Aspley Registration and Early References
In 1672 Charles II issued a Declaration of Toleration for Protestants dissenting from the Church of England; this had the effect of some dissenting meeting houses registering with the Secretary of State. The Toleration Act of 1689 enshrined the right of protestants to dissent from the Church of England and, once again, encouraged meeting houses to register voluntarily with local quarter sessions and Anglican church. Registration provided protection against persecution, laying a duty of protection upon magistrates and so was popular with nonconformists. Most registrations were made with quarter sessions until the middle of the 18th century, presumably due to the mutual antagonism of nonconformists and established Church. However, from that point registration with the Church, via the local archdeaconry began to become the favoured method, because the archdeaconry Registrar would issue a licence at any time rather than during the days each quarter when the quarter sessions met.
Volume 81 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is devoted to returns made during episcopal visitations to the county by the Bishop of Lincoln in the early 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. One of the questions asked was the number of nonconformist families in the parish; the various responses were as follows:
1706: "...there are some Dissenters both Quakers and Anabaptists; to the number of about 6 families, but they have no Meeting House in this parish. No Papists or reputed papists live in it";
1709: "...6 families of Quakers, 2 of Anabaptists";
1717: "Five families Quakers; three families Presbyterians...No such houses for meeters";
1720: "Seven of them [families] Dissenters, six Quakers, and one Anabaptist. No Meeting house".
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a reasonable number of registrations of nonconformist meeting houses in both the Quarter Sessions and Archdeaconry of Bedford archives. Registration continued through the 19th century even though persecution faded away - this was because registered buildings were allowed to claim exemption from parish poor rates, were exempt from control by the Charity Commission and were allowed to be licensed to carry out marriages. These things meant that registration became almost compulsory in practice for well established nonconformist meetings. This is fortunate for the local historian because sometimes the only surviving references to a nonconformist meeting occur as registrations.
Volume 110 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1996 and edited by Edwin Welch contains registrations of Bedfordshire nonconformist meetings drawn from a number of sources. Those for Aspley Guise are as follows:
- the house of Thomas Candy was registered in 1807;
- the house of Eleanor Bosworth was registered in 1808;
- Thomas Candy's house was again registered in 1809 and was recorded as being bound by the tenement of Samuel Fensam on one side and the dwellinghouse of Thomas Sear on the other, those registering were Joseph Sibthorp senior and junior, William Jackson, George Foskett, William Smith, Joseph Chapman and Peter Gilks all of Aspley Guise;
- the house of Joseph Pain of Aspley Guise was registered for worship in 1811, witnessed by William Britten, John Pain and William Bowdery.