There is evidence of Methodists worshipping in Chipping Norton from about 1790. Originally they used to worship in a building to the back of Victoria Place – behind Beadles the butchers in Spring Street. The entrance was between two former barns through a wrought iron gate. However it is believed this building burnt down in later years.
In 1796 land was purchased in Distons Lane and a new chapel was built – you can see a picture and read more about it on our Primitive Methodist site here. By 1851 attendance at the evening service had risen to about 280. So it was decided to sell the Distons Lane Church to the Primitive Methodists including “All that piece of ground contiguous to the said Chapel as the same heretofore been used as a place of Sepulchure by the people called Methodists for the last 30 years and wherein many of the members of the Chipping Norton Society and others accustomed to Worship in the said Chapel are interred and many of the tombs and gravestones denote the fact of their remains lying there.” When work was being carried out at number 18 a coffin was found right up against the house wall.
In 1868 a new chapel was built in West Street on the site of a former public house. It had seated accommodation for 315 people and the official record states :-“This building has been duly registered as a place of worship for the use of people called Weslyan Methodists”. The Primitive Methodists continued to worship in Distons Lane until 1932 when the Primitives and Wesleyans amalgamated.
In 1905 the National Children’s home moved from Chadlington to Chipping Norton and a very close relationship existed between the school and church members until recent years.
In 1906 the Rose window behind the pulpit was put in and dedicated to the life of Josiah Nix, connexional evangelist, who resided in Oxford. He was also known as the ‘racecourse preacher’ as he used to preach at various racecourses. The donor of the window was James Nix and cost the princely sum of £14 guineas.
Also included with the building was the school room built behind the church. This was used a great deal particularly during the Second World War when it was an open house for men of the forces. The building was sold in 1985 to raise funds and is now a physiotherapists clinic but they are not allowed to open on a Sunday.
The church was extensively redecorated and refurbished in 1940s.
Downstairs there used to be a stage complete with footlights and in the 1960s the Methodist Players regularly performed in pantomime. Scripts had to be edited so there were no references to alcoholic liquor. These continued until the Methodist Players amalgamated with the Nortonian Amateur Dramatic Society in 1973.
Thanks to Dennis Lewis for comments from his book Distons Lane, Chipping Norton