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Girtford Registration and Early References

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. 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.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has the registration of a meeting for an unknown denomination in Girtford in 1797. Henry Huckle's house was registered by Huckle himself, Stephen Wilson, John Freeman, James Watson, James Ellis and Thomas Eagle [ABN1/1, ABN2/81]. Another registration came in 1821 when the house of Thomas Blewitt was registered by James Sirket, William Baldrey and William Braybrooks [ABN1/2, ABN2/177, ABN3/3].

Finally, in 1852 the house of John Ball was registered by William Knight, William Bywaters and Joseph Harris [ABN1/2, ABN2/435]. Primitive Methodism and Mormonism both had presences Girtford and one or more of these registrations may have been of a Primitive or a Mormon meeting.