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Baptists in Eaton Bray

Plaque on Grace Baptist church July 2012
Plaque on Grace Baptist church July 2012

Considering that the Baptist chapel in Moor End was built in 1835 Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has very few sources for it. A plaque on the chapel reads

PROVIDENCE
BAPTIST
CHAPEL
BUILT 1835
ENLARGED
1851

The earliest mention of Baptists, by their then current name of Anabaptists, in Eaton Bray is in 1709. Visitations to Bedfordshire were made by the Bishop of Lincoln at regular intervals in the early 18th century and each parish made returns to coincide with the visit. Former County Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002). In 1709 the return noted: “Families 100. Souls about 400. Some few Anabaptists [Baptists], besides Quakers above mentioned”. No Baptists are mentioned in the returns for 1712, 1717 or 1720 but it is doubtful if they are a thoroughly reliable guide. Nonconformists in those days may have been shy of publicly declaring themselves for fear of retribution by the majority Anglican population and, of course, it might not put a clergyman in favour with his archdeacon or his bishop if there were seen to bee too many dissenters in his parish.

The first definite mention of Baptists in Eaton Bray is in 1813 or 1814. On 31st December 1813 or 3rd January 1814 a school in the occupation of John King was registered as a nonconformist meeting house by King himself, William Wotts and John James [ABN1/1, ABN2/159]. We know that this was a particular Baptist meeting because in 1814 William Watts signed an oath of allegiance at the Quarter Sessions declaring himself: “teacher of a congregation at a house called particular Baptists at Eaton Bray” [QSR1814, 255 and 256].

The Baptist Chapel about 1920 [Z1306/39]
The Baptist Chapel about 1920 [Z1306/39]

On Sunday 30th March 1851 a census of all churches, chapels and preaching-houses of every denomination was undertaken in England and Wales. The local results were published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1975 as Volume 54, edited by D. W. Bushby. The return for Providence Calvinistic Baptist Chapel church was made by the minister from Houghton Regis, Samuel Foster, who noted the following pieces of information:

The chapel had 115 free seats and 112 other seats The general congregation in the morning was 200, with 174 Sunday scholars – total 374; The general congregation in the afternoon was 267, with 174 Sunday scholars – total 441; The general congregation in the evening was 270, with 150 Sunday scholars – total 420.

Clearly there were a good many standing at each service!

Late in the 20th century the county boundary changed to follow the line of the mill stream at the old Moor End Mill. This meant that the Baptist chapel was moved into Buckinghamshire and thus into the parish of Edlesborough.

Grace Baptist church July 2012
Grace Baptist church July 2012