Faringdon Circuit, Berkshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. T.W. Brown
Pleasantly situated on an eminence which overlooks the Vale of White Horse, made famous by Thomas Hughes in “Tom Browns School Days,” Faringdon is a small Berkshire market town with a distinctively old-world appearance about it.
Its history goes back to very early days, for the Saxon kings had a palace here, wherein Edward the Elder died, in 925; and here, also, a castle was built during the stormy reign of Stephen, but was destroyed a few years later.
In 1202 this king founded, at Faringdon, a priory of Cistercian monks, subject to the abbey of Beaulieu, in Hampshire. This priory, like the Castle, has long since been entirely ruined, and no vestige of either can be traced to-day.
During the Civil Wars, Faringdon House was made a garrison, and Sir Marmaduke Rawdon appointed its governor; his memory is commemorated by an inscription in the Parish Church.
Oliver Cromwell, himself, on one occasion, in June, 1643, attacked this garrison unsuccessfully, and a second attack was made with a similar result under the command of Sir Robert Pye, the owner of the house. From this family the poet laureate, Henry James Pye, was descended. King Charles was at Faringdon after the second battle of Newbury. Near Radcot Bridge, about two miles to the north of the town, was fought the battle between Robert Vere, Duke of Ireland, and the Earl of Derby, afterwards King Henry IV.
Along other lines also this countryside is rich in interesting associations. In the ancient little church at Hatford is a tomb which is one of the oldest in the kingdom, traditionally said to be that of Geoffrey Chaucer. At Fairford, John Keble was born, and much of his earlier literary work was done during the time he held the livings of Eastleach and Southrop, adjacent villages. And was it not at Kelmscott where William Morris, poet and social reformer, lived, and in its little churchyard his mortal remains rest?
“His body was borne to the grave in an open haycart, festooned with vines, alders and bulrushes, and driven by a countryman.” For the last years of his life the scholarly J.R. Illingworth was the parish clergyman at Longworth, ministering to a small congregation of villagers at home as well as to a larger audience further afield.
But more to our purpose it is to outline the story of the rise and progress of Primitive Methodism in these parts.
It would be difficult to say with absolute certainty who was actually the first Primitive Methodist to raise our standard in this locality, since the approach of our pioneers appears to have been made from several different quarters. What are now the western and southern sides of the Circuit were missioned from the historic Brinkworth Circuit, while the places on the northern side were entered by the preachers of the Oxfordshire Mission
As early as 1833 Faringdon gave its name to a branch, and in 1837 was made the head of a Circuit. Of the pioneers, the names of Thomas Cummin, George Obern, Henry Heys, Thomas Russell and John Ride stand out prominently, but to these should be added many others who are worthy to be held in everlasting remembrance.
With the missioning of this neighbourhood the name of Thomas Russell will ever be honourably associated. Perhaps the account of his earliest experiences here cannot be better stated than in the words of our connexional historian: “Mr. Russell entered upon the Faringdon Mission in full expectation of severe persecution, in which he was not deceived. Before four o’clock in the morning of the third Sunday in April, 1832, he prepared for his journey to the scene of his intended missionary operations. His mind was oppressed with the burden of the work before him, and the dread of persecution and suffering; but he was supported by a sense of the hope of success. . . . He proceeded to Faringdon, where violent treatment befel him. (Previously, the same day, he had preached at Wantage and was cruelly treated by a mob of ruffians there.) When he came to a pool of water outside the town, he washed his clothes a second time, and then went five miles further to Shrivenham, where he met with another violent reception. At a brook he cleansed himself a third time, and then proceeded to another village, where he preached in peace, except that a person threw a stone at him, which cut his lip. After this he walked six miles to Lambourn, to rest for the night, . . . On the following Sabbath he visited Wantage and Faringdon again, as well as another place or two. At this time Faringdon was more violent (if possible) than Wantage. Mr. Fox, of Faringdon, a respectable gentleman belonging to the Society of Friends, thinking that his house and the neighbouring ones would awe the persecutors, kindly offered Mr. Russell the privilege of standing in front of these mansions. The next two Sabbaths Mr. Russell had peace; but on the third, the mob had recovered their diabolical courage, and again became violent. The next time Mr. Russell went, Mr. Fox met him, and said: ‘Friend Russell, dost thou find it in thy heart yet to come to Faringdon?’ Mr. Russell assured him that he intended to persevere in his efforts. ‘Then,’ said Mr. Fox, ‘thou must not stand near our residence, for we cannot bear to see the hard usage thou hast to endure.’ Mr. Russell, therefore, repaired to his former standing-place, and encountered a violent mob as before, who pelted him and his friends with potatoes, eggs, and other missiles, till his spirits were at length broken, and he could not refrain from weeping.
