Watlington Churches

The Ancient Ecclesiastical Parish, a Vicarage in Aston Deanery, was reduced in size in 1854 when the detached Liberty of Warmscombe, another small detached portion called Patemore Field, and some land in the South of the Parish near Pishill Church, with a total population of about 45, were added to Pishill.  For the purpose of collecting Tithes, the Ancient Parish was divided after the Reformation and possibly earlier into 2 Districts: Watlington, which consisted of the greater part of the Parish, and Greenfield (about 800a), which included Watlington Park.


The Church is 1st mentioned in Robert d’Oilly’s Foundation Grant to Oseney Abbey in 1129.  On Robert’s death in 1142 King Stephen seems to have Granted the Manor to William de Chesney.  As there had been no vacancy since 1129 Oseney had never gained possession and it apparently lost the Church in 1142, for it is not mentioned in a confirmation of Oseney’s Churches in 1143.  Henry d’Oilly confirmed his father’s Gift either before or after 1143, and William de Chesney himself subsequently made a Grant of the Church to Oseney Abbey, a Grant that was confirmed by Archbishop Theobald c. 1151–4. Between 1154 & 1160 Halinad de Bidun, by then Lord of the Manor, made a 3rd Grant of the Church with some of his Demesnes.  The Grant was confirmed c.1200 by his daughter Sarah and her husband William Paynell.


Oseney had evidently appropriated the Church by 1185 at least,  and early in the 13thC, a Vicarage was ordained.  The Church remained in Oseney’s possession until its Dissolution in 1539, although it sold the Presentations of 1502 & 1538.  In 1542 the Rectory & Advowson were Granted by the Crown to the new Bishopric of Oxford,  but by 1558 they were again in the hands of the Crown, which Presented in that year to the Vicarage.  In 1585 John Quatremain, whose family Farmed the Rectory (Hill Road) in 1535 and were probably still doing so, obtained a Grant of the Rectory and Advowson for 21 years.  He and his son Jeremy twice Presented in the late 16thC and sold one Presentation.  In 1600 Jeremy Quatremain sold both Rectory and Advowson to John Simeon of Brightwell Baldwin and his son John.  Although in 1648, during Sir John Simeon’s Recusancy, the Rectory was sold, the Sale does not seem to have taken effect for in 1654 Sir John settled the Advowson and Rectory on his son George, who sold them in 1667 to Henry Parker, Esq.  By 1705 both were in the hands of Thomas Stonor of Watlington Park.  John Wickham of Garsington had Presented to the Living in 1681, having been sold one turn presumably, but in 1721 Stonor, though a Roman Catholic, Presented.  In the 1730’s Stonor sold the Advowson on a Lease renewable every 21 years to Edward Home of Pyrton who, with Samuel Home of London, Merchant, was Patron in 1757.  J H Tilson later bought both Rectory and Advowson, perhaps in 1753 when he purchased Watlington Park from the Stonors.  On his death in 1837 Tilson, having sold the Rectory, left the Advowson to his daughter Maria, later the wife of Thomas Shaen Carter.   Their younger son Basil Carter inherited it and in 1886 became Vicar on his own presentation.   In 1889 he transferred the Advowson to the Bishopric of Oxford,  with which it has since remained.

In the early Middle Ages Watlington was one of the richest Rectories in the Deanery, valued at £16 13s 4d in 1254 and at £13 6s 8d in 1291.  But the value did not increase and in the late 15thC the Abbey was Leasing it for £12 a year, at one time to a Reading Clothier, and having difficulty in collecting even that amount.  In the early 16thC the Rectory was Farmed for £12 11s and for £12 1s in 1535.

According to the 1st Ordination of the Vicarage, the Abbey received all the Revenues of the Parish.  Later, when this arrangement was modified, the Rectory consisted of most of the Great Tithes, the Tithes of Wool, and half of those of Lambs; the Rector only had part of the Tithes of Hay and owed a Corn Rent to the Vicar.


In 1815, by the Inclosure Award, the Rectorial Tithes of Greenfield were commuted for £83 18s 5d and those of Watlington for about 315 acres of land, lying partly South of the Mill along the Boundary of Britwell Salome and partly to the East of Watlington Park near the Pyrton Boundary.  The Farm so formed was known as Rectory Farm, and early in the 19th century was sold by the Tilsons to a Mr Allnut. As Lay Rectors, the Owners of this farm were, until the 20thC, responsible for the upkeep of the Chancel.

In the 13thC, the Rectory had 3 Virgates of land, said to have been given by a Henry d’Oilly – land that evidently became amalgamated with Oseney’s other land in the Parish, for after the Reformation the Rectory Estate consisted of only a House and Barn and 5 acres of Pasture.

In the Middle Ages, there were various claims to the Tithes of Watlington, one of which, that of Préaux Abbey, threatened to be serious. Towards the end of the 12thC the Abbey, without the leave of Oseney and contrary to the prohibition of the Archbishop of Canterbury issued about 1182, built a Chapel at Watcombe. Préaux hoped no doubt to acquire the Tithes and Offerings of the Residents and in fact to create a separate Parish for the Chiltern part of Watlington.  Litigation between Oseney and Préaux continued for some 5 years until Préaux was finally forbidden by Papal Judges Delegate to hold Services.  While this contest was proceeding Préaux’s tenant William of Hamelden was disputing Oseney’s Right to collect Tithes in Watcombe. In 1184 Judgement was given in his favour by Judges Delegate, but in the following year when the Tenants of Préaux refused to pay Tithes for their lands in Watlington (i.e. Watlington-below-the-Hill presumably), they were ordered to do so. Finally in 1192 after Préaux had been forced to give up the project of maintaining a Chapel at Watcombe, William of Hamelden’s successor, Jordan of Hamelden, lost a Tithe case against Oseney.  It was decided that he and his Family were Parishioners of Watlington Church and that, although he claimed that Préaux was exempt from the Payment of Tithes on its cultivated land, he had no special right to exemption. The quarrel persisted, however, and in 1217 Osbert of Hamelden recognised that his Demesne Tithes at Watcombe belonged to Oseney.  Another manifestation of the efforts of Préaux Tenants to gain Independence of Oseney was a dispute in 1273 over Mortuary Fees.  When the Abbey tried to collect its usual Mortuary of the best Beast, in this case, a horse, from a Free Tenant of William de la Ho in Watcombe, William pleaded that he had himself taken the horse, since it was not the Custom for his Tenants to pay Mortuaries to Oseney. The decision of the Archdeacon’s Court was that the Mortuary was owed to Oseney, but a compromise was agreed on.

In its relations with other Tithe Claimants Oseney had an easier passage.  The claim of the Church of St George in Oxford Castle to 2/3rds of the Demesne Tithes of the Demesne of Robert d’Oilly, Granted early in the 12th century, naturally terminated in 1149 when Oseney Abbey acquired the Church with all its possessions.  The Church of Watlington was already in Oseney’s possession.  Bec Abbey’s claim to the Tithes of 16 acres of ‘the Fee of la Botee‘, apparently along the Swyncombe Boundary, was also easily settled, in the time of Abbot Hugh (1184–1205).  These and other neighbouring Tithes were given by Oseney to Bec in return for a Pension of 4s, which was later exchanged for a 4s Rent in Oxford.  Early in the 13tC, the Rector of Bix tried to collect the Tithes of the half-hide held by Medmenham Abbey (Bucks), but Papel Judges Delegate decided that these Tithes belonged to Oseney.  Two other Rectors, several centuries later, were more successful in their claims to Watlington Tithes: at the Inclosure Award the Rector of Britwell Salome was awarded an acre for some Tithes in Cuddington and Windmill Fields and some old Inclosures belonging to Dame Alice Farm; the Rector of Newington received 3 acres for some Tithes in West Field below the Hill.

