WHEATLEY Village History

The Most Difficult Village

Wheatley Lock-up
Wheatley Lock-up

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.


  1. This made a very interesting read thank you. I Was born in Wheatley and lived there until I was 31, I’m now 62. I am writing a book that will involve some village events. I hope to call in to Wheatley Archives if that is acceptable to help me follow up my investigation.
    Kindest regards
    Nigel Crowther

  2. My Grandad, Bertie Shorter was born in Wheatley,in 1885, my dad Fred Shorter passed away before I started doing the family history so it has been difficult to put a family tree together. I’m so pleased I found this site, it has given me a good insight into life in Wheately and also some names to connect to. I am having difficulty finding Berties wife Theresa May Knowles, I have her marriage certificate to Bertie and her death certificate, but I can’t find her birth,I don’t know if there were any families called Knowles in Wheatley.I am wondering if you can help me.I hope to get to England one day and visit Wheately and also Kingham Hill School where my father was sent after his mother died in childbirth when he was a little boy.Thankyou in anticipation.
    Regards Christine Knapp nee Shorter.

  3. my grandfather Henry shepherd was born in Wheatley.
    I am putting together photographs of the different places in the country where my ancestors came from.
    Would there be any photos of Wheatley from the 1860’s or there about.
    Thank You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *