Registration and Early References in Hockliffe
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); the returns for Hockliffe show that the only dissenters were two Anabaptists, although as one of these was the schoolmaster he had a disproportionate influence:
- 1706: the parish had about 30 families: the only dissenter was the schoolmaster, who was an Anabaptist (i.e. Baptist). There were no Papists or reputed Papists.
- 1709: there were 31 families and 160 souls: "of these 2 are Anabaptists".
- 1717: 45 families: "two Dissenters, and the Anabaptists".
- 1720: "We have about forty Families, two of which are Dissenters and both Anabaptists": Christian instruction in the school was "not great, because the Master is a Dissenter".
Volume 75 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1996 and edited by Edwin Welch contains registrations of Bedfordshire nonconformist meetings drawn from a number of sources. The Hockliffe section includes an early registration as follows:
- 12th January 1737: the house of William Gould of "Hockliffe in the parish of Chalgrave", scrivener, was registered by William Willsher and John Fanch [QSR1737/57, QSM6p.112];
- 27th January 1806: the house of William Read was licensed. It is likely that this was the first meeting place of the Hockliffe Independents (later Congregationalists) [ABN1/1];
- 15th August 1807: a Meeting House was licensed. Again, this may well relate to the Hockliffe Independents whose permanent chapel was not built until later [ABN1/1];
- 10th August 1809: a building near the dwelling house of Thomas Smith and John Adams was licensed by William Downing and John Stevenson. It is likely that this and the following entry relate either to the Independents or to the Wesleyan Methodists, although the latter were not known to be preaching at Hockliffe until 1817 [ABN2/127];
- 6/9th February 1813: a house in the occupation of Thomas Smith was registered by Thomas Smith and Richard Labrum [ABN1/1, ABN2/150];
- 7th June 1815: the house of James Roberts was licensed [ABN1/1];
- 17th/21st February 1839: a house and premises occupied by Samuel Wells was registered by himself [ABN2/337]