Registration and Early References in Clophill
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.
The archive of the Archdeaconry of Bedford contains two registrations relating to Clophill. In 1812 a building adjoining the premises of draper Thomas Parrish were registered by Parrish himself, John Butcher, James Bedford and John Chapman [ABN1/1 and ABN2/148]. In 1848 a building in occupation of Caroline Upton was registered by Samuel Sexton [ABN1/2 and ABN2/395]. The registrations do not tell the denomination of the meeting house but it seems at least possible that, given the later history of the village in which Methodism was very important, that they may have been Methodist meetings.
We can get a pictre of nonconformity in Clophill early in the previous century thanks to former County Archivist Patricia Bell. She transcribed records of episcopal visitation to Bedfordshire and published them in 2002 as Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume 81 Episcopal Visitations in Bedfordshire 1706-1720. The appropriate entries are as follows:
- 1706: "Out of these [100 families in the parish] there are about 20 persons who are Dissenters, 4 Quakers, the rest generally Anabaptists. The former have a Meeting house here".
- 1709: "Families 80. Of these, of Quakers 2, Anabaptists 3. No Paposts. No constant Meeting, only twice or thrice in the year the Quakers meet. Harvey of Newport Pagnell, or Sommerfeild [sic] from London, usually speaking".
- 1712: "Families circa 100. 2 families dissenters, Anabaptists. No Meeting but a casuall [sic] one sometimes of Quakers".
- 1717: " About 60 families of which three are Anabaptists and one Quaquer [sic]. Noe [sic] Meeting House".
- 1720: "Noe Meeting House".
The Anabaptists mentioned later became known simply as Baptists. The note of 1706 is the only record of a Baptist meeting in Clophill.