According to the Ordination of Bishop Hugh de Welles about 1220, Watlington was to be endowed like Oseney’s other Vicarages:  the Abbey was to have almost all the Income of the Church except some Mortuaries and Oblations, and was to provide the Vicar with money for clothing, with a horse and a boy and to feed and support him.  It is not clear how long this arrangement, which meant that the Vicar was closely dependent on the Abbey, continued, but a change probably occurred at the Dissolution of the Abbey, if not earlier.  By 1590 the Vicar was certainly collecting Tithes himself.  In that year Thomas Griffiths (Vicar 1584–97) was trying to enforce the payment of Tithes of Coneys in Watlington Park.   A 17thC Vicar, Charles Price, in 1638 went so far as to implead John Chamberlain of Shirburn in the King’s Court over the non-payment of Tithes of Wood.  Chamberlain cited the 14th-century law freeing Woods of 20 years’ growth from Tithes, and the Woods of Watlington remained Tithe free.  By 1718 an agreement had been reached over the Tithes of Watlington Park and a modus of £1 13s 4d was paid.  The Vicar also received a modus of 10. from each of the 2 Mills.

From the Rector, the Vicar received a yearly amount of grain: 2 quarters each of wheat and barley, 3 of oats and 20 days’ threshing of wheat-straw and 8 days’ of barley-straw. He also had the small Tithes except those of wool and half of those of lambs; the Tithe of Hay on the west side of the Town; and a few acres of Glebe.

In 1535 the Vicarage was valued at £12.  Early in the 18thC, it was worth £45 and some years later the Vicar said he received about £60.  In 1762 the Living was augmented by £400, £200 from Queen Anne’s Bounty and £200 from Private Benefactors so that in the early 19thC it was worth about £132.

In 1815, when the Parish was inclosed, the Vicar’s corn rent from the Lay Rector was commuted for £78 3s; his Tithes in Watlington for 47 acres of land; and his Tithes in Greenfield for £21 17s 3d.  The Vicarage, which was worth £175 in 1831, was augmented by £50 a year from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1889, & in 1954 was worth £532.

The Vicar had a small Glebe, which in the 17thC and in 1712 consisted of a few acres in the Open fields, an Arable Close, and perhaps an acre of Woodland,  which was added to by the small estate (c.15 acres) in Watlington and Britwell Salome bought with the money from Queen Anne’s Bounty.  After the Inclosure the Glebe became amalgamated with the Vicar’s Tithe Award, and, known as Glebe farm (53a), formed the principal endowment of the Living until it was sold in 1911 to Captain Sueter.

In Thomas Toovey’s account of his Vicarage, made in 1712, he states that besides his Glebe he had the Churchyard, which he Let for 12s a year, and various Offerings and Dues.  It was the custom for all Parishioners over 16 years ‘of whatsoever rank‘ to pay 2d each as an Easter Offering, 5s for a Marriage by Licence, 2s 6d for a Marriage by Banns, and 6d for a Churching.  In addition to the Statutory Mortuary dues from the Parishioners, the Vicar received 5s for burying a non-Parishioner in the Churchyard.  Under the Wills of Robert Parslowe and William Greendon, he received 10s twice a year for 2 Sermons.


Several Bequests of Property to the Church enabled the Churchwardens to dispense successfully with a Church Rate until increasing expenses in the 18thC led the Wardens into chronic Financial difficulties.  Moreover, as no record had been kept of the precise terms of the Bequests, controversy arose over the proper disposal of the Income. In the 17thC a part of it had been regularly used for Charitable purposes,  but in the early 18thC Toovey claimed that the Church Building had been shamefully neglected and that the money had been misappropriated to support the Poor, thus ‘easing the Parish‘ of its burdens.  Later, in 1743, it was stated that £25 a year from the Church Estate had been unjustly applied to current Church Expenses such as the purchase of Books, Sacramental Wine, and the Clerk’s Salary, instead of to the upkeep of the Fabric.  In 1748 Toovey alleged that, in order to prevent a Church Rate being levied to pay for such expenses and to complete the repair of the Church houses which had fallen into a ruinous state, a plot had been hatched by some of the Parishioners to elect a Churchwarden who would refuse to agree to a Rate. An ‘infamous‘ and immoral Alehouse Keeper was elected and sworn in; the Vicar’s Warden refused to serve with him and Toovey had to ask for the Bishop’s intervention.

In 1812 owing largely to the expenses of Inclosure the Church owed £70 on its Estate, a Debt which the Parishioners still showed no desire to pay off by a Rate.  At the Inclosure Award the Vicar and Churchwardens had been awarded about 4 acres and the Trustees of the Church Estate 8 acres.


OS Map 1937 Sth Oxon XLVII.14 (Watlington)
The names are known of more than 35 of Watlington’s Vicars in the Middle Ages:  John, one of the earliest of these, left money to keep a lamp burning in the Chancel.  Andrew (1225–7), whose Institution is the earliest recorded, was deprived of the Vicarage for Incontinency.  Few stayed in the Parish for as long as 10 years.  An exception was John of Little Gatesdon (1321–41), in whose long incumbency there occurred an event of some interest.  In 1322 the Bishop granted an Indulgence to those visiting Watlington Church and praying for the soul of William de Hattecumbe, buried in the Churchyard. William was a member of a local Knightly Family and may have been a Hermit, for the ‘Hermitage‘, a little North of the Church survives as a place name.  The next 2 Priests died in 1349, no doubt of the Black Death. In the late 14thC the Living was frequently exchanged, very probably because of the modest endowment of the Vicarage. This fact no doubt also accounted for the Pluralism and non-Residence found in the 15thC, when the Church began to be served by University Graduates. Master John Smart (1422–53), for example, was a Pluralist,  and another, Master John Scott (1502–38), was non-Resident and left the care of the Parish to a Curate, and so perhaps must take some blame for the Witch reported in 1517.  Some slight indications of the views of the people of Watlington and of their Vicars on the Religious Controversies of the 16th & 17thCs have survived.  That there was some disapproval of King Henry VIII’s divorce of Katharine of Aragon appears from Sir Walter Stonor’s report to Cromwell in 1534 about 2 Watlington women, of whom one was alleged to have made offensive remarks about Ann Boleyn and the other had said that it was ‘never Merry in England since there were 2 Queens in it‘.  The Wills of the time also reveals the strength of local devotion to the Church.  Money was frequently left for Tapers and Lights to burn before the various Altars of Our Lady, St. Nicholas, St. Katherine, St. Leonard, All Hallows, and particularly before ‘Our Lady of Comfort‘. There was a ‘Benefactors’ Roll‘  and some considerable Gifts of Land and Money were made to the Church during this Period.

