About Us
 

We are a growing congregation from the villages around Oakhill; we include several families and have lots going on.


Minister


Thursday Group / Losers



Worship Co-Ordinator

Absent Friend

John Gilling

 
 

The extracts that follow are reproductions from a booklet published in 1975 by The Oakhill Press, entitled "Oakhill Methodist Church 1825 - 1975" and was written by Mr. John Gilling to mark the 150th anniversary of the Church. I have painstakingly retyped it into the web site so that you may have an opportunity to read what has now become a part of the Church's history itself. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Greetings from our Ministers

Dear friends,

On my frequent journeys to Devon some years ago when my wife and I went to visit our daughters who were at Edgehill College, our Methodist School in Bideford, we invariably passed Oakhill Methodist Church. I noticed what a neat, nicely kept property it was, but had no idea the Society dated from Wesley's day.

On your 150th Anniversary this is an inspiring thought, God brought your Society into being as part of his Spirit's great movement in the 18th century. You are not a Church which has arisen in after years through this movement, but part of its very origin.

The admirable historical outline this booklet contains shows that, like most Churches, you have had times both of prosperity and decline, but its work has continued because God has had need of it, and it has never cut itself off from His resources. The influence of this Church has gone out into the world in a way God alone fully knows, and every generation of its people has also found God's resources, meeting their own personal need through its teaching, fellowship and worship.

It would appear that Wesley found the mob who opposed without were more alive 'alive' than the people within the society. It too often is true that those outside the Church show more zeal than many within. If your Church with its history is to continue in God's purpose you must be careful always that this is not true of you. If you will do this, God will lead you into whatever is His plan for the Universal Church of the future.

May God's blessing be on all you do.
Yours sincerely,
(Sgd) John H. Fisher
Superintendent Minister,
Frome and Shepton Mallet Circuit

Dear Friends,

It is indeed with a true sense of privilege that I record a few words in such an excellent booklet at this historical moment. On this the 150th Anniversary of our Oakhill Methodist Church, we all rejoice in that which God has enabled to so many down through the years. Ours is surely a goodly heritage and although we can never live in the past, we are in so many ways both the products and beneficiaries of it.

The Methodist Church in Oakhill stands as a true Memorial to the dedication and sacrifice of our forbears. They certainly had their days of grave problems and real depression, but in and through them all, they have kept the faith, proved the divine resources, and by God's grace have thus made possible to us a continuing ministry and witness.

May we in these difficult days rejoice in and learn from the past, and with the Lord whose power and presence is always with us, go forward and in confidence play a continuing part in His great scheme.

With every prayer for God's blessing upon His work in and through you all,

Yours sincerely,
(sgd) Colin Allen
Minister

Acknowledgements

My grateful thanks to Mr. Robin Atthill for his keen interest, invaluable advice and his kind permission to use some of his material; to the County Archivist for material about James Jordan; to the Rev. Colin Allen for his loan of volumes of John Wesley's Journal, deeds and other old documents in his care; to our Trust Secretary, Mrs. Nancy Lambert, for the loan of the old Minute book; to Mr. J Siminson for taking photographs of the Chapel; and the Proprietors of the Shepton Mallet Journal for permission to quote from their account of the opening of the new Hall; to all the other members of the Oakhill Society for their encouragement and reminiscences of the past; to Mr. and Mrs. F.C. Powell for typing my original manuscript and bringing order out of chaos.

John Gilling
April 1975

Oakhill Methodist Church 1825-1975

Ashwick together with the hamlet of Oakhill was a non-conformist stronghold long before John Wesley came there first of all in 1746. There was a flourishing Presbyterian community here throughout the 18th century led by the Billingsleys, a well known dissenting family who settled at Ashwick about 1689. The most famous member of this family was John Billingsley, 1747-1811, a noted agriculturist. The Ashwick congregation, which at one time numbered about 200, moved on from Presbyterianism to Unitarianism and began to decline in the early 19th century, chiefly due to the rise in Methodism and to the fact that Ashwick, formerly a chapel of Kilmersdon, became an Anglican parish in its own right in 1826, when the parish church was re-built.

The first mention of Oakhill in John Wesley's journal was in February 1746:

"Monday 10th. I preached at Paulton; on Thursday noon at Shepton Mallet, and at Oakhill in the evening. The next morning I walked (it being scarce possible to ride, because of the frost) to Coleford."

