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THE RISE OF METHODISM IN THE VALE OF AYLESBURY
1772 — 1791

BY Rev. E. RALPH BATES
1972

On the 8th 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 Hinton 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 — 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 who's "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 few 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 Bucks in 1772; probably the nearest was in Thame. There was a visit of a circuit preacher on a weekday once in three weeks which provided contact with 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 memoir, 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 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 fields 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 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-Bucks 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.

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