By the 17thC, the Reformed Church was in its turn being attacked. In 1642 Henry Langley was appointed as Puritan Lecturer,  and at about this time public interest in new religious ideas was demonstrated by the debate held in the Church between John Pendarves, the Anabaptist Minister at Abingdon, and Jasper Mayne, the Royalist Vicar of Pyrton. ‘Innumerable people on each side‘ were present, and because of interruptions, the disputation ended in confusion.  The Royalist Vicar of Watlington, Ralph Wells (Vicar c.1650–81), was often molested in Church, and once had to be defended against Parliamentary Soldiers by his Parishioners. After he was ejected he went to serve Piddington, but returned to Watlington after the Restoration. The Parish Register contains the note that he was restored in 1661.  The return for the Hearth Tax of 1665 shows that the Vicarage, rated at 4 hearths, was at this date comparable with the Houses of the more substantial Farmers.  In a Terrier of 1635, it is said to have had 5 bays of Building, a Barn, Orchard, and Garden.

The Parish Register also throws some light on the conduct of Church affairs during this disturbed Period. There are no entries of Baptisms between April 1642 & 6th January 1649/50, and no Burials between December 1642 and January 1650/1. After September 1653 a new Register was begun, recording the Births only and not the Baptisms until a return was made to the old System on 25th July 1660.  From September 1653 the Register was kept by Thomas Gregory, chosen to be ‘Parish Registrar’ (sic) by 19 inhabitants, of whom 4 were Gregory’s.  Only one of the List, Richard Adeane, bears the name of a prominent Family.  According to a note made by a later Vicar these men were ‘the rebellious Oliverians‘ of the Parish. Thomas Gregory’s duty was ‘to register publication of marriages, births and burials‘, and to keep ‘the books of registers and records‘. The Vicar also noted that he supposed that the Register was kept from July to December 1660 by James Gatfield, ‘who was thrust into this Living during the usurpation and continued in it for about 4 or 5 years before the happy Restoration‘.  It is said that for 2 or 3 years after Mr Wells was turned out, his place was supplied by ‘the itinerant hirelings of those times‘.

During the Interregnum, Marriages were solemnized before a Justice of the Peace and in the presence of Thomas Gregory.  The 1st recorded publication of a marriage was that of Thomas Stonor of Watlington and Elizabeth Nevill of Shirburn in 1654, and the 1st solemnisation entered took place in March 1655 before Walter Ellwood, JP, a Parliamentarian and father of the noted Quaker.  He was succeeded in 1656 by John Ovey, JP, of Greenfield. Three children of the Roman Catholic Family of Stonor were Baptised between 1655 and 1677 in Watlington Church.

The successor of Ralph Wells was Thomas Cornish, a member of a Lewknor Family and a man of means.  He was Minister for 30 years and was buried in the Church. Thomas Toovey (Vicar 1711–51), member of an influential Family owning much Property in the Parish and neighbourhood, was Vicar for an even longer period.  Badcock, an early-19th-century Warden and Antiquarian, wrote that he was an active and useful Parson and that he was responsible for seeing that many Parochial and other Town affairs were correctly managed, and for transcribing and preserving some Ancient Records.  His attempts to restore decency to the Church Service and building by Levying a Church Rate led him into conflict with some of his Parishioners and the ‘infamous‘ Warden they had elected with the object of thwarting these Reforms.  Toovey’s endeavours to get this Warden removed were countered by the Warden’s Presenting the Vicar for not having a Resident Curate, for leaving the Vicarage House out of repair, and for neglecting Prayers on Holy Days.  Since 1723 the vicar had been also Rector of Swyncombe and had resided there since 1731. He was said to be of a quarrelsome temper and the Church was certainly not well attended and Nonconformity made definite progress. Toovey reported in 1738 that there were 100 Communicants at Easter, but on other occasions no more than 20;  only one marriage was registered between 1731 & 1757; of the 3 adults whom he Baptised at the beginning of his Ministry, one, an Apothecary of about 30 years, became afterwards ‘a villainous apostate‘.  Toovey’s return to Bishop Secker’s Visitation Inquiries for both his Parishes are, however, a model of efficiency, and his independence of mind is reflected in the complaint made about the little regard had in the Spiritual Courts to Presentments of Bastardy and the easy Commutations for Penance. He also noted that some did not attend Church because they were attending to their Shops & Trades. He had endeavoured to prevent this, but could not do so ‘without the interposition of Authority‘.

The Curate’s Stipend had been £30 and in 1740 the Vicar objected to paying £40, the Stipend thought fair by the Bishop for a new Curate.  He proposed to Serve the Parish himself rather than pay the higher Rate, but in 1744 he was still not living in the Town, though hoping to be occupying a newly built House, ‘soon after Christmas‘.  The 17thC Vicarage was by this time considered too small and old.  Another sign of his carefulness over money is the entry in the Register that it was usual in some Parishes to pay a Minister when he went to Baptise a child in the house of the parents. He considered 1s 6d reasonable if the Visit was in the Town, 2s 6d if outside.

Toovey was followed by Richard Birkhead (1757–84), a Fellow of Queen’s College, who was Master of a Private Academy as well as of the Free School.  He augmented the value of the Living by obtaining Queen Anne’s Bounty and purchasing land.  Nevertheless, his successor William Leake (1784–1801) was involved in financial trouble.  He held a Berkshire Rectory as well and borrowed on his Livings to support his family of 10. Badcock thought he was a man of highly cultivated understanding but unduly occupied in the pursuit of ‘fancied earthly pleasures‘.  He did not reside and had a Licensed Curate, who left the Duty in the hands of Mr Relton, Vicar of Shirburn and also Master of the School at Watlington.   Religious life certainly appears to have been at rather a low ebb at this time. The number of communicants increased in the 2nd half of the Century, but then Population was also increasing: in 1793 the number never fell below 32 for the main Feasts and in other years it reached as high as 60 to 80 for Easter and Christmas.  Communion was celebrated at the 4 chief Festivals and on 6 other occasions. There were 2 Services and a Sermon on Sundays and usually Prayers on Holy days and Catechising in Lent.  Birkhead had complained that it was rarely possible to get a Congregation in winter owing to the badness of the Roads and the ‘distance of the Church‘.  As the population was largely concentrated in the Town where the Church was this statement is surprising.  Roads in the Town, however, had been greatly improved by the end of the Century and the Congregation may have benefited.

In the early years of the 19thC, there are indications of changes to come: an Organist was appointed in 1801, the Clerk wrote Music for the Church, and there was a revived interest in the appearance of the Building.  The Vicar was greatly assisted by John Badcock, Churchwarden from 1806 to 1808 and from 1811 to 1820,  who has left a record of some of the Church’s social activities and of the views of the more sober-minded Parishioners. He relates how many Shop-keepers and others had ‘painful regrets‘ about the ‘very considerable traffic carried on‘ on Sunday mornings. Early in 1808, an effort was made to end this Custom and the major part of the Tradespeople, including the Dissenters, who had been opening until 10 o’clock immediately discontinued the practice.