His next mention of Oakhill was on Wednesday, 6th August 1746:

"I preached at Oakhill. How is this? I have not known so many persons earnestly mourning after God of any society of this size in England, and so un-blameable in their behaviour; yet not one person has found a sense of the pardoning love of God from the first preaching here to this day! When I mentioned this to the society, there was a such a mourning as one would believe should pierce the clouds. My voice was quickly drowned. We continued crying to God with many loud and bitter cries, till I was constrained to break away between four and five, and take horse for Shepton."

Then again on February 12th, 1748:

"After preaching at Oakhill about noon, I rode to Shepton Mallet and found them all under a strange consternation. A mob, they said, was hired, prepared, and made sufficiently drunk, in order to do all manner of mischief..."

Later that day the mob surrounded the house where Wesley was lodging, throwing stones at the door and in at the windows. Then follow two of the many touches of humour, to our ears anyway, to be found in Wesley's Journal. In the general mêlée one of the leaders of the mob had become shut in the house with Wesley and his companions and was struck on the forehead by a large stone:

".....and the blood spouted out like a stream. He cried out, ‘O sir, are we to die tonight? What must I do? What must I do?’ I said ‘Pray to God. He is able to deliver you from all danger.’ He took my advice, and began praying in such a manner a she had scarce done ever since he was born."

Shortly after this the mob broke down the front door, but as they did, Wesley and his friends calmly walked out of the back. Then he writes:

"They filled the house at once, and proposed setting it on fire; but one of them, happening to remember that his own house was next, with much ado persuaded them them not to do it. Hearing one of them cry out, ‘They are gone over the grounds,’ I thought the advice was good; so we went over the grounds to the farther end of the town, where Abraham Jenkins waited, and undertook to guide us to Oakhill. I was riding on in Shepton Lane, it being now quite dark, when he cried out, ‘Come down; come down from the bank.’ I did as I was bid; but the bank being high, and the side very near perpendicular, I came down all at once, my horse and I tumbling one over another, but we both rose unhurt. In less than an hour we came to Oakhill, and the next morning to Bristol."

On Monday, 27th March 1749:

"I rode to Shepton, where all is quiet now; in the evening I preached at Coleford; Tuesday the 28th at Oakhill, where was also great peace, and a people loving one another."

The last mention of Oakhill in Wesley's Journal was on Monday, 3rd September 1753. He writes:

"I began visiting the little societies in Somersetshire and Wiltshire. This evening I preached at Shepton Mallet, and found much life among the poor, plain people. It was not so in Oakhill the next day, where many once alive have been drawn back to perdition. But at Coleford, in the evening, I found many living souls, though joined with some who did not adorn the gospel."


The 19th Century

Did the Methodist Society backslide so much that it went out of existence? We do not know, but we do know that there was a Society at Oakhill in 1813, some 22 years after Wesley's death. From an old Circuit account book, we find that Oakhill was part of the circuit centred on Shepton Mallet which stretched from Castle Cary in the south to Farmborough and Marksbury in the north, taking in Wells and Street.

Oakhill's contribution to the quarterly circuit budget of just over £41 was £1.16 6, and there were two Ministers in the circuit to serve twenty three societies. By the time the Chapel was built at Oakhill in 1825, the society numbered 40 members and the quarterly contribution had risen to £3.

The land adjoining the Bath Road on which the Chapel was built belonged to John Tapp of Ashwick - Gentleman. He was also one of the first trustees and sold the land to them for the sum of Ten Shillings - obviously a nominal figure. The full list of the first trustees was:

William Weston of Ashwick: Farmer
John Tapp of Ashwick: Gentleman
William Lowle of Ashwick: Shop-keeper
James Stoneham of Shepton Mallet: Grocer
Matthew Davey, Junior, of Shepton Mallet: Clothier
John Mason of Shepton Mallet: Printer
George Fox of Shepton Mallet: Baker
William Flower of Lipyeate: Carpenter
Isaac Gould of Stratton: Yeoman

I can find no record of who actually built the chapel or how much it cost, but the Society had at least one well-to-do sympathiser.

A silver communion cup, still in the possession of the society, was presented by James Jordan in 1825. On one side the cup in inscribed:

SACRAMENTAL CUP
PRESENTED BY JAMES JORDAN
TO THE OAKHILL
WESLEYAN SOCIETY
A.D. 1825

and on the other:

A MEMORIAL OF THE
VENERATION OF THE DONOR FOR
THE MEMORY OF THE
REVd. JOHN WESLEY AND
OF HIS ZEAL FOR THE SPREAD
OF VITAL CHRISTIANITY


James Jordan it seems was the owner or part owner of Oakhill Brewery in the 1770s and later was in partnership with John Billingsley as Brewers at Oakhill.

