Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cote, Oxfordshire


Rural restraint

In around 1703, a group of Baptists from Longworth near Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire acquired some land across the Thames at Cote and built a new chapel there. A few decades later, probably during the 1750s, they enlarged the chapel to create this lovely building with its symmetrical front (the bush conceals a second doorway), plain window openings, and truncated gable.

This building marks what I think of as the second phase of nonconformist worship in England. In the 17th century it had been against the law for dissenters from the Church of England to gather in their own places of worship. They could face penalties both for not attending church and for holding illegal meetings of their own. As a result, nonconformists met in studied obscurity – in people’s houses in isolated country spots and in obscure town buildings up quiet alleys.

In 1689 the Toleration Act granted certain non-Anglicans the right to assemble for worship under certain conditions – they had to register their places of worship, swear allegiance to the monarch (this ruled out Quakers, who swear no oaths, from the benefits of the Act), and to reject the doctrine of transubstantiation (this ruled out Catholics). The Act meant that Protestant groups such as the Baptists could worship more publicly, and build proper chapels for themselves. Hence buildings like this one.

John Piper thought the chapel at Cote one of the most beautiful buildings in Oxfordshire. I suspect that he liked, as I do, its combination of local materials and chaste symmetry – there’s a very English restraint about it, as there is about many early chapels. The setting is delightful too, amongst trees and headstones, some of which go back to the 18th century to remind us of the first Baptists who came here and raised this simple, fitting building amongst the fields and farms.

12 comments:

Wartime Housewife said...

Please, please tell me that the village is really pronounced 'Bagpuss'.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Oh, Wartime Housewife, I must own up. Tact, accuracy, liberal humanism - they all go out of the window when the thought of a pun takes form in what are left of my 'brains' (those curious plural organs). It is really pronounced something like 'Bag-pews'.

Peter Ashley said...

Ah, curious village names pronunciation. Only fairly recently did I realise that my father wasn't joking when he told me that 'Cogenhoe' in Noerthamptonshire was pronounced 'Cookner'.

Philip Wilkinson said...

My grandfather insisted that the village of Sproatley (Yorkshire) was pronounced something like 'Spraughtler'. And a certain amount of verbal foreplay may be required before we pronounce Folkingham (Lincolnshire).

Peter Ashley said...

That Folkingham pronunciation is all too true. An old mate of mine who used to do live television news reports on Central TV always wanted to be sent there so that he could sign off with his name followed by 'Folkingham', just to send his editor into an apoplectic fit.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Tewkesbury, not far from where I live, is pronounced by locals 'Chucks-brie', and Evesham has three syllables in the vernacular pronunciation. In old guide books they always say Cirencester is pronounced 'Ciceter', but everyone I know just calls it 'Ciren'.

These things also have their snobbisms. Oxford's 'other' river, the Cherwell is pronounced as it looks by locals, but members of the university (who know that Magdalen College sounds like 'Maudlin College') call it the 'Charwell'.

Bucks Retronaut said...

And Oving,near here,can be called "Ohving" if it`s that part of the village which is up the hill,or "Ooving" if it`s down the hill.Just to confuse there`s a local rhyme which goes "Push along,shove along,keep a moving,When we gets to Pitchcott we`re half a mile from Oving".
Personally it`s all a bit over the hill, for me.

Philip Wilkinson said...

That's interesting, Bucks. There's a place called Over, near Gloucester, that seems to have similar variations in pronunciation. I thought it was just a case of 'You say Oover, I say Ohver', but maybe there's more to it than that.

Bucks Retronaut said...

And....what about Belvoir (Beaver),Beaconsfield (Beckonsfield),Hunstanton (Hunston) ?
And then the names......Featherstonehaugh/(Fanshawe),Cholmondeley/(Chumleigh),Ralph/(Rafe),Powell/(Pole).
It all reminds me of that slightly unnerving telly series "Little Britain"..and the enduring question "Are you Local?".

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, all good ones. Some of the last comment seems to have got chopped off, not sure why.

catalpa said...

Thanks for featuring Cote chapel - I spent many hours there as a teenager, taking part in church parade as a guide. It's lovely to see it again.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Pleased to see that it struck a chord, Catalpa.