Rose Hill Methodist Church as we know it today

Rose Hill Methodist Church has a long and varied history dating back to 1833.

Below is a review of its history, as written by Freda Hoare and Stephen Roper (previous stewards) in 1985 to celebrate its 150th (“sesquicentennial”) anniversary. We hope to add to this in the next few years to include some of our more recent history.

If you’d like to re-use this for any reason, you are welcome to do so, but please first contact our senior steward from here, so rights to reprint can be sought. Happy reading! If you’re interested in our graveyard, please see here for details and photos put together by our Circuit Heritage Officer.

If you’d like to know more about this area of Oxford, Liz Woolley‘s history of Rose Hill is excellent. Read it here.


The writing of this celebratory history of Rose Hill Methodist Church gave me such pleasure, some of which I hope you will share as you read it. Looking through the old documents of our church gives one pause to reflect, at times, on how much has changed, and at other times, on how little. People will, I suppose, always be the same.

Two previous histories of Rose Hill have been written. The first, by W.J.S. Bayliss, written in 1935 at the time of the centenary, forms the basis for much of what follows. The second, by F. Bolton in 1960, brought the previous history up to date. The present booklet is more extensive than either of the these and has the advantage of the perspective gained on events by the passage of time. I hope this is enough of an excuse for its writing.

Thanks are due to many people. To Freda Hoare for encouragement and for her writing of the last section, to Kay Fairman and Fred and Doris Bolton for many useful cuttings and to Greta Johnson for her clarification of many points.

© Stephen Roper 1985.


Oxford’s part in the growth of Methodism in the 18th century is well known. Indeed John Wesley paid 56 pastoral visits to Oxford between 1730 and 1790. The main foundation in Oxford was in New Inn Hall Street, opposite the present St. Peter’s College, and is today commemorated by a plaque on the wall. The history of Rose Hill Methodist Church also begins here as the father of its founder Henry Leake is listed as one of the trustees of the old Wesley Memorial Church in 1818.

In the 1920s, Rose Hill itself was a very different place from today. Imagine walking down the high street and out along Iffley Road in those days. At first, little would appear to have changed except for an absence of buses and traffic lights. At The Plain, having passed through the toll gate and gone around the Cape of Good Hope Inn, one would leave the town behind and find fields lining both sides of the road. Crossing the brook on the approach to Iffley, the road turns slightly right, and climbs the bank of Iffley Turn. Right would lead into the village, and left would lead us up to Rose Hill.

The few houses then to be found at Rose Hill were an isolated part of the village of Iffley. The name ‘Rose Hill’ is derived from ‘Rose Bank’, the name given by a Doctor Ireland, to a house which he built for himself on the rise above the village. By 1835. Rose Hill included about 20 buildings in addition to the new Weslyan Methodist Chapel.


Henry Thomas Leake, the founder of Rose Hill Methodist Church, first arrived in Iffley with his mother in 1833. He moved into a house in Church Way, called Rivermead, which remains today almost exactly as it was then. Before moving to Iffley, he presumably lived in Witney as his father is described as “Henry Leake of Witney, Gentleman” in the list of trustees of the old Wesley Memorial Church.

Henry Leake’s association with Methodism seems to have begun before he moved to Iffley. However, the only clues we have about this and the early days of the church at Rose Hill are the remarks made by the founder at the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1886 and recalled by W.J.S Bayliss. Mr. Leake described how on moving to Iffley, he found a group of Methodists holding their services in a Mr. Gordon’s cottage. One Sunday, when a local preacher failed to turn up, he took a service. The group soon outgrew the cottage and after holding their services in a stable for some time, steps were taken to find a chapel site.

The Donnington Trust owned all the available land in Iffley Village, and were unhelpful in providing land for the chapel. This meant looking further afield, and the site at Rose Hill was chosen. Henry Leake personally purchased the site and paid for the construction of the chapel, helped by gifts totalling £30 (£3,837 using cumulative RPI inflation as at 2020) from Methodist friends. Rose Hill was the fifth chapel to be built in the circuit.