Collinson's History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset describes it like this:
"The Hamlet of Oakhill is now only famous for a large brewery carried on with great reputation by Messrs. Jordan and Billingsley, both these gentlemen having good houses there."

Jordan died in 1830 and in his will left £100 to the trustees of the Ashwick Unitarian Meeting for the use of the Minister. It seems that he, like John Billingsley was a leading non-conformist and obviously an admirer of John Wesley.

It is interesting to note that while the Chapel at Oakhill was being built in 1825, a Methodist Society was established in the hamlet of Moorewood, just over a mile away. At this time Moorewood was the scene of much activity because of the the colliery workings there. The society met in a cottage still known as "Wesley Cottage" and this continued as a cottage meeting right up to 1973, a service being held every Sunday afternoon.

The exact date when the Chapel at Oakhill was opened for public worship is not known, but three of the trustees, John Tapp, Wm. Weston and Wm. Lowle applied to the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells for the Chapel to be registered "For the public worship of God, by congregation of Protestants" in a document dated 28th October 1825. This document was received by the Bishop and a receipt issued dated 19th January 1826.

Of the remainder of the 19th Century we have little record apart from the Circuit account book from which we learn that in 1834 the membership at Oakhill had dropped to 27 but rose again in 1840 to 55 with 3 on trial. This seems to have been the hey-day of village Methodism. The Society at Coleford had a membership 191 and even a village the size of Ditcheat 103, surely a large proportion of the population, while the City of Wells could only boast a membership of 38.

As the original trustees of the Oakhill Society died it became necessary to renew the trust. This was done in 1865 and again in 1888. Of the thirteen trustees appointed in 1888 only two actually lived in Oakhill. These were the brothers Theophilus and Mark Treasure, both Farmers. This family with it's descendants were to be the mainstay of the society for almost the next century, as Mark Treasure was the grandfather of Mr. Wilfred Trippick, who was the Chapel Steward in 1975 (when this history was originally published in booklet form) and Mr. Claude Trippick who was the Senior Society Steward (1975), both of whom gave a lifetime of service to the society.

1900 - 1975

A minute book of the annual Trustees' meetings going back to 1906 gives us some rather sparse information of the society early in this century. When the trust was renewed again in 1906 the seventeen trustees included three farmers, a coal-weigher, a commercial traveller, a horse-keeper, a shoe-maker and no fewer than six brewery workers. This may seem rather strange considering Methodism's rigid total abstinence attitude at this time, but it could be that this was thought of as just another job having little to do with one's personal life and habits.

At a special trustees' meeting an August 1906 it was agreed to have the Chapel completely renovated, as the roof and windows were in a very bad state. The walls were coloured, the seats cleaned and varnished, the floor levelled and the gallery altered. The Old slow combustion stove was removed and a new heating apparatus installed with an outside boiler and hot-water pipes. There is no mention of what all of this cost, nor how it was paid for. At about this time there was a system of seat rents at the Chapel and at the 1910 Trustees' meeting it was resolved to let sittings in the Chapel at not less than 6d. per sitting; a notice to be read from the rostrum on several consecutive Sundays inviting members and friends to apply for sittings to the Chapel steward. The society at this time was at a fairly low ebb. From an old circuit plan of 1910 the membership at Oakhill was given as only eleven. There were two services every Sunday at eleven and six-thirty and a preaching service every Monday fortnight at 7p.m. The Society Stewards were Mt T. Treasure and Mr A. Trippick and the Trust Secretary Mr M. Treasure, whilst the Class Leader was Mrs. Tilke who was the Treasures' sister. There was a choir at Nettlebridge Congregational Church to render a service of song or cantata on Good Friday.

To mark the centenary of the Chapel in 1925 it was again completely renovated and a new lighting system installed (probably gas). Most of the work was carried out by Messrs. James of Holcombe and the whole cost was met by Mrs. Tilke the sister of Mark and Theophilus Treasure who had both died around 1922, surely a most generous gesture. She was sent a letter of grateful thanks from the trustees' meeting held in September 1925.

