Registration and Early References in Chalton
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); the returns for Toddington include two references to a group of Anabaptists (i.e. Baptists) meeting at Chalton:
- 1717: the Anabaptists of Toddington parish were meeting about once every seven weeks at the house of John Strange in Chalton. Strange was a churchwarden of the parish, but had only attended church for the past 14 months, and then only on particular occasions.
- 1720: the meeting of Anabaptists at John Strange's house in Chalton continued to take place every seven weeks. The Rector understood the house to be licensed. Strange himself had been attending the established Church for four years and his children were baptised there. [BHRS 81]
Volume 75 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. Two early registrations, sadly with no indication of denomination, are recorded for Chalton:
- 7th October 1724: the house of Thomas Brittain of Chalton in Toddington, cordwainer, was registered by Thomas Brittain himself [QSR1724/65]
- 5th December 1810: the house of G. Waller at Chalton [ABN1/1]
It seems likely that, at least the earlier of these two registrations is for a Baptist meeting.