Badcock also had strong views on the necessity of providing Sports Grounds for boys and particularly for girls.  He recommended as early as 1816 that Waste ground should be enclosed as a Games Field for girls to play baseball and other games, for whereas men and boys played Cricket, Trap Ball, and Quoits, girls could take exercise only by walking.

Another of the Town’s activities, the Benefit Society, though not a Church Society was Patronised by the Church.  It was established by the local Tradesmen c.1766 and made a weekly Allowance to the Sick and Aged and paid Legacies to Widows. A special Church Service was held for it on Whit Monday and there was a Procession led by a Band. The Society had been encouraged and strengthened in Badcock’s time by the addition of 20 and more Honorary Members.  A Branch Bible Society and Association was founded in 1815.

During the 19thC, the number of Church Services held gradually increased until towards the end of the Century 3 Sunday Services and Daily morning and Evening Prayers were held, and Communion was given every week.  Congregations had reached 300 or 400 by the 1850s, sometimes entirely filling the Church.  One Bishop, in consequence, stressed the Parish’s need for a constantly Resident Minister.

Among later-19thC men who left their mark on the Parish were William Langford (1841–65), a son-in-law of John Tilson of Watlington Park and the Builder of the new Vicarage;  and Arthur Lloyd, Curate-in-charge and afterwards Bishop of Newcastle,  who was responsible for the restoration of the Church.

It was probably in Lloyd’s time that High-Church ritual and other practices were first introduced.  He was a militant High Churchman and dislike of the innovations he would be likely to make seems to have been one of the reasons for the opposition of his Vicar, the Rev A R Hogan, to the restoration of the Church.  Hogan (d. c.1880) was non-resident in 1874 and he made it a ‘condition‘ of giving his Assent to the restoration plans that no Litany-stool or Superaltar should be introduced and that the Altar Rail in the plan be replaced by another for Communicants to kneel at.  He also requested that the 85 seats set aside for the Poor should be increased by 60 or 70, thus equalling what they had hitherto enjoyed.  Hogan’s successor as Vicar was Herbert Barnett, and like Lloyd, he was a strong High Churchman.  Basil Carter (1886–96), S C Saunders (1896–1914), and successive Vicars continued in their footsteps: Altar lights, Mass vestments, Processions with banners and other Traditional Customs have been introduced.

Herbert Barnett is also to be remembered for his efforts to deal with the Church’s financial difficulties.  The Charity Commissioners once again refused as they had in 1820 to allow the use of money from the Church Estates for Church expenses.  A special meeting of the Principal inhabitants resolved that if the Vicar made an appeal for larger Offerings at the Services they would themselves guarantee the estimated deficit of £20 on previous Offerings.  In future, the Offertory was not to be drawn on to help liquidate the Church Debt.  Offerings rose from £80 to £111, but on the other hand, the Offer of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to augment the Vicar’s Stipend by £36 if the Parishioners would contribute a similar amount was not accepted.

Carter and Saunders also left their mark.  Growing population in the Farms and Hamlets on the top of the Chilterns and their need for Christian instruction led the Vicar of Pyrton, Henry Coxe, to hold Sunday afternoon services in about 1880 in a room on Christmas Common.  They were attended by his own Parishioners at Christmas Common (partly in Pyrton) and at Portways as well as by Parishioners of Watlington from Watlington Park, the Hamlets of Christmas Common, Upper and Lower Greenfield, and Northend; of Shirburn from Shirburn Lodge and Portobello and of Pishill from Queen Wood.  The Services were later taken over by Carter, the Vicar of Watlington, and became so overcrowded that in 1891 the Church of the Holy Nativity at Christmas Common was built and consecrated, largely through Carter’s efforts.  It may have been his High Church practices which led to trouble at Watlington in 1889 over the People’s Warden when there was the 1st disputed election.  The successful Candidate was supported by the Publicans and the Dissenters, who regarded him as a ‘good Protestant‘.  In 1896 the Dissenters again tried to influence Church affairs by demanding to inspect the Church Accounts, probably because they suspected that money for the Poor was being unfairly used. The Vicar contended they had no right to see the Accounts.  Saunders and his wife were notable for their many Benefactions and their activity in the Social life of the Town: besides many gifts to the Church, they gave the Vicarage Hall.   Saunders continued the scrapbooks begun by Barnett and Carter, which give so excellent a picture of the Parish activities engaged in by the Vicars between 1882 & 1913.  Saunders, for example, was President of the Working Men’s Club,  the Choral Society, and the Football Club. He was also prominent in the organization of the Annual Flower Show, the Cricket Club, the Amateur Dramatic Society, and other activities, besides all those more closely associated with the Church such as Bible Classes, Sunday Schools, and Mothers’ Meetings.  In the severe winter of 1908 a Soup Kitchen at the Vicarage sold 898 quarts of soup, and again for 3 months in 1914, a Soup Kitchen was organised at the Vicarage.  An important social activity were the Clothing & Coal Clubs; in 1911 there was a membership of 135 and 159 respectively.

The Church of St Leonard now lies on the Outskirts of the Town: it is built of flint with Stone Dressings, and comprises a Chancel, Nave of 4-Bays, North & South Aisles, a South Porch, a South Chapel, a Vestry & Western Tower.  Apart from the Tower it was almost entirely rebuilt in 1877 in the Decorated style.


There seems to have been some uncertainty in the past about its Dedication.  Rawlinson stated in 1718 that it was Dedicated as St Bartholomew or St Mary the Virgin,  and the Town Fair was certainly held on St Bartholomew’s Day.  An early-19thC Historian of Watlington, John Badcock, gave its dedication as St Mary.  In the early 14thC, however, it was undoubtedly dedicated to St Leonard.

Some remnants of an earlier Romanesque Church are preserved in the present Building: in the East wall of the Organ-chamber there is the Diapered Tympanum and plain Arch of an outer Doorway which was in the North wall of the Nave before the North Aisle was added;  in the South wall of the Choir there is a small Column with a Romanesque Capital; and in the West wall of the South Aisle are 2 small Capitals of the same Period.


19thC drawings made before 1877 show that the Church was built mainly in the style of the late 14thC.  Of the Medieval Structure there survive the Battlemented West Tower, the South Nave Arcade, the walls of the South Aisle, and the South wall of a Chapel on the south side of the Chancel.  This Chapel was added about the end of the 15thC.  According to the inscription on a Brass stolen by a Parish Clerk, but recorded by Rawlinson, Maud, the wife of Richard Warner, Woolman, was the Foundress of this Chapel.  The year of her husband’s death is unknown, but it is possible that he was the father of Robert Warner who died between 1478 & 1495,  and that Maud erected the Chapel as a Memorial to him. The Perpendicular window in the South wall and the 2 Bays of Perpendicular Arches on the Northside might well have been constructed in the mid-15th century.  The East wall of the Medieval Chapel was where the 19thC Arch now is, and the Eastward extension was made in the 18thC.  The Decorated window, of which only the upper half remains, that is now in the East wall of the 18thC extension seems to be of about the same date as the East window in the Chancel.  It is likely that it was originally in the South wall of the Chancel, was moved when the Chapel was built and reused in the Chapel’s East wall, and again reused when the Chapel was extended in the 18thC.  It is shown in 19thC drawings of the Church made before the restoration of 1877.


