at the Chapel in Chinnor. This was the beginning of the Congregational or Independent Congregation, said to have been Founded in 1817. Their Meeting-House, which was in existence by 1820, was built on Land given by the Minister of Chinnor, John Paul. The Congregation evidently throve, for in 1834 the Vicar reported that one Farming Family, the Munday’s and very many of the poorer Classes were Dissenters. The Congregation evidently continued to be closely connected with that of Chinnor. Of 13 new Trustees appointed in 1844, only 3 lived in Kingston and most of the rest in Chinnor or its Hamlets. They included the Schoolmaster of Chinnor, 3 Farmers, and several Tradesmen or Craftsmen. The 1851 Census gives the average attendance at the Independent Chapel as 106 in the afternoon and 25 in the evening in addition to about 30 children attending Sunday School. The Chapel was still being served from Chinnor. In the early 1860s, a New Chapel was built on Ground offered by the Lord of the Manor in exchange for the old Site. The Chapel then built still exists as a Branch Church of Chinnor (1958).
In 1847, 2 Labourers’ Houses, one in Aston and one in Kingston, were Registered for Worship. These belonged to the Mormonites, whose ‘Apostolic Baptist Chapel‘ in Aston Rowant had just been Built in 1851 presided over by Thomas Hailey. Their average attendance was 12 in the Afternoon and 26 in the Evening. In 1854 the Vicar confirmed that there were only a few Mormonites in the Parish, but nevertheless attributed the decrease in his Congregations to their ‘Sad Influence‘. The Mormonite Meeting-house was still open in 1860, but by 1866 was no longer mentioned.
The Mormon Church was formally Organised in America in 1830 and was soon Courting controversy & bad press from mainstream Christian Church Members. In 1844, the Prophet and Founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, was Assassinated whilst in Prison on Charges of Riot & Treason. “The Mormon Religion included not only a Theology and a standard of Morality but also an Eschatology, an Economic Philosophy and a Gift of Community Building that inevitably meant Political & Economic tensions with their neighbours.” In spite of this persecution, the 1rst Foreign Missions were sent to Britain in 1840 with the task of recruiting Converts to Emigrate and boost Church numbers in America. The burgeoning Towns & Cities of Victorian England provided rich pickings for the Mormons, yielding plenty of eager Converts, who were desperate for the ‘New Life’ the Mormons promised them. The Missionaries were extremely successful and by 1850 the Church had 30,747 Members in England, compared with 21,092 in North America and the rest of the World. Estimates from Mormon Church Historians suggest that almost 100,000 British Followers of the Mormon Faith Emigrated to Utah, the Mormon State in the 19thC. There were many reasons for the “Bad Press” surrounding the Church in Britain, one of these was the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepted & encouraged Polygamy, something that was strongly frowned upon by both the Anglican & Catholic Churches. Many Converts dreamt of making the Pioneering journey to Utah and building a new Home in a Mormon Community.