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Baptists in Husborne Crawley

Baptists, or Anabaptists as they were also called at the time, were strong in numbers in Husborne Crawley in the early 18th century. Visitations by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in the early 18th century give some idea as to their number from returns made by the parson. Former County Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002); information for Husborne Crawley includes the following:

  • 1706: "…[it] has in it 93 families. Of these one halfe are Dissenters, and call themselves Anabaptists [Baptists]";
  • 1709: "Souls about 400, which which [sic] 26 Anabaptists, 5 Quakers. No Papist, No Meetung";
  • 1712: "Families about 90, of which 1 of Quakers, 1 of Anabaptists".
  • 1717: "Ninety Familys [sic] or thereabouts and Ten Familys Dissenters (viz) Anabaptists. Meeting houses: No meeting-house of any sort neither Licensed nor any other Assembly of Dissenters, but those who are dissenters assemble to a Licens'd Meeting house at Ridgmont being the next Parish. Samuel Butler Wheelwright is their Teacher";
  • 1720: "I've Ninety Families. Of these five are Dissenters, and they go under the Denomination of Anabaptists. Meeting houses I've no Licensed nor other Meeting-House in my said Parish".

These numbers vary wildly. It may be that the dissenters were still secretive, fearing some sort of reprisal, or it may be that the Church of England parson did not enquire too closely. Alternatively, people may have been quite volatile in their allegiance.

A Baptist meeting in Husborne Crawley is first recorded in 1801, exactly a century after their first recorded appearance in Ridgmont. In the Ridgmont church book [X347/1] it was noted in 1801 that the minister from Ridgmont would preach at Husborne Crawley on Sunday evenings one month in every two "in harmony with the minister at Woburn". No doubt Baptists in Husborne Crawley also went to worship in Ridgmont or in Woburn. A house occupied by Samuel Harris near the Swan Inn, Crow Lane was registered in 1801. The denomination is not specified but given the coincidence in dates it may have been the meeting place for Husborne Crawley's Baptists.

In 1827 the dwellinghouse of Joseph Higgens was registered by Higgens himself [signing by mark], William Cuttriss and Felix Higgins [ABN1/2, ABN2/228 and ABN3/3]. In the Baptist book for Ridgmont [X347/2] it was recorded in 1832 that Husborne Crawley, along with Steppingley and Eversholt was a "station" of Ridgmont. Given this reference to Husborne Crawley being a station of Ridgmont it is likely that there was never a purpose built chapel in Husborne Crawley but that members always met in a private house or outhouse or barn.

In 1845 a building in occupation of John Sibley was registered by Joseph Brooks, Richard Boughton and Thomas Francis [ABN1/2 and ABN2/379]. Accompanying this latter is a note [X347/44] by Sibley himself that he was licensed to preach at Husborne Crawley by Rev. J. H. Brooks and that the forms (that is to say wooden benches) and candlesticks of the meeting house were in his possession. This is the final surviving reference to Baptists in the parish.

Unfortunately there is no description of the location of Joseph Sibley's house but the 1851 census has a 30 year old Joseph Sibley living in Long End, that is today's Turnpike Road, though the street would have been very different then, before the building of the Bedford Estate cottages in the years 1852 to 1854.

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. There is no return for a Baptist meeting in Husborne Crawley so some Baptists in the parish may have switched their allegiance to the Primitive Methodists making a meeting no longer viable.