No record has survived of any 16th or 17thC work.  In 1721 a number of paving and building bricks were paid for, so repairs to the Floor were evidently carried out.  In 1743 Thomas Stonor ordered the whole pavement and steps of the Chancel to be taken up and ‘levelled and layd down with new pavement‘ and ‘new facing of stone to the steps.‘ He also ordered the Tiling to be completely repaired.  He examined the roof of the Chancel and could not find that it had ever been ceiled; he agreed with the Bishop that he was not obliged to add ‘what for so many ages has never been thought necessary‘, but nevertheless gave orders for the Chancel to be ceiled.  He also agreed to put in a new East window.   If this was actually done the new window must have been a Copy of the old one for 19thC drawings show a Decorated East window.  It was complained of at the time that the Churchwardens and Leading men of the Parish showed little regard for ‘decency and beauty in their Church‘,  and in 1759 the Archdeacon ordered that the pavement should be ‘new laid‘ in many places and that no Burials should take place in the Church unless a Brick Arch was built over the Grave. The Chancel was to be whitewashed.

In 1763 Edward Horne, member of a leading Family of Tradesmen and Landowners in and around Watlington, petitioned for a Licence to carry on the South wall of the Church until it became even with the East end of the Chancel and to cover the Roof with lead.  The dimensions of the Vault were to be 19ft x 15ft.  The work was carried out as the present measurements of the Eastward extension show.  Externally, a Buttress against the South wall marks the Junction of the 15th-century wall with its 18thC Extension.  The Vault was entered by a large iron gate placed in the original East wall of the Chapel.  There was no direct entry from the Vault into the Chancel, the South wall of which was left intact.  From an early-19thC drawing and description of the Mausoleum it appears that the Horne Memorial Inscriptions were arranged on White Marble Shields; that the Mausoleum was about 8ft high, contained 18 Compartments, and was placed under the East window.  The interior of this Vault was largely rebuilt in the course of the 19thC restoration.

The only other information about the Church before its restoration concerns its internal fittings.  In  Mr Deane (i.e. Simon Adeane, d.1686) promised to refloor the women’s Seats which were next to the ‘Parsonage‘ Seat.   He himself was to have the uppermost Seat next to the Minister and permission to make a Pew there.  He also promised to Wainscot (lower panelling) the wall from the Reading Pew to the Belfry and repair all Benches or Seats that were broken.  In the next Century growing Population led to the Building of Galleries by the Gentry and better-class Tradesmen: in 1704 Richard Lamborne and Francis Nash petitioned to build a Gallery (12ft × 12ft) on Pillars; in 1723 the Vicar, Thomas Toovey, asked for one; and in 1738 when Mr John Duncombe petitioned for yet another it was stated that Mr Horne had one, ‘handsomely adorned and beautified with carved work‘ which was ‘ornamental to the Church‘ and would be obscured if Duncombe’s was erected in the proposed spot.  A few years later Ralph Towney, a Draper, wanted a Gallery near the Singers’ one.  The Singers’ Gallery was a Public one and had been paid for by Subscription.  Meanwhile, the Church was otherwise somewhat neglected.  In 1743 the Lord’s Prayer and the ‘Belief’ were reported out of repair; there were no Commandments;  the Font had not been moved in accordance with Bishop Secker’s wish.  The purchase of the existing beautiful Chandelier, now in the South Chapel, from Mr Cooke in 1778 marks a revival of interest.  In 1781 the King’s Arms were painted by Mr Chapman for £13 13s  In 1808 a new Font was installed near the South door, the old one having been broken when it was moved in 1806; it was made by Hudson of Oxford for £13 17s and was a ‘Gothic stone Font with marble bason and top compleat, carved dove etc.‘.  Payments were made in 1806 & 1808 to Mr Chapman for rewriting the Commandments, the ‘Belief’, and the Lord’s Prayer, and the inscriptions on the Monuments of the Donors of Charities; and in 1815 a new window at the West end of the Church cost £5 1s 4d  In 1817 Robert Exton new-faced the 2 Outer Doors on the South side of the Church ‘in Imitation of ancient Gothic work‘.

In 1842 the Vicar and Churchwardens petitioned the ‘Society for the Enlargement of Churches‘ for a Grant to extend the Church,  and it was probably at this time that unsigned plans by an Architect, now in the Parish Chest, were made, but nothing came of this scheme and it was not until 1874 that restoration was undertaken. The Curate-in-charge, Arthur Lloyd, and his Churchwarden William Wiggins were the chief promoters of the work; the Architects were H J Tollit of Oxford and Edwin Dolby of Abingdon.  The Builder was Martin of Hereford.  The Nave and Chancel were reroofed, a North Aisle, Vestry, and Organ Chamber were added.  The wall of the South Aisle was heightened and a South Porch was built.  The South Aisle was reroofed and the 1st 2 windows counting from the West were rebuilt.  A 14th-century cusped Tomb Recess was preserved in the South wall. The South Doorway into the 15th-century Chapel, shown in Buckler’s drawing of 1822, was blocked up. The Horne Vault to the east of the South Chapel was remodelled.  A window was inserted in the South wall and Arches were made between the Vault and the Chancel Arch and between it and the South Chapel. All the other windows in the Church were repaired.

A considerable amount of work was done on the interior: the Galleries at the West end and over the South Aisle were removed. The Horne Mausoleum in the South Chapel was taken down and the Iron Gates which inclosed the Entrance to it were removed, although the original Petition for a Faculty stated that these were to be preserved.  The Horne Memorial Tablets were reset in the South wall of the Chapel; the Altar Rail, Pulpit, and Reading-desk were renewed.  All the old Seating was removed, except for the Oak Seats in the Chancel,  and the Church was re-Pewed.  The reopening took place in March 1875, but the work of restoration was not completed until 1876.  In 1877 the Diocesan Church Building Society was asked for a further Grant, as £400 had had to be borrowed.

Some further work was done to the Fabric in the 20thC.  The Pinnacles of the Tower were blown off in 1906 and ‘the design of 1873 by Mr Dolby‘ (i.e. Edwin Dolby of Abingdon), which was not carried out because of lack of Funds, was completed. The Architects Tollit & Lee of Oxford supervised the new work.

In 1913 it was proposed to insert Dormer windows in the roof to give light and ventilation, but the outbreak of War prevented the scheme being carried through. Electric lighting was installed in 1937 & in 1957 the Stone Steps and surrounding Stonework were made in the Choir.

During the 2 decades after the restoration, much effort was spent on beautifying the restored building, particularly in the insertion of stained glass windows. Only a few fragments of Medieval glass remained.  These are now in the Vestry and they include a Shield with half the Arms of Stonor in the Dexter, which is thought to have represented originally the marriage of Sir Richard Stonor with Margaret, daughter and heir of Sir John Harnhill (Glos).  It was in the East window, certainly as late as c.1750 and was replaced in 1887 by glass by C E Kemp, which was dedicated as a Memorial of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria; in the same year the stained glass in the East window of the South Chapel, also designed by Kemp, was inserted in Memory of the Rev William Hulton who was Lord of the Manor; and the window of St Paul of Athens in the North Aisle in Memory of a Curate was made by Messrs Atkinson of Newcastle.  Stained glass in the West window of the Tower, also by Kemp, commemorates the Rev Basil T S Carter (Vicar 1886–96). Three more windows each of 2 lights by Kemp were placed in the South Aisle and dedicated in 1902.

