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Registration and Early References in Kempston

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 Kempston includes the following:

  • 1706: [the parish] “is one and twenty miles about, and has in it 203 families. Of these 3 are Quakers, and 27 Independents. There was a Meeting house in the parish, but now it is not used. There are no Papists, nor reputed Papists”. The Independents, who often associated with the Baptists, are that group on nonconformists generally associated with what came to be called the Congregational church. A Congregational meeting was registered [see below] in 1672 and is, presumably, the meeting referred to here.
  • 1709: “Families 180, souls 800. Of dissenters 31 Families: 4 of Quakers and Antinomians (a sect originating in the 16th century, though the term was often used pejoratively of the Society of Friends, or Quakers at this time), the rest Independents. These last sometimes meet here, but they commonly go to Bedford”.
  • 1712: “About 200 families, about 30 of which of Dissenters, 2 or 3 of Quakers, the rest Independents”.
  • 1717: “There are above 200 Families. About 30 Dissenting Families. Three Families Quakers and the Rest Independents”.
  • 1720: “About two hundred Families. Between thirty and forty Dissenting ones, most of which are Independents and some few Quakers”.

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.

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 Kempston and its hamlets. The first archdeaconry registration was in 1799, of the house and premises of John Burr [ABN1/1]. The dwelling house of Ann Burridge was registered in 1804 [ABN1/1] and the house of James Ames the next year [ABN1/1] whilst two years later the house of Samuel Favell was registered [ABN1/1].

The next registration in the parish was in 1821, being the dwelling house of George Lumbis or Lumbus was registered by its owner [ABN1/2, ABN2/186 and ABN3/3, 35]. The 1830s saw two more meeting houses, of unknown denomination, being registered in Kempston - the house of William Cooper in 1833, by Cooper himself, William Carter, William Robinson and James Musgraves [ABN1/2 and ABN2/276] and the dwelling of Isaac Barratt in 1835 [ABN1/2 and ABN2/310]. A further registration of a meeting of unknown denomination occurred in 1842 of a building of William Smith [ABN1/2 and ABN2/365].

In 1899 the "Unsectarian" Mission hall in Duncombe Street was registered by Arthur William Panter of Bedford Road, Kempston, builder, the proprietor (this was cancelled in 1914).