Registration and Early References in Chalgrave
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.
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 Chalgrave includes the following:
- 1706: the parish had a total of 67 families: “of these 7 are of Anabaptists [i.e. Baptists] (whereof one has a Meeting house Licensed) and 2 of Quakers”.
- 1709: there were 50 families: “Of these 7 families Anabaptists, 5 Quakers. The former have a monthly meeting. Robert Hawkins, a Weaver, their Teacher”.
- 1717: “Seventy eight families, ten of which Dissenters, Presbyterians, Anabaptists and Quakers … One Anabaptist Meeting house inhabited by Robert Hawkins, a Teacher. They assemble once a month”.
- 1720: “Families fourscore and odd. Ten or a dozen of them Dissenters, Presbyterians, Anabaptists and Quakers. One Meeting house of Anabaptists. Once a month.
In later time Chalgrave was the preserve of Methodists in competition to the Church if England but at this early date, as can be seen from the above, there were a number of competing sects.