THE RISE OF METHODISM IN THE VALE OF AYLESBURY

Methodism as a religion started in England in the 1700s by John Wesley (1703 - 1791), his brother Charles and George Whitefield. John Wesley himself lived and died a priest of the Church of England, but the movement, which attached great importance to personal conversion and the right of all believers to preach the gospel, gradually came to be organised as a separate denomination called Methodism, so named because of the follower's methodical devotion to religious study.

Wesley preached tirelessly to large congregations, usually in the open air, and frequently encountering open hostility. In 1739, he began the itinerant ministry, which was to occupy most of his life. In his latter years, it was apparent that his followers could not operate within the Church of England, and Methodism was formed.

With this background, the following shows the early devotion to Methodism that was taken up by John Seamons, at a time in which this religious movement had not even been firmly established.

On the 8 August 1772 at the Buckinghamshire Quarter Sessions held in Aylesbury, the house of John Seamons, of Weedon, was registered as a place of Public Worship. (The site was the present south west corner of Newville, the first Chapel stood on the right hand as one enters Newville from the road, and where later was the carpenter's shop.) The application was drawn up by Samuel Wells, a Methodist preacher, and two Baptists - Charles Hinto and Francis Sleap, both from Chesham.

The situation of Weedon as a lone outpost was a strange choice, - the population was small, at under 400 - the communication was poor - the last half mile after the turnpike was left behind was over tracks through open fields - the hamlet was unusually isolated - no main road ever passed over its hill - visitors had a special purpose for going there. Much of the land was held in copyhold tenure, so many of the inhabitants belonged to families whose "rights in the hamlet went back through several generations". Ecclesiastically, the parish was not neglected - the rector, Dr Bridle, paid for curacy help from his ample emoluments, but lived within his Parish. He preferred simple living to extravagance and founded a large charity for the poor.

It was surprising that the Seamons family were host to a new religious movement. They had deep roots in the hamlet - the head of the line held a copyhold which passed from father to son for well over 200 years, and John's ancestry included a line which had been there from time immemorial. They had a proud record as churchwardens, and had several influential advantages, holding more land than any other family in the hamlet. John Seamons was an independent yeoman of traditional yeoman stock; his house was one of the freehold properties in the parish which required no goodwill from the Lord of the manor; he was 51 years old and in his prime, living to be 86. As far as can be ascertained there was not a single Methodist Society in North Buckinghamshire in 1772, the nearest probably being in Thame. There was a visit of a circuit preacher on a weekday once in three weeks, which provided contact with the wider Methodism. For the rest, the little society had to find its corporate inspiration within the weekly class meeting.

It is likely that the brother of Mrs. Goodson, of Waddesdon, played an important part in the coming of Methodism to Weedon. In his memoirs, William Goodson states that his wife's brother "who lived in a dairy farm about three miles from Waddesdon", had been somewhere in 1770 to hear a preacher, perhaps in Thame. Mrs. Goodson's maiden surname was King, and evidence points to her brother being Henry King. His lone farm was not a suitable place for a society to meet and Weedon was the most convenient place. It is likely that he played a part in the licensing of the Seamons' house.

In 1774, Joseph Bradford, a preacher on the Oxford circuit visited Weedon. Goodson's description says - "He preached under the tree and had plenty of stones and clods thrown at him but nothing hurt him". (The tree would have been the official meeting place for the hamlet and it is believed to have stood at the top of the hill in Weedon's New Road. In 1774, the hamlet was not enclosed and a lane called Edmund Seamons Lane ended at that spot, where the field began. New Road was cut when enclosure of the village lands took place in 1802. The tree finally disappeared some years ago). There was some opposition but it was probably horseplay as there was no hint that it was inspired by church officials - The Seamons family remained loyal to the Parish Church - their early Methodism had no plans to supersede the church with Sunday preaching, administration of sacraments, etc.. It was aimed at a revival and open air preaching was the point of attack.