WatlingtonStLeonardsStainedGlassBesides stained glass Kemp designed in 1889 the Carved Oak Reredos, now on the South wall of the South Chapel, but originally in the Sanctuary.  In 1897 Messrs Blackler & Sons made a new Alabaster and Marble font to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  They also made a low Screen for the Sanctuary with ornate Brass Gates, which was taken down in 1948 as it had become unsafe.

A new Screen was erected in the South Aisle in 1903 & in 1904 the Church acquired new Clergy Stalls in the Choir, made by Whippell & Sons of Exeter. The Stalls were the gift of the Rev S C Saunders and his wife.  Saunders also gave in 1905 the Organ at a total cost of £1,000.  It was built by Hill & Sons of Islington.  The Rood was erected to Saunders’s Memory after 1914; a Clock by Smith & Son of Derby was placed in the Tower in about 1914; the present High Altar and Panelling in the South Chapel were given in Memory of Annie Wiggins (d.1926): they were designed by C O Skilbeck of Bledlow; and the Lectern was given in memory of Marion Gunston in 1896.

The Church also possesses an Ancient Parish Chest; an oil Painting, presented to the Church in 1906, which is considered a copy of an Altarpiece by Annibale Carraci,  some fine sets of modern Vestments and Copes, and a finely worked Banner done by some ladies of Watlington and completed in 1957.

There are 3 Brasses: William Frankleyn (d.1485), his wife Sibilla, and 4 children; William Gibson (d.1501) and his wife Maud, who are represented in Shrouds;  and Jerem Ewstes (Eustace), Yeoman (d.1587), who was the eldest son of Robert Ewstes and Donor of the Treble Bell.  He is depicted in Doublet, Hose, and short Cloak.  His Inscription also states that his brother John (d.1588) was buried with him.  A 4th Brass once in the South Chapel is now missing.  It was to Richard Warner, Woolman, and his wife Maud, ‘Foundress of this Chapel‘.

Memorials to the following are still in the Church: William Buckland (d.1597/8), Yeoman; Robert Parslowe (d.1683); Thomas Toovey (d.1719), son of Thomas Toovey, Vicar; Anne Burt (d.1730), Relict (widow) of Edward Burt; Mr Richard Hester (d.1736); John North, Gentleman (d.1763); John Tilson (d.1779), only son of George Tilson Esq, Under Secretary of State to Queen Anne; Richard Birkhead, Vicar (d.1784); George Tilson Esq (d.1795), son of John Tilson; the Rev James Relton (d.1795), Vicar of Shirburn; Thomas Barnes (d.1829); George Hester (d.1833); General Christopher Tilson Chowne (d.1834), son of John Tilson of Watlington Park; John Henry Tilson (d. 1836), Magistrate and eldest son of John Tilson; William Hester Wiggins (d.1840); William Cozens (d.Feb 1844); Robert Cozens (d.Dec 1844); Daniel Burton (d.1865); Moses Wiggins (d.1878); Arabella Annie Wiggins (d.1926); John Morris (d.1938), Physician; A E Snow (d.1945), Vicar for 22 years.

The South Chapel contains many Memorials to the Horne Family, including the following: Edward Horne (d.1765), son of Edward and Frances Horne; Charles Horne (d.1772); Edward Horne (d.1777), son of Samuel Horne, Merchant of London; Samuel Horne (d.Jan 1777); John Yardley Horne (d.1789), son of Edward Horne and his wife Sarah; Samuel Horne, 3rd son of Samuel and Jane (d.1797).  These and other Memorials (e.g. to Edward Horne, Gentleman, (d.1745), and his wife Frances (d.1740), daughter of Richard Cornish), were once fixed to a Mausoleum below the East window erected in 1765 by 2 sons of Edward and Frances Horne.  It was removed at the restoration of the Church.

The following Monuments and Inscriptions have been lost or are not now visible: a brass in the South Chapel, already mentioned, to Richard Warner, his wife Maud, and their 16 children; Edmund Wadbury the younger (d.1513) and his wife Jane; Mr Anthony Mollynes (d.1582), his wife Agnes (d.1610), and 2 children, also in the South Chapel; Sir George Simeon, Knight (d. 1665); Simon Adeane Esq with Arms (d.1686); Ralph Wells, Vicar (d.1681); John Ovey (d.1694/5) and son-in-law Richard Lamborn Esq; John Greendown, Surgeon (d.1700); and Thomas Cornish, Vicar (d.1711).

The Medieval Church had 5 Bells,  but none survived after 1663. The new Bells were inscribed as follows:
1) Thomas Stonor Esq, Symon Bartlett, Thomas Gregory, CWHK 1663;
2) Jeram Eaustas [sic] gave this Bell in 1587 HK:
3) Simon Bartlet [sic], Thomas Gregory, WCCW 1663;
4) Feare God 1635;
5) Prayes ye the Lord 1635;
6) Feare God, Honour the King 1660.
Between 1736 and 1743 the Bells were rehung on a new Frame; in 1785 the 5th Bell was recast by C I Rudhall and a new Frame was again made, at a total cost of some £90; in 1867 £62 15s was paid for a 7th Bell.  A Faculty for 2 Bells was obtained in 1905: one new Bell was paid for by subscription and the other out of Mrs Maria Cook’s and Mrs Whetton’s Charity; both were cast by Messrs Mears & Stainbank. All the Bells were hung on a new Frame.

At the time of the Edwardian Inventory, the Church seems to have been not far behind Thame in the richness of its possessions. These included Satin Copes, Vestments of Damask, and Cloth of Tissue Flowered with Gold; Altar Cloths, Pillows, a Corporal of Cloth of Gold with the 5 Wounds on it, and a Canopy with 4 Staves.  There were 2 Silver Chalices and Patens, and many other Silver and Gilt items.  Again, like Thame, Watlington Church had a pair of Organs and as at Thame its Churchwardens seem to have forestalled the King’s Commissioners by selling some of the Church goods; 2 Chalices and a Ship of Silver were sold for £10 11s and apparently other items as well for 12 more entries are missing.  The present Silver includes an Elizabethan Chalice with no Hallmark; a Paten with the Arms of Adeane impaling Whorwood (1688), which was given by Mrs Mary Adeane;  a large Flagon of 1757 given by Samuel Hornefor the more decent celebration of the Holy Communion‘  and an Elizabethan Ciborium given in 1955.

The Registers for Baptisms, Burials, and Marriages date from 1634.

The Churchyard is well stocked with trees, both Limes and Yews.  It was extended in 1867 and a wall was built on the Eastern side with money from Bequests.  There is a Memorial to Thomas Toovey of Howe (d.1720), and a Tomb to the Rev Thomas Williams (d.1801). A Lych-gate was erected in 1901 by the Parishioners in Memory of the Glorious Reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901).