The laying of the foundation stone in June or July 1835 took place at 5 a.m. to enable people to go to work afterwards. At the opening of the chapel, the assembled crowd was too large to fit inside, and so they had to adjourn to the waste land opposite. 1835 must have been a busy year for Henry Leake as, in addition to founding Rose Hill, he was a Circuit Steward and was also on trial as a local preacher. Indeed, in the Winter quarter of 1834-5, the plan on which Rose Hill Methodist Church first appeared, Mr. Leake was planned to preach every Sunday!


Despite the impressive attendance at the chapel opening ceremony in 1835, congregations in the early years were smaller than those of today. In 1836, “Iffley Weslyan Memorial Church”, as it was called then, had only two Classes, one led by Henry Leake and one by “Brother Castle”. By the summer of 1837, the chapel boasted five classes, numbering 56 members in all, out of an Oxford total of 368. The circuit at this time consisted of 26 “preaching places”, but only five chapels, stretching from Blewbury in the South, to Chipping Norton in the North.

By 1839, the membership had risen to 63, and in that year, the chapel was conveyed to the Wesleyan Methodists from Henry Leake for a nominal 10s/-. Only in 1843 did “Rose Hill Wesleyan Methodist Church” appear in the circuit schedule book, or record of membership.

Early Services

In the early years, many members of the congregation could not read and of the few who could, even fewer would have have been able to afford hymn books. So the preacher would read, or if he could not read, recite from memory, two lines of a hymn and these would then be sung by the congregation. It is likely that for a time the only accompaniment was provided by Joseph Shirley on his piccolo assisted by a small group of singers in the gallery at the back of the church. Hymn singing may have been a lengthy business, but this did not hinder preachers who often spoke for an hour or more.

Communion services were rare. For example, there were only four planned in the whole circuit from November 1834 to February 1835. For these early communion services, Rose Hill used a Church of England Prayer Book presented to it in 1839. A collection of Wesley’s hymns was also used, but was obviously superceded at some stage by “Hymns of Light and Life” as, in February 1912, it was decided to replace this with a Sankey Hymnal. The Methodist Hymn book was published in 1933 to mark the founding of the Methodist Union. The supplement “Hymns and Songs” appeared in 1969, and this was followed by “Hymns and Psalms” in 1984.

Lean Years

At the Methodist Conference of 1850, three ministers identified with the Reform Movement were expelled – Revs. Everett, Griffith and Dunn. It seems that this had great implications for Rose Hill. In the 1935 history, W.J.S. Bayliss says “the chapel all but closed as a result of the expulsion of all but three of the members, and many of the leading local preachers, for their sympathies with the three ministers expelled by conference”. There exists however no documentary evidence for this although we do have some idea of what happened. On 26th June 1850, Rose Hill had 17 members, by September 1850, only 8 remained, 9 having been reported as backsliders! By March 1851, only 6 members remained.

The membership of Rose Hill did not rise much during the 1850s despite the leadership of Benjamin Leonard the master of the school, which was on the same site as the chapel. (Edit: The school was called the Cingal School, which then became Single School over time, which inspired the name Singletree). The membership crisis culminated in the sale of the chapel back to Henry Leake in June of 1860 for £125 (£15,299 using cumulative RPI inflation as at 2020). One of the terms of the conveyance was that if no service was held in the chapel for a year, then the Weslyan Methodists should have the option of repurchase. This however never arose because three weeks after buying the chapel, the founder of the church re-opened it as a unit of the United Methodist Free Church. The transfer was completed on 3rd March 1861 when the chapel was conveyed from Mr. Leake to the United Methodist Free Church Trust for £125, the same amount the founder had paid for it some 10 months earlier.

Throughout the 1850s, the finances of Rose Hill seem to have been perilous. In 1854, for example, the chapel was in debt for between £20 and £30 (between £2,232 and £3,348 using cumulative RPI inflation as at 2020). Despite this, an extra collection was held in 1854 for the “Worn-out Ministers Fund”.

