Other Church initiatives in east Oxford from 1850

Ordnance Survey Map 1876

At the time that Father Benson was establishing his mission, other churches were active in the area. A unofficial census of church attendance in May 1883 found that in general more people attended non-conformist places of worship than Church of England. This was not unusual as there was a tradition for artisan populations (as east Oxford was) to belong to non-conformist churches. There were several churches that local people would have attended.


Pembroke Street Primitive Methodist Church
© Sketched by Dorothy Stepney

Two streams of Methodists practiced in the area, Wesleyan Methodists and Primitive Methodists. The Primitive Methodists met in Alma Place until they moved into a new chapel in Pembroke Street (now known as Rectory Road) in 1875. This chapel closed in 1953. Wesleyan Methodists originally met in a cottage in Chapel Street from 1872, growing out of a Sunday School formed by Walter Slaughter. When the Primitive Methodists moved out of their chapel in 1875 the Wesleyan Methodists took over the Alma Place chapel. As the Wesleyan congregation grew, bigger accommodation was needed and a new chapel was built in William Street (now Tyndale Road) in December 1882 and opened in 1883. Another new church was built on the corner of Cowley Road and Jeune Street in 1904 to provide for the increasing congregation and activities. (The old chapel is still standing and is currently used by the Oxford Christadelphians)

The Sunday School in particular continued to thrive at the new church. Based in the Schoolroom (later converted to flats), it aimed to educate the 'minds and souls' of the children. Once a year, there was a special Sunday School outing, a rare opportunity for the children to leave Oxford for a day of fun and recreation.

For adults, there was a weekly meeting of the Wesley Guild. The meetings were varied, with some having serious themes and others being more social or musical. There was also an inter-denominational men's meeting, which was part of the 'Brotherhood Movement.' In addition to discussing religious topics, the men also addressed social and political matters such as unemployment and lowly paid work. During the First World War, a Women's Pleasant Hour meeting was started, aimed at the mothers of Sunday School children and the wives of men fighting in the war.

The church was keen to bring in new people. In the early part of the twentieth century, it joined forces with Magdalen Road Mission and St Clement's church to hold a summer open-air mission. After meeting at the church for a few words of prayer, those involved then proceeded to the streets of East Oxford 'to preach the gospel of Christ.'


The Congregational Church c. 1910
© Jeremy's (Oxford Stamp Centre)

Edward Radbone, a grocer in Cowley Road, was a pioneer in setting up a Congregational Church in east Oxford in 1868. A church was built on the corner of James St and Cowley Road in 1869. Congregational Hall was built next to the church and amongst other activities Pleasant Sunday Afternoons were organized from here.

Roman Catholic

St Edmund and Frideswide's Church was built in 1911 on the Iffley Road. Roman Catholics would have had to travel across the city to attend services before this time.

Nazareth House

Nazareth House

The Sisters of Nazareth, a Roman Catholic Sisterhood, was founded by Victoire Larmenier who came to London from France in 1851. Several years later she became Mother St Basil and by 1878, the year of her death, the organization had established eight homes in the country for homeless children and poor old people. Initially the homes were for old people but from1853 abandoned and homeless children were accommodated by the Sisters in Hammersmith.

In Oxford Nazareth House was built on the corner of Rectory Road and Cowley Road in 1875. Nazareth House stopped functioning as an old people's home in 1974. It is now James Mellon House (student accommodation).

The Congregation was formally approved and confirmed by Pope Leo XIII on March 18, 1888. The Mother House was then established in Hammersmith, London where it remains today.


Percy St Chapel & Parsonage

A Unitarian Church was opened in Percy Street in 1898 by Vernon Herford and it was listed as such in the 1899 Kelly's Street Directory. But under Vernon Herford's leadership, the name of the church changed several times in reflection of changing styles of worship. By 1905 the church was called Order of the Christian Faith - Liberal Christian Church. Two years later (1907) Kelly's Street Directory entry simply lists the church as the Liberal Christian Church. In 1908 James Walter Blay is listed instead of Rev Vernon Herford. For the next two years the entries remain the same. The 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913 entries list the property as the Evangelical Catholic Church. In 1913 the property was bought by Father Cecil Scott as a church hall and parsonage for St Albans. (See Fact Sheet on St Albans)


A Non-sectarian Mission House was built in Magdalen Road in 1879. This was extended in 1884 and rebuilt 1901. (This was also known as Magdalen Road Workman's Hall in 1879). In 1868 there was a Baptist Chapel opposite Bullingdon Road.

Wesley Hall Opening Ceremony 1904
© Cowley Road Methodist Church


Kelly's Street Directories

Further reading:

John Boylan, Cowley Road Methodist Church Centre Oxford, Centenary 1904-2004, (Oxford: Cowley Road Methodist Church Centre, 2004).

Malcolm Graham, On Foot in Oxford

Malcolm Graham, Malcolm Graham, The suburbs of Victorian Oxford, (unpublished PhD thesis Leicester University 1985).

George F Tull, Vernon Herford Apostle of Unity, (Bradford: Broadacre Books, 1958)

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