The Church of the Holy Nativity at Christmas Common was Built in 1891 as a Chapel of Ease to Watlington Parish Church.  It is of red brick. The stained glass in the East window is a Memorial to the Rev B T S Carter (Vicar 1887–96); another window, erected in 1908, in Memory of Dr Henry Dixon, Coroner for South Oxfordshire, was designed by L Muirhead of Haseley Court.  A Vestry was added in 1937.  The Church has an open central Turret containing one hemispherical ‘Bell’ or Gong.

Roman Catholicism
After Henry VIII’s death there was considerable Religious unrest in Oxfordshire and in 1549 Lord Gray of Wilton was empowered by the Government to suppress disaffection and to execute ‘evil-disposed persons‘. He ordered William Boolar, a Papist of Watlington, to be Hanged in the Town as an example.  About 15 people, mainly of the Yeoman Class except for Thomas Bennett Esq and his wife, appear in the surviving Recusant Lists of the early 17th century.  At this time the Roman Catholic families of Simeon of Brightwell and Britwell Prior, Chamberlain of Shirburn, Stonor, and Weld all held land in the Parish.  After the Restoration 5 Papists were reported and 10 were Indicted at Quarter Sessions between 1690 and 1728, among them members of the Callis and Shepherd families.  The Shepherds’ House at Greenfield Hamlet along with Watlington Park, which then belonged to the Stonors, were fruitlessly searched for Arms and Horses in 1704.  The isolated character of the Chiltern Villages and the influence of a group of Catholic families enabled Roman Catholicism to survive in this area after the Hanoverian Succession and at a time when the fortunes of the whole English Community were at their lowest, particularly in the South of England. Great encouragement and support came from Bishop John Talbot Stonor, appointed in 1716 Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District and Bishop of Thespiae.  Until his death in 1756 he was often at Watlington Park. The 6th Thomas Stonor had resided there in the 1670s and had a Chapel, but in the 1st half of the 18thC, the House was mostly Leased to Roman Catholic Tenants.  There is a record in 1730 of 2 Converts being ‘reconciled to the Church‘ by the Bishop before the whole Congregation in this Stonor Chapel.  From here and his Chief Oxfordshire Headquarters at Stonor he was constantly visiting and confirming members of his Flock.  The chief burden of Parochial work at Watlington and Christmas Common, however, fell on the Chaplain to Sir Edward Simeon, a cousin of the Stonors who had come to live at Britwell Prior in 1729.  The Roman Catholic congregation in Watlington, however, was small: in 1738 the Vicar reported that there were 7 Papists in Watlington and one or 2 of ‘mean rank‘ at Christmas Common;  among them were 2 women Converts.  Numbers fluctuated, but in 1767 there were said to be as many as 18 Papists.  There were Chaplains at Britwell until at least 1788, in which year the Britwell Register ends. Thereafter Watlington was served from Stonor.  The Church of the Sacred Heart was built in the Village in 1930 by the efforts of Father William Brown, the Chaplain at Stonor Park, and in 1956 the Priest moved from his House in Stonor to a newly built one at Watlington; the Congregation numbered 100 in 1958 and was drawn from neighbouring Villages as well as from Watlington.  Since the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850 Watlington and the Chiltern Area have been in the Diocese of Birmingham.

Protestant Nonconformity
The influence of Puritanism had made itself felt in Watlington before the Civil War, for in 1642 the inhabitants paid for a Lecturer, Henry Langley, later Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, and well known as a Presbyterian.   Parliamentary Forces were in and about the Town during the War and interest in Radical Views was probably stimulated.  In September 1652 a Public Debate was held in the Church ‘on infant Baptism‘ between Jasper Mayne, the Royalist Vicar of Pyrton, and the Baptist, John Pendarves. Mayne preached a Sermon ‘against schism‘ and Pendarves was said to be ‘backed with a great party of Anabaptists and the scum of the people, who behaved themselves very rude and insolent‘.  In the following year Watlington was represented at the 1st Meeting of the Berkshire Association of Baptists at Tetsworth.  There is little doubt that Nonconformity continued to flourish after the Restoration, though reports of the total numbers involved are difficult to interpret and it is not possible to distinguish with any certainty between the Sects. The Baptist Community, however, seems to have been the most important.

Among the ‘Professors of Religion‘, John Ovey was outstanding. From the account given by the Quaker, Thomas Ellwood, it appears that Ovey was a Fell-monger, (hides & skins) accustomed ‘to ride upon his pack of skins’, and had always been profoundly Religious from his childhood to his old age‘. He was so well thought of for ‘his zeal and honesty‘ by the Parliamentarians that, though otherwise unsuited for Office, he was made a Justice of the Peace, a ‘Registrar‘ of births, deaths, and marriages, and an Oxfordshire Commissioner for ejecting scandalous Ministers.  Ellwood says that as a Justice of the Peace he had neither an Estate to defray the expenses of the Office, nor sufficient knowledge of the Law, nor a presence of mind or body ‘to keep offenders in some awe‘. He also relates how Ovey, an old friend of his, had read and ‘greatly esteemed‘ the writings of Isaac Pennington, written before he became a Quaker, and how Ellwood had taken Ovey to visit Pennington at his house at Chalfont.  The 2 men walked there from Stokenchurch, ‘entertaining each other with grave and religious discourse‘. At Chalfont, Ovey met not only Pennington but George Whitehead and other Quakers from London and elsewhere, who had assembled for a monthly meeting. Such Meetings were Illegal and Ovey escaped arrest by a party of Soldiers, who broke up the meeting, by hiding while the Quakers made no attempt to avoid Arrest.  He was afterwards very ashamed of his ‘cowardice‘.   Ellwood states that he could not remember whether Ovey was an Independent or a Baptist Teacher, and those who were meeting at Ovey’s house in 1669 were reported to be ‘mixt of Presbyterians, Anabaptists etc.‘. He himself was then described by the Authorities as a ‘Notorious Ringleader‘.    In 1672 Ovey, or possibly a relation of the same name, for the Family was widespread in the neighbourhood, applied for a Licence to Teach in a Mr Rusden’s House in Wallingford,  and a John Ovey died at Watlington in 1694.

In 1669 another regular Watlington Meeting was being held at the Houses of both Mary East, Widow, and Gregory West, a Weaver. This was described as Sabbatarian and was taught by Stephen Coven, an Independent, an ejected Minister of Sampford Peverell in Devon, and ‘a wandering seditious Seminary‘ who was preaching at Dorchester in 1675 and 1676.

After the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 Licences were obtained to hold Meetings in the Houses of John Harper, a Baptist, and of Thomas Ovey, John Ovey’s brother. Stephen Coven received a Licence to Teach in Thomas Ovey’s House.  The numbers of those attending these meetings are not given, but the Compton Census of 1676 gives 47 Dissenters in Watlington. The numbers of those Excommunicated, possibly for not attending Church, were also considerable, but there is no indication whether the offenders were Catholic or Protestant.