After Bradford's visit there is no more information. Waddesdon may have taken the place of Weedon in the preacher's plans. The little group who first met in Weedon may have supported other Societies. However, the Methodist attachment established in the Seamons family continued. The two sons of John and Hannah Seamons both became Methodists. The elder, named John, was 20 years old when Joseph Bradford stayed in the house and six years later married the only daughter of Henry King. It may have been the first case in Mid Buckinghamshire where obeying Wesley's injunction, Methodist married Methodist. Their children became staunch Methodists and when in 1813, another house was licensed for Methodist use in Weedon, two of the three applicants were William Seamons, the younger son of John and Hannah Seamons, and Henry King Seamons, the Grandson of John and Hannah Seamons. The descendants of William have carried the gospel to every continent.

When William's oldest son Charles (1792-1868) wanted to start a Sunday School, it was somewhat difficult, due to the fact that there was no Chapel, and Wesley's people had to meet in houses. Charles' cousin from Quarrendon was able to help in this regard. The cousin owned a large barn near the entrance to a field called "Snugge". Charles Seamons secured it on a lease of 21 years and fitted it up with a pulpit, a few pews and benches as a Chapel. It was remembered as being quite a pleasant building. At night it had to be lighted by candles, as at that time, oil lamps had not yet become available. There was no musical instrument, except for a pipe that Charles Seamons used, to pitch the tunes with his pleasant tenor voice. Not many people had a hymn book, and it was probable that most of the congregation could not even read. By the light of the pulpit candles, the preacher would read out the words of the hymn two lines at a time, and the congregation then sang them, led by Charles.

The candles had to be snuffed out at intervals, and on one occasion, one enthusiastic preacher lifted his candle out of its socket, and dropped it into the lap of a good lady sitting perilously near. No harm was done at that time, however one day in 1853, in a house nearby, someone tipped a pan of fat on her fire and soon all the houses near the barn chapel were ablaze. Chapel and houses were destroyed in the fire, and both the Sunday school and the congregation were once again without a home.

Charles Seamons came to the rescue. He had recently built himself a new house at the top of Stockaway, opposite the Five Elms, and his old house, opposite Penwick Gate, was unoccupied. He transferred Sunday School and congregation to its large central room, with surplus members in adjoining rooms. He also said, "I will build you a chapel." He did, and although it has been greatly changed in the years 1913 and 1923, the main walls and floor and roof are those that were provided by Charles Seamons. People said, "Can we have a share?", and Charles agreed that they could provide the pews, but he would do the rest.

Charles had led a hard life; the gentlest of brothers in a family of ten children, he saw the family through a period of hardship. Charles delayed marriage until he was nearly forty years of age, and then his wife died, tradition says, when their baby was born. Some years later, Charles married again, and yet again he was bereft. This was the period when the chapel was being built. So it was a very sad little man who sat in the congregation on a summer day in 1854, when the new chapel was opened and his praises were being spoken.

Charles lived for a further 13 years to lead his Sunday School there, and share its praises. When Charles died, people said, "He must have a memorial". So on Christmas day, 1869, there were special services when the memorial was officially given its place as a monument to the motive of his life and the largeness of his heart, though the chapel itself was the real memorial. Charles left a further memorial, by giving instructions that his house should pass to the chapel. It did. In time it was sold and the proceeds invested. Thus, to this very day, Charles Seamons contributes, through the investment, to the support of the chapel, which was "a monument to the motive of his life, and the largeness of his heart."

The memorial in the Weedon chapel reads:

"Sacred to the memory of Charles Seamons who departed this life Jany. 9th 1868.

Aged 75 years.

To be for ever with the Lord. He was modest, devout, gentle, charitable and sincere. In 1834 he originated, and for 33 years he conducted the Sabbath school in this place, and was ever diligent in teaching and kind to the taught. As a Christian and a friend this Sanctuary is a monument to the motive of his life and the largeness of his heart."

The Chapel in Weedon Village, built by Charles Seamons in 1854. This photo was taken in 1992, with the Chapel having been altered from its earlier days.

 

The house built by Charles Seamons (1792 - 1868) in 1853. Charles died here and expressed a wish that the house be given to the Chapel (which was done). It was occupied in that manner until the mid 1900's. The present owner of the house has been most helpful with providing information related to the history of the Chapel.