The story behind our Junior Church 

The history of Bladon Junior Church

Read about how the Junior Church started and how we got to where we are today!
Early Education in Bladon

The first evidence of any education in Bladon was in 1774 when the rector reported that between ten and twelve children had been sent to school. There is no further evidence of any education in the village until 1808 when fifty-four children attended an endowed school which was a fee paying establishment where the pupils boarded. Discipline was usually very strict and fees were high. It is not known exactly how far away from Bladon this school was. Six of the children were paid for by the Hopkins charity, a sum of money left in 1643 by Peter Hopkins for the education of poor children. The others had to pay a weekly fee themselves.

By 1830 day school education had virtually ceased to exist and the only form of education available was from a Sunday School run jointly by the Anglicans and Methodists. After the classes the children would depart to their own places of worship. From 1831 to 1833 the Hopkins charity money was paid to the Sunday School.

A day school is reported to have briefly started in 1834 and again in the early 1850s. they were both known as 'dame schools' as the were run by widowed ladies. One of them was led by an elderly lady called Mrs Ferrebee in a house which has now been demolished. Neither of the schools lasted very long and both were described as "most inefficient".

Bladon Sunday School

In 1818 Mr John Sumner moved into Bladon with his pony and cart and set up as an egg merchant. He attended the markets at Oxford and Witney and became very well known in the area. At that time the nearest Methodist Chapel was at Freeland and at 6am every Sunday morning John Sumner and his wife used to walk there for a class meeting, John carrying the baby and his wife carrying the lantern. However soon after moving to the village John Sumner would open up his small cottage on Sunday evenings for anyone who wanted to join him and his family to read from the bible and to sing a few hymns.

In the late 1830s John Sumer and his friends felt that the morning class meetings and evening services at the cottage were becoming somewhat crowded and they began to talk about a chapel. Despite the harsh economic climate at the time, they worked hard and collected money, the Duchess of Marlborough assisiting them with a generous donation of £2 2s. In 1843 a chapel, now known as 'the schoolroom', was built at the cost of one hundred and forty-four pounds, three shillings and 8 pence. At the same time the Sunday School, later to become Bladon Junior Church,  started meeting.

The schoolroom had an earthen floor and it was not for many years that the seats were raised onto a wooden floor. On each side of the pulpit were two large family pews with one narrow pew immediately behind. The rest of the seating consisted of long benches with a single back rail. Gas and electric lighting were unknown at the time so candles and rushlights were the only means of artificial light. There was a primitively constructed chandelier hanging from the centre of the chapel containing brackets with sockets for candles and similiar brackets were attached to the walls. During the services the words of the hymns would be read out two lines at a time for the benefit of those who couldn't read or who couldn't afford the hymn books. The singing at all the services was led by Mr Davison Harris, the Sunday School superintendant, for there was no organ or musical instruments in the chapel
Bladon in 1843
Mr Davidson Harris
'Uncle Bob' Robinson
A New Church

In the 1860s attendance figures increased sharply and in 1866 a gallery was erected by Mr Bayliss, the village carpenter at a cost of £54 11s 7d. At this time the gallery was said to be a very convenient place for couples. It is not clear exactly what was being refered to! Even with the gallery the congregations became so crowded that in order to secure a seat at the evening service it was necessary to arrive a quarter of an hour in advance.

The lack of space became so acute that a meeting was called to consider the possibility of building an extention to the chapel. After much discussion Mr Joseph Adams who was chairing the meeting suggested that a new chapel should be built and he offered to donate a site next to the exisiting chapel and also £25 to the building fund. The meeting unanimously accepted his proposal and another £68 had been promised before the meeting broke up. Most of the subscribers were agricultural labourers who earned only ten to eleven shillings per week and their donations represented several weeks wages, a very great sacrifice on their part.