The Graveyard

Before the chapel at Rose Hill was built, the Iffley Methodists were decided on the need for a burial ground of their own. This came about because of objections raised by the then vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Iffley, to allowing one of the Methodists, a “Brother Dyer”, to be buried in the churchyard.

The earliest recorded burials at Rose Hill date from 1842, although it seems likely that there were internments before this. The graveyard was extended in 1868 with the purchase of a cottage and garden for £50 plus £12 legal expenses (£5,691 plus £1,366 using cumulative RPI inflation as at 2020). The last burials took place in 1962, just before the graveyard was closed in November 1963. Soon after this, most of the headstones were moved against the church garden wall, and the area was turfed to make maintenance easier.

1870 – 1913

By 1869, Rose Hill had 14 full members but also appears to have had two groups that met on Tuesday evenings which had about 30 members in total. Henry Leake still preached occasionally at Rose Hill, and it was he who took the chair at the Jubilee Celebrations in 1886. The events of that year raised £145 (£18,970 using cumulative RPI inflation as at 2020), allowing the graveyard to be enclosed and a new vestry to be added to the church. Sources of income at the Jubilee were seat rents, class tickets, teas and a horsedrawn hoseboat trip to Nuneham.

The village atmosphere at Rose Hill must still have prevailed. In the 1880s, Oxford had grown, but only as far as Magdalen Road. Littlemore, on the other hand, now had its own station on the Great Western Railway branch line from Aylesbury to Oxford.

From 1890 onwards, we have a better understanding of the day to day life of the church as the minute book exists of the Trustees, Leaders and Members meetings. Those of before 1890 were destroyed in a fire at a steward’s house.

Two examples should suffice to give an impression of the issues of the 1890s. The first dates from September 1890. A suggestion was made that someone be appointed to light the fire in the church and to keep it clean. “Mrs. Brooks said she thought Mr. Ewers would let his servant do it”. In 1894, a proposal was made that the time for morning service be changed from 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

It was in the 1890s that R.J. Campbell (“Campbell of Christ”), famous preacher at City Temple and later Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral, preached his first sermon at Rose Hill while still an undergraduate at Christ Church College, Oxford. Campbell was involved with Rose Hill for some time before moving to Brighton. It was R.J. Campbell, together with his friend Mr. Hignott, who presented the organ to the church in 1895.

In 1907, Rose Hill became a United Methodist Church on the amalgamation of the Free Methodists, the Methodist New Connexion and the Bible Christian Church. 1910 saw the death of Miss Jane Barton, the last surviving member at Rose Hill who remembered the days before the chapel building. She was buried in her family vault in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Church in Iffley, with the Methodist Minister of the day conducting the service.

In the same year, there is some evidence of the ambition of the people of Rose Hill. At a meeting on the 1st February, 16 people were present, but elections were made to 32 offices including “leader of string music” and a “soup kitchen committee”. Despite the election of a leader of string music, when the organist asked for the organ to be tuned before harvest, it was felt to be out of the question financially. However, there was to be an accompanying violin. By way of compensation for the organist, at the same meeting “N. Hyde was appointed organ blower for the night service”.

It is impossible to know whether the soup kitchen committee were ever active, but perhaps they were, for in March 1913, the poor fund showed a deficit of 1s/6d due to it being “well used”. In the same year, the usual donation of 10s/- to the infirmary was held back for the relief of the society’s own poor.

Sunday School Outings

In the late 19th Century, one of the most popular Sunday School Outings was a houseboat trip to Nuneham. A day’s outing was necessary as the boat moved slowly being pulled by a horse. Early in the 20th Century, other ideas were tried. For example, in 1910, “the Sunday School treat to Toot Baldon was reported a great success, two wagonettes, a van loaned by Littlemore Laundry and N.W. Weston’s trolley conveying children and their friends”. The following year, a different means of travel was used. The Sunday School travelled by rail from Littlemore to Mr. N. Lindsay’s meadow at Horspath.

1914 – 1930

Little idea is gained in reading the minutes of the various meetings of the impact of the First World War on Rose Hill. However, in August 1915, a steward of the church, N.J. Weston, was reported as having joined the Blue Cross and left Oxford on active service. In July 1917, his death in France was noted, and a resolution was passed to provide some memorial to him.