The Sabbatarians or Seventh Day Baptists reported in 1669 seem to have been the dominant Sect in the Town until the arrival of Methodism. In 1690 they were described as a ‘Remnant‘ (i.e. a church not fully organized) and their Teacher was Edward Stennett, the elder.  They attracted the attention of Dr Plot who says that they were ‘a sort of Sectaries perhaps never heard of in the world before … called Anointers from the ceremony they use of anointing all persons before they admit them into their Church‘. The Elders were ‘Poor Tradesmen of the Town, and the oil they use, that commonly sold in shops, with which the Proselyte being smeared over, and fired with zeal, he presently becomes a new light of this Church‘.  In the early 18th century a member of the Stennett Family was won over to the Church and was Baptised in 1713, but later became an Apostate.  The most prominent Sabbatarians in this Century, however, were members of the Nash Family.  In 1738 a monthly meeting was being held at the House of Nathaniel Nash, a prosperous Tanner; he was described as ‘very wary‘ and as ‘expounding but little to promote their interest‘. The ‘Meeters’ were of every sort except Quakers, and their Teacher was a Tailor or Shoemaker named Hoare from Haddenham (Bucks).  In 1759 the Nash Family were still Sabbatarians, but the Vicar reported that he had not been able to find the names of any of their Teachers as they ‘keep themselves pretty much to themselves and do not seem to endeavour to draw others over to their persuasion‘.  In 1768, though the Nash House had been Licensed some years before, they were said to have no Teacher.  Thomas Hiller of Tewkesbury was Teacher from 1774 until about 1793 when 2 Families in the town were said to be Sabbatarians.  Hiller was probably followed by James Hinton, who in 1792 was riding out weekly from Oxford to Preach at Watlington.  The Congregation of about 40 officially recorded in 1798 was presumably partly drawn from neighbouring Villages.  With the death of Mary Stringer the last member of the Nash Family, in 1808, the Seventh Day Baptists in Watlington came to an end. She left a number of Bequests to Dissenting organisations and Dissenters, including £100 to the Seventh Day Baptists and £1,000 to James Hinton.

Hinton recommended the formation of a Congregational Church as there were several Congregational families in the Town.  In 1812 a Cottage in Barber’s Cross was being used as a Chapel which about 10 Independents and 2 Baptists attended; it was apparently open as late as 1835 when a Minister from Stokenchurch was visiting it, and then after being closed for ‘some time‘ it was reopened in 1842 by John Young from Tetsworth.  An average Congregation of 25 was recorded in 1851.  Nevertheless, in the next year Services were again discontinued.  Later, there was a ‘Free Church’ in Watlington which in 1881 had a membership of 8.  David Harris took charge of it and 11 persons are stated to have formed themselves into a Congregational Church, holding their Services in a hired room until 1888 when Jubilee Hall was built in the High Street. Harris then applied for Membership of the Congregational Association. This was refused on the ground that the Church was Congregational only in name.  The strength of the local Baptist tradition is indicated by this comment and by the fact that Harris himself was evidently a Baptist, for he left in 1899 to become a Baptist Minister in Devon. After his departure, the Jubilee Hall was used for undenominational Services.

There were Quakers in Watlington in the 17th & 18thCs.  The Quaker, Thomas Ellwood of Crowell, who was an old friend of John Ovey, visited him in 1661 with a London Quaker, also an old friend, who ‘declared the truth‘ to a Meeting in Ovey’s House. He was attentively heard and not opposed, which was an unusual experience.  The Chief Quaker families lived outside Watlington: they were the Whites, who owned a Brick Kiln at Christmas Common, and the Tooveys of Northend, who also owned land at Christmas Common.  Both families were regularly Distrained on for failure to pay Tithes: the Whites from 1699 to 1792 and the Tooveys from 1700 to 1716. In both Families, women were outstanding for their resistance.  Watlington was in the Warborough Division of the County and Quarterly Meetings were held either at Henley, Turville Heath, or Warborough until 1698 when they began to be held at Roke as well.  At Bishop Secker’s Visitation in 1738 the Vicar reported 2 Quaker families, the Widow White and her children, and Widow Haynes, who kept an Ale-house in Watlington and had been ‘of no very good fame‘ in her youth. The Vicar obtained his Tithes from the Whites by ordering Kilnware and then paying only the residue of the Bill when he had subtracted the amount owing to him for Tithes.  White acquiesced in this arrangement and gave the Vicar a Receipt in full,  though he generally said at the same time that he did not know he owed anything.  Thirty years later 3 Quaker families were reported, 2 very ‘low in the world‘ and the 3rd the Whites.  After 1778 the Vicar ceased to report any Quakers, but the Local Historian of Watlington said in 1816 that there were still 1 or 2. 

Methodist Preachers 1st came to Watlington at the invitation of William Chapman, a Painter.  Although he and his wife were devout members of the Established Church they attended a Wesleyan Meeting ‘5 miles away’, possibly at Chinnor where Dissent was already firmly established.  In 1764 a Methodist, T Bryant, preached in Chapman’s Yard; the next year Thomas Tobias, the Preacher formally in charge of the Oxfordshire Circuit in 1765, came to Watlington and in 1766 John Wesley himself.  Chapman’s House was Licensed as a Meeting-house in 1771.  His daughter Patty was the chief support of the Society.  Another daughter, Hannah, married in 1766 Thomas Stonill, a Currier (tanner), who became a local Preacher.  She died in 1806, but her husband was still active as late as 1807.  He was ‘much respected for his primeval and great simplicity of manners’  Early in life he could repeat nearly the whole Bible by heart.


Wesley came again to Watlington in 1774 & 1775 and in 1796 a Meeting-house was built.  In 1811 the Vicar reported to the Bishop that there were 25 Wesleyans in the Parish, with 3 Licensed travelling Preachers, but in the same year, a Petition presented by Watlington Methodists in protest against the Protestant Ministers’ Bill was signed by 88 people, including William & Joseph Chapman and other prosperous inhabitants.  Many of the Signatories were doubtless Methodists who came in from the neighbouring villages.  A new Chapel was built in Shirburn Street in 1812 which could seat 328 persons, and to which Badcock said ‘a considerable number resort of an evening‘, although in his Parish History he gave the numbers of Methodists as 18.  The Vicar in 1820 said there were only 6 Methodist families, but many Chapel-goers still came to Church and took the Sacrament regularly, and so were not numbered as Dissenters in Visitation returns.

The Movement continued to spread: a Meeting was licensed at Christmas Common in 1822 and a Chapel seating 145 was built in 1824 when Watlington 1st became the Head of a Circuit under George Birley and Thomas Kempshall.  Before 1843, however, a split had taken place, for in that year Primitive Methodists obtained a Licence for a Meeting-house.  In 1849 they were renting a room which could seat 100, although the average attendance at meetings was 20 to 30,  and in 1853 they were able to take over the old Independent Chapel, a Cottage in Barber’s Cross, which had closed the year before.  In 1910 the Trustees were authorised to sell the Building.  At the time of the 1851 Census the main Methodist Chapel was reported to have an average attendance of 150 in the morning and 280 in the evening; by contrast in 1854, the Vicar told the Bishop that the Chapels were indifferently attended and the Dissenters only a small proportion of his Parish.  Nevertheless, in a Visitation return of 1866 the Dissenters were reported to number 600 to 700 as against an average Church Congregation of 200 or 300, and in 1872 the new Curate Lloyd found crowded Dissenting Chapels and an empty Church.  In 1959 the Wesleyan Chapel in Watlington with a membership of 63 was the best supported in the Thame and Watlington Circuit. There was a Resident Minister. The Christmas Common Chapel had a membership of 4.

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