The new building was designed by Mr Ranger, a London architect and Mr Bartlett, a builder from Bloxham was contracted to do the construction work. On July 17th 1877 the foundation stones were laid and within three months the new building had been completed. It had cost just over £500. The opening service took place on thursday 30th October 1877 to a full congregation. This was followed by tea in the old chapel to which 200 people attended. Then at 6 o'clock the Reverend Alexander McAulay, ex-president of the Wesleyan conference led the evening service where, despite the bad weather that day, there were such large numbers of people that many couldn't fit in. An article in The Oxford Times described the new church as 'the best village place of worship in the Oxford circuit'. It added that the modern lean back seats were 'extremely comfortable' and the building was 'lofty and well ventilated'.

The next major work on the building did not take place for another 70 years when, in 1977, the church was totally refurbished. This involved replacing the fixed wooden pews with comfortable movable seating and the entrance was given a new look by replacing the solid partitioning with glass. The building was also carpeted.

Junior Church in the Past

Sunday School in the past was very different from ours today. There were two meetings, one in the morning and another at 2pm in the afternoon. The morning meeting started with a hymn and a roll call. Then there was a catechism lesson when the children recited from memory extracts from the bible. This was followed by questions on the extracts. The children would then divide into classes. In the early days before the day school started these classes were used to teach children the alaphabet and how to read and write. In the afternoon there would again be a hymn and a roll call. The visiting preacher from the morning service would then address the children on an 'interesting subject'. Later on the children would also be required to attend the evening service. Each child had an attendance card and stars were stuck on weekly to denote full attendance. A complete card at the end of the year warranted a special prize, usually a book. The children also had missionary boxes, one for girls and one for boys, to put their spare pennies in.

Good Friday was when Sunday School Anniversary was celebrated. The children met at the church in the early afternoon and paraded around the village led by a large red and gold banner and accompanied by a drum and fife, stopping at various locations to sing hymns. Afterwards they went back to the church for tea and then had games and races. Later in the evening prizes of books were presented to the children, a tradition that has survived to the present day. In the mid 20th centuary the Anniversay moved from Good Friday to Palm Sunday.

Mr Davison Harris was Sunday School superintendant from 1843 until 1890. He was followed by Mr Charles Adams, Mr Charles Smith and Mr Edward Smith who led the Sunday School until 1921 when Mr Robert Robinson became superintendent. He was affectionally known to many people as simply 'Uncle Bob'. Mr Robinson led the Sunday School for thirty-six years. He was followed in 1957 by Mrs Irene Smith who had been assisting Mr Robinson for some time. She used to organise paper chases and treasure hunts for the children during the summer months and games evenings during the winter. Mrs Smith led the Sunday School until 1972 when Mrs Vera Hoad, who had been assisting Mrs Smith since 1966, took over. In 1974 a club was formed that met one evening a week with games and activities for the older children. This club ran until 1979.

Bladon Junior Church

In 1975 the Sunday School was renamed 'Junior Church' and it was decided to meet at 11am rather than 10am to allow the children to spend a short time in the morning service.

The refurbishment of the Methodist Church in 1977 made quite a big impact on the Junior Church. Replacing the fixed wooden pews with comfortable movable chairs meant that much more imaginative use could be made of the church on special occasions such as Christmas, Harvest Festival and Mothering Sunday. Some services have even be conducted 'in the round'.

A Christmas musical called Jack Frost in 1987 was the first evening performance by the Junior Church. Over the following years evening productions and concerts became established events in the Junior Church calender.
An early Sunday School Anniversary
Early accounts show an outing to Kidlington Zoo
IAt the present time there are thirty-five children on the Junior Church register and attendances on Sunday morning average around thirty children. These numbers do not compare favourably to past attendance numbers when it was more the custom to compel children to attend. However comfort may be taken from the knowledge that those who attend today come because they want to.

The Junior Church in the late 20th century
The 'teaching' is much less formal in the Junior Church of today but it is nethertheless there. The Christian message is taught through the weekly service, the plays performed by the children and the quizzes and many other activities in which they take part. Music, through instrumental playing and singing also play a large part in Junior Church life and help to spread the Christian message. The Junior Church often lead the morning service on special occasions such as Mothering Sunday, Harvest Festival and Christmas. Every autumn a major production is staged in which all the children take part, either on stage or behind the scenes.

The first evening production
Jack Frost in 1987
Junior Church logo 1990
​& 150th Anniversary logo

Junior Church logo 2000