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Great Barford 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.

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 Great Barford includes the following:

  • 1706: eight families were described as Independents;
  • 1709: 60 of the 268 inhabitants were Independents but they had no meeting;
  • 1717: there were 13 families of Dissenters ot of a total population of 71 families. "There are three Licensed Houses where they meet Occasionally, but in what Numbers, or how often I can't be informed. Their Teacher, as I'm told, is a Wool Comber from Blunham in the same County".
  • 1720: there were 14 Independent families out of a total of 60. "There is no Constant Meeting held here but several Houses are Licensed, where they sometimes assemble, but how often or in what Numbers I know not. The Teacher, I am told, generally somes from Blunham where he holds a Meeting, but his Name I know not".

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 five registrations of meetings of unspecified nonconformists in Great Barford, the first being in 1766 in the dwelling house of Jeremiah Lee, registered by Lee himself and Russell Chapman of Colmworth [ABN1/1 and ABN2/12]. The house of Stephen Dickens was registered in 1813 [ABN1/1]. In 1833 the dwelling house of Thomas Pack was registered by Pack himself [ABN1/2 and ABN2/277]. Methodism was strong in Great Barford and it is possible that some of these registrations may have been for Methodist worship