Abingdon

As early as July 1739 George Whitefield came to Abingdon and preached there to ‘several thousands’, though far fewer came to hear him next morning. Two years later John Wesley preached, according to local tradition, in the yard of the Lion Inn in High Sreet, but was not impressed by his audience.

But it was over 70 years before the earliest evidence of a Methodist society in the town. In 1816 a house in Zion’s Court off West St. Helen’s Street was licensed for worship by Joseph Ostler. As in so many places, the Methodists faced local hostility; but by 1823 the first chapel was built ‘between Atwell Lane and Stert Street’, with financial support from an Anglican layman, Henry Goring. The preacher at the opening services on 12 September was Dr.Jabez Bunting. In 1825 the membership was 15, dropping to nine by 1832 before beginning to rise with the growing population of the town. A larger chapel in the Early English style was accordingly built on Ock Street, opened by Dr. John Newton on 25 March 1847.

Abingdon was at first in the Oxford Circuit, but in 1837 became part of the newly formed Wantage Circuit. In 1862 a separate Abingdon Circuit was formed, by which time the circuit membership stood at 135. In 1905 it was one of three local circuits that became part of the Oxford Circuit. After a further 97 years, Abingdon found itself back in the Wantage Circuit.

By the late 1860s a larger chapel was clearly needed and a scheme was launched in 1873 during the notable ministry of the Rev, Samuel Atkinson and under the active leadership of John Creemer Clarke, who had come to Abingdon from north Devon and established himself as a clothing manufacturer. He gave the site for the new church in Conduit Road and headed the subscription list. After being postponed for a month, possibly because of a rumour that the spire was unsafe, the new church, Trinity. was opened on 28 May 1875 by Dr.W. Morley Punshon, President of the Conference and a well-known speaker throughout the connexion. The evening preacher was a former President, the Rev, G.T. Perks. Another outstanding layman during the second half of the century was Joseph Ostler, who came to Abingdon from Oxford in 1852 and in 1864 became an employee at the Clarke’s clothing factory. Between then and his death in 1916 he held almost every office in the church, notably the Sunday afternoon Young Men’s Bible Class, many of whose members went on to become church leaders themselves.

Trinity was one of a number of Wesleyan churches in which the morning service was a liturgical one, using a shortened form of Morning Prayer based on Wesley’s adaptation of the Anglican Prayer Book. In the early days no local preachers were ever appointed to its pulpit. In the later years of the century membership declined from 101 in 1881 to 69 in1892 and the remaining debt on the new chapel continued to exercise the trustees, despite the active support of the Clarke family. It was eventually extinguished in 1912 through the determination of the Rev. Stanley M Butters. Gas lighting had been introduced in the church in 1905 and in the schooroom four years later. A wide variety of organisations and activities, including the Wesley Guild, met on the premises. Trinity is now home to a joint Methodist/URC congregation.

The first half of the 20th century saw the church surviving two World Wars, during which the premises were made available to serve the needs of members of the armed forces stationed in the town, notably the personnel stationed at the large RAF station. Electricity was installed during this period, first in the schoolroom and then in 1946 in the church itself. Expansion of the town, especially through the post-war Fitzharry’s and Manor estates, and the development of the Harwell Atomic Energy Research Establishment, provided fresh challenges and opportunities. In 1966 a Stewardship Campaign, followed by union with the local Cogregationists enabled repairs to be carried out to the premises, with further improvements in the 1970s, in time for Trinity’s centenary to be celebrated in May 1975.

In March 1923 the Wesleyan Quarterly Meeting had voted against the proposal forMethodist Union, but this came about in 1932, with the Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists becoming a single congregation in 1935. When the trust was again renewed in 1936, women were for the first time included.

All Saints, opened in 1959 was a response to the needs of a growing post-war population.

Quotations

John Wesley's Journal:

July 1741: 'At the repeated instance of some that were there, I went over to Abingdon. I preached on "What must I do to be saved?" Both the yard and house were full. But so stupid,, senseless a people, both in spiritual andnatural sense, I scarce ever saw before.'

Sources
  • D.B. Tranter, A History of Trinity (Wesleyan) Methodist Church, Abingdon (1975)