Nothing daunted, however, with splendid Christian heroism, Russell continued to visit Faringdon until eventually the opposition was completely broken down, many converts were won, and a prosperous society was built up, for we find that at the June Quarterly Meeting the whole aspect of things had so changed for good that a second preacher was called out to assist Mr. Russell, “that the borders of the mission might be enlarged.”
Since those early days the Circuit has passed through various phases of experience, there have been times of great prosperity, and there have been the lean years, but through it all there has been a steady building up of the kingdom of righteousness by means of different ministries exercised from time to time. A study of the old minute books and documents, some of which take us back more than three quarters of a century, is a perfect revelry!
If some of the resolutions are interesting an account of their ambiguity as, e.g., the one which says “Bro. ____ speak to Bro. ____ about letting Langford fall!” others are equally as impressive by virtue of their point and pungency. The first resolution passed at the first Quarterly Meeting, which was held on November 3rd, 1837, reads: “That if any person carry teals (tales?) out of the Quarterly Meeting they will be excluded from such meeting for twelve months!”
Another rule they made was: “That all the members of this meeting who are not here in proper time shall be chargeable!”
The quarterly meeting of those days appears to have been extremely vigilant in the administration of discipline, neglects of preaching appointments were invariably marked by the offender being fined or otherwise sunk a number on the plan, or sometimes both! One Quarterly Meeting resolved “that Bro. Heys admonish Bro.’ _____ for not singing or praying in his appointment.” One wonders what kind of service this brother had conducted!
Any account of the Faringdon Circuit would be altogether inadequate without some recognition of the splendid men who, in the past, did so much to give Primitive Methodism the honourable position it to-day occupies in these parts. The Circuit has always been rich in the possession of men of sterling Christian character, who wielded a powerful influence for good in the neighbourhood in which they lived.
Charles Martin, of Longworth, Joseph Stratford, of Bishopstone, Charles Cooper, of Langford, Jonathan Goddard, of Faringdon, to mention but a few, were men whose names are still held in deepest reverence throughout this Circuit, and far beyond its borders. It is pleasing to record that in most cases the children of these stalwarts are still with us, filling places of usefulness in the church, and living worthily as becometh the children of such worthy sires.
To delineate in detail the Faringdon Circuit as it is to-day is not possible in the space at our disposal, so the briefest outline must suffice.
Geographically the Circuit is rather wide, extending as it does into four counties, i.e., Berks, Oxon, Wilts and Glos.
During recent years, however, some beneficial readjustments have been made by transferring several of the more distant places to contiguous Circuits, so that to-day Faringdon Circuit is more workable than ever it was before.
The places are mostly small, as the district is sparsely populated.
Faringdon is the natural centre of the Circuit; here we have one of the prettiest chapels in the district; it occupies the best site in the town, and is regarded with a justifiable pride by our people. There is an excellent Sunday School in connection with this church. Glorious as is the past of this Society, there is no reason why the future should not be even more triumphant.
Filkins is the oldest village Society, and was formerly part of the Highworth Circuit. At Littleworth we have a prosperous society. Ashbury and Bishopstone stand near to Ashdown Park Corner, where T. Russell and J. Ride held that memorable prayer meeting on a snowy Sunday morning, in February, 1830, and when, after some hours of earnest prayer, Russell rose from his knees and announced his assurance, “Brother Ride, yonder country is ours, and we will have it ” That “yonder country,” of which’ Russell spoke, was the area which is now covered the Faringdon Circuit. At Childrey and Fawler we have churches which have made splendid progress during the past few years. Watchfield and Great Coxwell are villages in which our witness to the eternal verities has been borne with varying degrees of success through a long series of years. Next we turn to the northern portion of the Circuit – locally spoken of as “over the river,” because it is separated from the rest by the River Thames which flows between.
The societies on this side are mostly vigorous and progressive. At Langford our church has had a long and honourable history, and still stands well.
The Grafton chapel is curiously placed in the corner of a grass field away from any high road, but it has been the spiritual nursery of many. Black Bourton and Clanfield each have chapels and societies which have done well in the past, and in which useful ministries are still being exercised. At Eastleach our chapel is a modern structure, standing in the centre of one of the most charming villages in Gloucestershire.
During 1918 a scheme was initiated by the Rev. A.R. Wightman, the object of which was the total extinction of all the Trust debts in the Circuit. More than the full amount of money required has been raised in less than two years, and all the Trust liabilities have been liquidated, so that the Circuit is now freed from ?nancial embarrassment and should be able to devote its energies wholeheartedly to aggressive work for the kingdom of God.
The emancipation which has thus been won, coupled with the better conditions of life which have been gained for rural workers, promises well to open a new era in the history of this old Circuit.
It remains to be said that the officials are men with splendid qualities of heart and mind, representatives of the best type that rural Methodism can produce, which, of course, means that they are able, earnest, intelligent and agreeable.
There is a robust healthfulness of spirit and hopefulness of outlook abroad throughout the Circuit which augurs well for the future.
Christian Messenger 1920/174