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Registration and Early References in Eversholt

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 Eversholt includes the following:

  • 1706: Eversholt had about 131 families: “Of these about 9 are of Dissenters, 4 of which are entirely such. One family is of Anabaptists, one Man a Quaker, the rest Independents, having a Meeting house in the parish”.
  • 1709: “Families 60 … of which dissenters 7 families. They have a public Meeting; one Dutton a shoemaker teaches, and Butler a carpenter”.
  • 1717: “We have about Sixty families about three Anabaptists or Presbiterians or Nothing besides some Stragglers and One Quaker … One Licensed Meeting house A hodge Podge of Dissenters very foolish and Ignorant. I Know not how often they Assemble but too often and not in great but in too great Numbers. Sometimes A Cobler sometimes a Wheellwright teaches them”.
  • 1720: “The Number of Families are about Fifty. About ten are dissenters, But of What sort they hardly know themselves, and we can onely guess, but by their Deluders who are Carpenters, Coblers Smiths Tanners or any sort of Booby than can Rattle Nonsensically for two or three hours … One Licens’d Meeting House furnished with very Common Ignorant and Scoundrel People. They Assemble as often as the Toy takes them in the Head. Their Teachers mentioned in the Answer Above”.

Bedfordshire 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. One drawback with the registrations are that they do not usually inform the reader of the particular type of denomination involved, though sometimes it is possible to infer it from other evidence.

Edwin Welch researched the history of registrations in Bedfordshire for Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Volume 75 Bedfordshire Chapels and Meeting Houses [published in 1996] and found the following for Eversholt:

  • March/April 1798: a building in occupation of Thomas Perry with the house of Childs on one side and the high road on the other was registered by Charles Collier, G Breadsell and Thomas Perry [ABN1/1; ABN2/90].
  • December 1799/January 1800: the dwellinghouse and premises in occupation of Ann Stevens between the house in occupation of William Vice and a close of pasture belonging to Sir Phillip Monox Bart was registered by Stevens herself and Charles Collier [ABN1/1; ABN2/103].
  • 22 November 1815: the house of John Perry of Eversholt [ABN1/1].
  • 22 October 1822: the barn in occupation of James Large, cordwainer, at Brook End was registered by Large himself, W Millard and John Robarts [ABN2/199; ABN3/3, 45].
  • October/December 1823: the house in occupation of William Southam at Brook End was registered by Southam himself, James Fanch and William Millard [ABN1/2, ABN2/205, ABN3/3, 55].
  • October 1824: the house in occupation of Thomas Chew at Rans End [Rads End] was registered by Chew himself, William Thackray and James Smith [ABN1/2; ABN2/210; ABN3/3, 61]. A William Thackray was minister of the Particular Baptist meeting in Toddington in 1851
  • April 1827: the house of Richard Broughton in occupation of John Roberts was registered by both men, both styled “of Ridgmont” [ABN1/2; ABN2/234; ABN3/3, 77]. This may have been a Wesleyan meeting as the form was printed by T Cordeux of London who is known to have printed Wesleyan stationary. If so then the 1822 registration, which included John Robarts, is probably also Wesleyan.
  • October/November 1835: a room in occupation of Thomas Smart, labourer, was registered by William Wood of Toddington, minister, Thomas Smart and Daniel Howe, both of Eversholt. A William Wood of Clophill was known to be a Baptist minister in Toddington in 1833.
  • 4 April 1842: a building in occupation of John Holmes of Eversholt was registered by Holmes himself [ABN1/2; ABN2/366].