(originally published - April 2006)

Oxhill Methodist Church – now awaiting its new life after closure in 2003* - will have seen many a builder’s trowel in its lifetime. The original Chapel was built in 1814, enlarged in 1839, and restored in 1878, when the schoolroom was added. However at the reopening ceremony of the restored building on 21st June 1878, much smarter, silver-plated trowels with ivory handles, made by H. Walford and Son, Jewellers, High Street, Banbury, were presented to the four people who were to lay the memorial stones. Through the good offices of the Oxhill website, one of these presentation trowels has unexpectedly now made its way back to the village from Vancouver.

News of it first came in an email in November, 2005 from the daughter of an elderly man Mr Kenneth Greenaway, who was packing up her father’s home as he was now moving to a nursing home in Vancouver. Among his possessions was a silver-plated trowel, with a commemorative inscription to Mr J.G. Ward of Oxhill on the occasion of the reopening ceremony of the Chapel in 1878. Mr Greenaway had inherited this from Mrs Blanche Clarke, nee Ward, for whom, together with her sister, Miss Constance Ward, he had acted as accountant and executor. He now wished that the trowel should be returned to its village of origin.

The Ward family were substantial farmers and property owners in Oxhill during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were also devout Methodists , and played a great part in the establishment of the Chapel. Mr James Gardner Ward, who laid the fourth memorial stone in 1878, lived at Whitehill House (then Oxhill Villa). James had an unlucky time of it in his stone-laying, as the rope holding his stone up broke, so that the stone came down into position heavily, and splattered him with mortar! Moreover, later that evening, some miscreants removed all four stones from their positions, uncovering the bottle that had been placed in a cavity in one stone, which contained various memorabilia -a local paper, the day’s service sheet, several coins of the realm, etc. Luckily the bottle was still intact, and its seal unbroken, which was considered strange. (Perhaps there were fears for the safety of the coins of the realm; it was a time of great poverty.) Nevertheless, the report in the Banbury Advertiser sternly hoped that the perpetrators would be unearthed and made an example of. There is no evidence to show that they ever were.

James Gardner Ward married twice, and had a large family. It is a happy discovery to find that Constance and Blanche from Vancouver are in fact his grandchildren, daughters of his eldest son Charles. Charles is described at different points in his life as “an engineer” and “a photographer”, and his daughters Constance Effie and Blanche Emily were born in Rochester in 1885 and 1886 respectively. Constance became a missionary in China, and Blanche a teacher, who did not marry until she was 65. Both sisters retired to Vancouver where they were members of the United Church of Canada, continuing the tradition of piety and service that had always been strong in the family. They died there – Constance in 1969, and Blanche in 1973, leaving the trowel to their executor, Kenneth Greenaway, to whom we are indebted for its return to Oxhill.

Ann Hale
April 2006

*Now privately owned, and restored as a meeting hall, primarily for church functions within the area. A.H. 2011