Campton 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.
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. One drawback with the registrations are that they do not usually inform the reader of the particular type of denomination involved, though sometimes it is possible to infer it from other evidence.
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has one registration relating to Campton - that of a tenement in occupation of Francis Clark in 1841, which was registered by Clark himself and William King [ABN1/2 and ABN2/237].
Visitations by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in the early 18th century give some idea as to the number of nonconformists in each parish from returns made by the vicar or rector. Former County Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002); information for Campton (which then included the township of Shefford) includes the following:
- 1706: "The parish is about five miles extent; and has about 150 families in it. Of these 21 are of dissenters from the Church of England, of what kinds 'tis hard to say, since excepting two Quakers, the rest do not know what to call themselves. There is a place in Shefford where they have been wont to meet, but at present they are not regular, and meet seldomer than they were wont to do".
- 1709: "Families 150, sould about 700. One of two and twenty families Dissenters. Some few Quakers, the most part Independents. They have no constant but only occasionall meetings. Their chief teacher is Killingworth. When they do meet their number is considerable". Thomas Killingworth was a Strict Baptist from Southill.
- 1712: "27 families the greater part of which are Dissenters: 3 Quakers, the rest Independents or Anabaptists. they preach at Funeralls, out of the Licensed House".
- 1717: "There are near 150 families in my Parish, of which 28 are dissenters, most Independents, some few Quakers. There is a meeting house in Shefford, which has been Licensed, but there is seldom now any Teaching there".
- 1720: "The Number of Dissenters is not increased, so far as I can learn, but rather decreased. There is at present no meeting-house in my Parish".