In 1920, the morning service was dropped due to the small attendances, and with the aid of a group from Wesley Memorial Church, attempts were made to revitalise Rose Hill. Modifications were made on the church buildings in 1921, when gas was connected. Central heating and electricity were added in 1929. Surprisingly perhaps, no water was laid on at the church until about 1923.

By the 1920s, the area around the church was beginning to alter rapidly. The Morris works makes its first appearance on the maps of the area, and consequently, Cowley village had begun to grow. Despite the changes in the area, it was still possible in 1922 to walk from Iffley to Littlemore across fields.

The membership in 1925 was 34 having been boosted by a mission held in November 1924. This consisted of one event each night for a fortnight, and was advertised by handbills, windowbills and lantern advertising.

Discussion of the need for a schoolroom at Rose Hill began in 1928 and led to the purchase of Walnut Tree cottage, at the back of the church in 1930.

Decade of Chance

In 1935, Rose Hill celebrated its centenary in the midst of great social and environmental upheaval. Until the 1930s, Rose Hill itself had preserved its village-like character, but this was soon to disappear.

Throughout the 1920s, the development of the Pressed Steel Works had led to an influx of population to Oxford from the more depressed areas of the country, especially South Wales. This increase in population, together with the condemnation of some 500 houses in St. Ebbe’s and St. Clement’s under the 1910 Housing Act, led the city council to look for building land elsewhere. In 1933, the council bought land at Rose Hill and by late 1934, the first houses on the estate were ready for occupation. Building on Westbury Crescent and the Annersley Road area also dates from about this time.

In March 1935, Rose Hill had 48 members, some of whom met in April of that year to consider plans for the centenary. This initial meeting was very much a circuit celebration. On January 22nd, it is minuted that Gypsy Smith, a famous preacher ofthe day, had sent a telegram to one member of the church agreeing to come for a day of meetings on April 14th. The programme for the day, held at Wesley Memorial Church was as follows:

  • An afternoon meeting at 3:30 p.m.
  • Tea at 5:00 p.m.
  • An evening meeting at 6:30 p.m.

Tea tickets were to be 9d. The collection for the day’s meetings amounted to £79/11s/2d, and tea tickets raised £14/4s/3d. There was a net profit of £63/4s/2d.

The programme for the events of June 1935 was as follows:

  • Saturday 1st June – 6:30 p.m. Reunion of “Pasts” and “Presents”.
  • Sunday 2nd June – 8:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Preacher Revd. W.P. Austin “on site of the new church if fine”.
  • Monday 3rd – 7:30 p.m. Open Air meeting of youth witness on site of new church.
  • Tuesday 4th – June 7:30 p.m. Local Preachers’ night, Five minute speeches from 14 “locals”.
  • Thursday 6th June – At Wesley Memorial Church:
    • 4:00 p.m. Service.
    • 5:15 p.m. Tea.
    • 6:30 p.m. Hymn singing by a United Choir of Methodists.
    • 7:00 p.m. Public Meeting.
    • Preachers Rev Luke Wiseman and Revd. W.P. Austin.
  • Sunday 9th June – 8:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday School Centenary Anniversary.
    Preachers Rev H.S. Derby and Mr. H.J. Martyr.

The final financial result of the June meetings and services was a net surplus of £1/9s/10d which, together with the surplus of the Gypsy Smith meeting, was transferred to the Building Fund. This has existed for several years since Rose Hill had begun to think about a new building in 1930. Rose Hill was allocated £700, of which £300 was spent on the new site. By 1938, doubts had arisen about the possibility of building a new church and modifications were suggested to the old building. In February 1939, the Joint Trust Meeting (the meeting of the “old” and “new” Rose Hill Trusts) saw the plans for the new scheme drawn up by Stewart and Cripps of Headington. By April 1940 a tender for £1677 for the building had been accepted.

