Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hook Norton, Oxfordshire

High windows

Finding myself near Hook Norton the other day, and recalling that my most memorable trip there involved a visit to the brewery, I decided to stop in the village and see what I’d missed the first time round. A pair of tall windows, partly hidden by trees, caught my eye. Looking closer, I found that the windows belonged to a Baptist chapel with a long history.

Beware of date stones. The one on the front of the Hook Norton chapel bears the date 1718. But the history of Baptist worship in Hook Norton goes back to the 1640s when, according to the chapel’s own website, the first pastor, James Wilmot, was imprisoned for preaching. The significance of the 1718 date is that this was when the Baptists acquired this plot of land, with room for both chapel and graveyard. However they rebuilt the chapel in 1787, which is the date of the present structure with its walls of local toffee-coloured stone and its high windows with beautiful curving glazing bars. There were further alterations in the Victorian period, when a gallery supported on cast-iron columns, still visible through the windows, was installed, to increase the seating capacity.

Hook Norton is a fair-sized village, but no doubt people also came to the chapel from surrounding villages in the area between Banbury and Chipping Norton. They found a simple, solid building, in a setting that feels peaceful because the chapel is sited well back from the road. It’s an atmosphere of quiet and seclusion that people must still appreciate today.

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