It was after this renovation that the practice of holding Chapel Anniversary Services in April each year seems to have first started. In 1941 the preacher at this service was the young Wells Minister, the Rev. H.A.G. Belben, who was Principal of Cliff College in 1975 at the time of first writing of this history.

At the 1952 Trustees' meeting it was first proposed that the possibility of obtaining a small piece of adjoining land be explored for the purpose of building a room adjoining the Chapel. In 1956 electric tubular heaters were installed at a cost of £230, over £200 of which was collected in one afternoon when the Minister, the Rev. H. Hector Chick, sat in the Chapel and received gifts from members and friends. Also at this time it was suggested that a Sunday School be started. There is no evidence before this that the Chapel ever had a Sunday School of its own. Older members can remember back to early in this century when the Sunday School for free church children, Methodist and Congregational, was held in the British School. This lapsed after a time and it was not until the early 1960s that another free Church Sunday School was started held in the Congregational Church (later the reformed Church, but now closed). Now as there were several families of young children belonging to Chapel members there was felt a need for the Society to have its own Sunday School. In 1961 as a first step, a piece of land was purchased with a £50 legacy left to the Chapel Trust by Mr. F.J. Gilling, a former Society Steward. This was fenced and a separate access to the road constructed to form a car park and also a site for any future development. Then in 1967 it was agreed to erect a additional room adjoining the Chapel to be used for Sunday School and Youth Work and as a vestry. Work started on this in early October 1967 and was very much a joint effort by members of the congregation and most of the work was carried out my volunteers with the result that the cost was kept to under £500, which would probably have been three times as much if the work had been professionally done. The Hall was opened on the 27th January 1968 by the Rev. Ronald Hoare, B.D., Superintendent of the Bristol Methodist Mission and a former minister in the circuit. Extracts from the Shepton Mallet Journal dated 2nd February 1968 tell much of the story:

"Oakhill Methodist Church now has its own Church Hall and thanks to efforts of volunteers the cost has been kept below £500. On Saturday, members of the Church, guests and Methodist officials from the circuit attended a thanksgiving service and saw the hall officially opened. The cost of slightly under £500 has been met by members of the Methodist Church in Oakhill who have been fund-raising for some time and a grant was also received from another Methodist Trust.
To keep costs down volunteers from the Church did almost all of the construction work on the new hall, the only two jobs done professionally being the laying of the roof after the roof timbers had been put up, and the laying of the tiles when the floor was down.
Work on the building started towards the beginning of October last year and over the last few weeks prior to the opening a number of volunteers gave up practically every evening to do the work under floodlights and often in pouring rain."

As well as extra space the Church now had its own water supply and toilet facilities for the first time. One of the past members, Maurice Trippick, remembers his father, Arthur Trippick, would fetch a barrel of water from the brewery for his wife to scrub the Chapel floor.

The Sunday School was established under the able leadership of Miss Catherine Ireson and over the next two or three years following there was very active youth work based on the new hall. The Church had its own very successful young people's guitar group who performed in other churches in the circuit and beyond.

In the years from 1975 to present, there has been a much greater awareness of and sharing with other Christians in the village, and we often get together with the Anglican church across the road for various services. What would John Wesley have thought of this?

So What of the future? One cannot look back over the years as we have done without being tremendously impressed by the sacrificial service and giving of a comparatively small number of people, which have maintained the preaching of the Gospel and the work of God's Kingdom here in Oakhill over the years. May the memory of those who have gone before lead us to re-dedicate our lives to God's service. Shall we leave the last word to Charles Wesley:

Father, thy mercies past we own:
Thy still continued care;
To thee presenting through thy son,
Whate'er we have or are.

Our lips and lives shall gladly show
The wonders of they love,
While on in Jesu's steps we go
To see thy face above.

Our residue of days and hours
Thine, wholly thine shall be
And all our consecrated powers
A sacrifice to thee.



The original pulpit prior to removal.


Pictured at the opening of Oakhill Methodist Church's new hall on 27th January 1968 are the Rev. Roanald C. Hoare, Mr. Wilfred and Mr. Claude Trippick (who did most of the actual building work), the Rev. Albert Payler (Circuit Superintendent Minister), and the Rev. Eric Renouf (Minister of the Church).

 

Chapel History

Pictured above is a copy of the Circuit Account for the quarterly meeting held on the 2nd October 1826. Click the picture to enlarge it to a readable size.

The inside of the chapel as it appeared before the removal of the pews.