The 1930s was a decade of change, but a familiar note is sounded in November 1938 when the Youth Fellowship were recorded as having collected the N.C.H. envelopes. In addition to the Youth Fellowship, there was an active Christian Endeavour Group, a Boys’ Brigade and a Girls’ Brigade.


There have been two major additions to the church, which in 1935, at the centenary, was much the same as it had been at its founding a century before. The original size can be seen from the ceiling in the back portion of the church today.

The first extension took place in 1940-1 and now forms the chancel part of the church. Before this, the pulpit was facing the front door, with the organ at the side and a vestry to the rear. When the extension was built, the pulpit and organ were moved to their present positions. Funds for the scheme were raised in a variety of ways including a “Round the World Bazaar” held in the school room at Cowley Road on November 6th 1937. On February 2nd 1939, the final choir perfomance took place before the builders moved in, a performance of “David the Shepherd Boy”. Another part of the fundraising was the sale of “stones” and “bricks” in the new building. Donors of £5 or more were entitled to have a installed in the wall, still to be seen round the church walls outside, and those giving 5s/- were allowed a brick. The foundation stone was laid on 11th July 1940 and the extension was opened on 9th April 1942 by Miss Gladys Skipper, a member of Rose Hill, and Mayoress of Oxford.

The sale of “stones” was repeated in 1957 to raise funds for the second major extension, which provided extra accommodation at the rear of the church for youth work. The foundation stone was laid by Revd. Joseph Dowell on November 2nd 1957. In a box under the stone were placed photgraphs of the church, copies of the Oxford Mail and Methodist Recorder, a set of postage stamps, a photograph of a joint silver wedding party held at the church, coins, and a metal Boy Scouts woggle presented at the World Jambouree.

The total cost of this scheme was £4347 (£105,500 using RPI inflation as at 2020) of which £556 was raised locally, £2000 came from circuit funds, £790 from the Joseph Rank Trust and £300 from the Methodist Chapel Fund. In addition, over £600 came from a covenanted donation scheme. The extension was opened by Revd. Joseph Heaven on Saturday May 17th 1958.

The last major change to the interior of the church took place in the early 1960s. In 1960, the organ was rebuilt and a new oak case was dedicated to the memory of W.J.S. Bayliss who died in 1959. He had been a local preacher since 1898 and a trustee of Rose Hill since 1903. The organ itself, which was a gift to the church in 1895, has an interesting history. It is older than the church and was originally in St. Mary’s Iffley Parish Church before it was sold to Paradise Square Baptist Church in 1875, then later moved to Rose Hill Methodist Church.

The 1960s saw the provision of a new light oak communion table, the new communion rail, the removal of the choir stalls and the carpeting of the chancel area. However, the front of the church as we know it today derives much of its character from the many memorial gifts it contains. The pulpit casing, organ screen, lectern, font and flower stands, together with other gifts such as the amplification system, were all donated by former members of the church. Perhaps the most strking of all the memorial gifts is the stained glass windows.

1940 – 1985

The first indications of the Second World War in the minutes of the period are the plans for the blackout of the church in Spetember 1939. Various activities were also stopped until the situation changed, or there was a full moon. In addition, it was decided to have a box in the vestry to supply “comforts” to “our young men who have joined the colours”. By 1943, it is recorded that 30 people appearing on the community roll were on active service. The church also contributed its railings for the war effort getting compensation of £4/14s/4d.

In the anniversary year, the 16 members of the congregation with the longest association with Rose Hill were asked the names of the people they remembered best. What a roll of honour that was! Some names were mentioned by most, some by only one or two. The rest of this section is based on their memories.

Under the ministry of Revd. Joseph Heaven, 1946-1951, there was good lay leadership in every department of the church’s life. There were six preachers in the congregation. A men’s fellowship, 20 strong, met at the Manse and heard a range of speakers – many of whose names are now famous. Women’s meetings were well very attended for some decades. Music was enjoyed – there was a choir of 23 members, and anthems were sung each Sunday. The choir was in much demand around the circuit. There were four organists to share the duties.

