A portrait of Septimus Sears [Z50/30/41]
The following account of the life of Septimus Sears was compiled by local historian Barry Livesey in May 1985 and made available in Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service searchroom as CRT180/444.
"Septimus Sears made a huge impact not only on Clifton but also nationally; and yet details of his life and work are not generally well known. He was born in 1819 at Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, the seventh son of Joseph Sears, a tradesman. His family, and particularly his mother, were staunch Baptists and Septimus Sears began preaching as a minister at the age of 20 in June 1839".
"He was clearly a magnificent natural preacher with an awesome knowledge of the scriptures and when he came to Southill in November 1840 he made such an impression that the people from Clifton asked him to come and be their minister. There was no Chapel at that time but George Kempson promised to turn two of his cottages at Clifton Fields (now 64 Clifton Road, Shefford) into a Chapel if Sears would accept their offer. This he did and after getting married in September 1842 he moved to Clifton, living in what is now Holly Lodge, 114 Clifton Road, Shefford. The Church was informal to start with and began properly in February 1844 when 6 people were Baptised in the river by Mr. Sears".
"The Church soon thrived and by the early 1850's the little Chapel at Clifton Fields was in danger of bursting at the seams. A new, bigger Chapel was needed and Samuel Wilson who lived at Elms Farm gave a piece of ground on which the present Strict Baptist Chapel was built in 1853. This is a magnificent building capable of holding over 700 people".
Clifton Strict Baptist Chapel March 2007
"During the next 24 years Sears became established as a figure of immense stature in the Baptist Church. He edited The Little Gleaner and The Sower religious monthly magazines that were distributed in thousands all over the country; he published hymn books such as Clifton Hymns, The Clifton Hymnal for the Young and The Clifton Selection, all of which sold in their tens of thousands and also a collection of his own poetry entitled Sacred Musings".
"Sears always had frail health. At one time he had to wear an iron collar to support his head and he suffered over the years from periods of paralysis, typhus and a persistent weak heart. Despite this he preached for an hour at a time three times each Sunday and was clearly a charismatic performer".
"He established a small day school in part of the original Chapel at Clifton Fields and pupils paid a penny or twopence per week, according to their means. he also ran an Orphan Fund, a Poor Fund and a Coal Fund. In 1867 the Chapel House was built and Sears moved into the centre of the village".
"An appeal to readers of his magazine enabled him to build two Almshouses and two Widows Homes in 1871 and further funds from readers paid for the galleries in the Chapel. In September 1877 Septimus Sears was a sick man with a gradually failing heart. He went to Brighton to recuperate but to no avail; he died on Boxing Day. His body was returned to Clifton and the congregation at his funeral more than filled the Chapel. He was buried in the family vault that can be found just to the right of the Chapel drive".
The gravestone of Septimus Sears [Z50/141/368]
Sears' tombstone reads as follows:
IN VERY AFFECTIONATE
A LABORIOUS AND HONOURED SERVANT OF
THE LORD AND FAITHFUL IN THE GLORIOUS
GOSPEL OF THE BLESSED GOD, WHICH WAS
COMMITTED TO HIS TRUST. HE WAS GREATLY
USED IN THE SALVATION OF SOULS AND WAS
A BRIGHT EXAMPLE OF BELIEVERS, IN WORD,
IN CONVERSATION, IN CHARITY, IN SPIRIT,
IN FAITH, IN PURITY.
HE FELL ASLEEP IN JESUS
DECR 26TH 1877
IN THE 59TH YEAR OF HIS AGE
"HE THAT WINNETH SOULS IS WISE" PROV XI, 30
"THEY THAT TURN MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
SHALL SHINE AS THE STARS FOR EVER AND EVER
DANIEL XII, 3