SAMUEL WILBERFORCE, the bishop of Oxford from 1845 to 1869, described Wheatley as “the most difficult village” in his diocese. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was a place beset with social problems which in our day we might more commonly associate with an inner city. The inhabitants of the village at this time suffered more than many in terms of poverty, unemployment, and the social ills resulting from drunkenness and a lack of educational opportunity.
But as the result of one man’s dedication, Wheatley became a much more quiet and civilised place to live, where public hygiene had been improved, a new school provided for the children, a railway constructed connecting the village to the outside world and, of course, a new church built for the worship of God and the uplift of morals in the village generally.
This man was the Reverend Edward Elton, who ministered in the parish from 1849 to 1884, a man whom we can now see acted rather like a village squire, concerned to improve the lot of his parishioners materially as much as to bring them closer to God. In doing so, Elton was assuming a role which many Victorian clergymen saw as an appropriate way of carrying out their calling to holy orders. This book details the fascinating tale of the trials and successes which Elton experienced in bringing about the transformation of our village.Foreword to “The Most Difficult Village” by John Prest (2006), contributed by Rev’d James Watson Team Rector of the Wheatley Team Ministry and Vicar of St. Mary’s, Wheatley. The forward concludes:
But there is more to Wheatley than Elton, and this book celebrates much that took place after him. Readers will be pleased and delighted to learn more about the lives of the clergy and parishioners who followed after Elton.
John Prest taught modern British history at Balliol College, Oxford. He and Susan Prest have lived in the village for over forty-five years, and we are fortunate in having a member of the congregation at St. Mary’s to write this account of Wheatley and its church over the last century and a half.