Soon after the war, the whole area was canvassed to find out where the church’s future lay, and to discover the whereabouts of every old person, the ages of children and young people, their church allegiance if any, and to give an invitation to all. Involvement in the community became a priority and members of Rose Hill became Justices of the Peace, Local Councillors, Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of the Rose Hill Community Centre (where Butler House now stands in Ashurst Way), and organised Worker’s Education Association classes, sports facilities and dances. A branch Sunday School was run at the hut. Rose Hill has benefited from being part of the Oxford Circuit and many of our members have held Circuit Office and helped with and supported circuit events.

Records of Overseas Missions giving begin in 1937, when the total was £6/5s/10d. In 1984, the total given was £720, which was reached with the help of the Junior Missionary Association. Interest and enthuiasm have been fostered by devoted workers, who have kept the World Church very much in the minds of the congregation. Home Mission has been similarly supported.

The ministry of the Revd. H. Seymour Tonkin, 1951-1956, marked a period on consolidation and ecumenical links were strengthened. A Girl Guide Company was formed in 1952 (the same year that Rose Hill Primary School was started) and Brownies in 1953, both still going strong (as at 1985), Sunday School Anniversaries were a Sunday and Monday affair; outings to Wicksteed Park or Littlehampton needed two coaches to get everyone in.

During the Revd. Stanley Martin’s ministry, 1956-1963, the Christmas Bazaar was replaced by a Gift Day, amazing for its generosity year by year. The social side was not neglected though, “Birthday Socials” took place bi-monthly, involving everyone. A Young Wives’ group was formed, later to become the Women’s Evening Fellowship. The Men’s Regnal Circle organised lovely Christmas Parties for the elderly folk of the church and neighbourhood. Flower Shows and Garden Parties were great occasions. During the 1950s and 1960s, youth clubs were started as the need arose, Junior Christian Endeavour, Youth Missionary Association and Junior Choirs, all flourished and are fondly remembered by young adults in various parts of the country, and indeed the world.

The life and activity of the church continued steadily during the ministry of Revd. Philip Bate, 1963-1968. New ventures were introduced, including regular weekly visits to Littlemore Hospital to sing and spend time with the patients.

In 1968, the Oxford Circuit staff was reduced, the Westbury Crescent manse was sold, and Rose Hill once again came into the care of the Cowley Road minister – the Revd. Joe Gibbon. During his period of office, the congregation were helped towards a more lively social conscience and the social implications of the Christian Gospel, particularly in youth work, were appreciated and an “open” youth club was formed.

Over the years, worship has changed and developed in subtle ways, with more lay participation, family services and family communion. This was particularly so during the Revd. Frank Bishop’s ministry, 1972-1978.

The Women’s Fellowship has become the Wednesday Fellowship, welcoming men as well as women. Sunday School has become Junior Church. A warm and cooperative relationship with the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Iffley has been established. Bible Study and Fellowship Groups are meeting. A new Junior Youth Club was started in January 1985. The Revd. Alan Grist, who succeeded Revd. Frank Bishop, is leading us to a greater awareness of the needs of those around us, and the need to face up to the social changes in our world and to react effectively to them.

Throughout the 20th Century, children’s ministry at Rose Hill was thriving. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Sunday School had about 100 children, who would meet for classes in the morning, games in the afternoon, and went on regular day-long outings to places in and around Oxford on Saturdays.

The Boys Brigade (which closed in the 1990s) was also extensive and was one of the biggest battalions in Oxfordshire for several years. They would often process round what is now Temple Cowley shopping centre in dress uniform.

(If anyone has any photos from this time, we’d love to share them on our website. Please send them to Libby).

Each of the former ministers in his taped message for the Gift Day Celebration, “Rose Hill – This is Your Life”, remembered Rose Hill as a very caring fellowship. We gratefully thank God for the caring example of our ministers and their wives. Lines from an 18th Century hymn and a 20th Century hymn express our thankfulness and dedication:

“We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for that’s to come.”

“Then give us courage, Father God,
To choose again the pilgrim way,
And help us to accept with joy
The challenge of tomorrows day.”