Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

November 2010

This months News



Village History

Methodist Education – the early days

Betty Smith, in her booklet on Oxhill published in 1971, writes of having seen a “passing mention” that Selina Countess of Huntingdon (1707-91) may have had an interest in a school in Oxhill, but tantalisingly Betty gives no reference.  She assumes also that this school would have been at Payn’s House, where a room in the barn had traditionally been known as “the schoolroom”.  There are two questions to unravel therefore.  Was there indeed a Methodist school in Oxhill during the eighteenth century, and secondly is there any evidence for it having been at Payn’s House?

Selina, Countess of Huntingdon was born Lady Selina Shirley, and was related to the Shirley family at Ettington, though never herself living in this area.  The most likely source of Betty’s original information would seem to be the archive of Shirley family papers in the Warwick Record Office, but this is extensive, and although several documents mention land in Oxhill, I have so far I have been unable to find any reference to a school and the Countess’s possible connection with it. 

The Countess was very active in the early Methodist movement, and founded a Calvinistic sect within it known as the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection.  (One of her former chapel buildings stands near Banbury Cross).  The Rev. William Talbot, then Vicar of Kineton, was a close follower, so she had more than a family link with this area.  Methodism was growing strongly in Oxhill, with the support of influential farmers such as the Wards and the Pains.  The Countess is also known to have had an interest in education, and to have supported some schools and Sunday schools, so it would not be impossible that her patronage should have been sought for an Oxhill school.

Deeds and wills that refer to Payn’s House however give no indication of an early school there: it is described only as a domestic dwelling.  The Pains who lived there in the 1700s, (during the Countess’s lifetime) were farmers, and would surely have needed their barn for agricultural use.  In any case the conversion work to “the schoolroom” is of a later date.  It is just possible that an earlier schoolroom existed then in part of the house, but there is no other evidence for this.  John Ward, who bought the property from John Pain in the 1790s,  left it in 1817 for the use of his widow Mary Ward during her lifetime, and then to their son, another John.  After Mary’s death in 1831 John - who himself lived at Oxhill House - was presumably left free to let Payn’s House as a boarding school, as we know he proceeded to do.

In widening the search for an earlier school, another possibility arises.  Ward family correspondence of the period between Sarah Ward and her married sister Ann reveals the existence of a Methodist Sunday school.  In a letter of 1769, Sarah writes of having “just come from meeting my class”.  This was an adult class because she expresses scruples at setting herself “at the head of so many gray hairs to teach them that should teach me”.  Could it just be it was this enterprise in which the Countess took an interest, rather than a day school for children?

In the absence of further evidence we can only speculate.  What is certain is that Oxhill has long historic links with Methodism, and an early Methodist boarding school traceable at least to the early nineteenth century.  Any earlier roots lie out of view.

Ann Hale

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Last modified: November 14, 2010