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Lower Caldecote 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.

The first indication of nonconformity in Lower Caldecote is in 1776 when the house of Henry Brittain was registered with the archdeaconry [ABN1/1]. In 1819 the house of William Bryant was registered by Thomas Middleditch [ABN1/2 and ABN3/3]. Unfortunately in neither instance is the denomination of nonconformity stated.

These two buildings were almost certainly not chapels. Nonconformists tended to meet in people's houses or barns until the numbers were great enough to support the expense involved in building and maintaining a chapel. Numbers in Lower Caldecote have never been great and a Wesleyan Methodist chapel existed (and still exists) in Upper Caldecote, as did a Mormon meeting whilst a Primitive Methodist chapel and a Mormon meeting existed in Girtford, a Particular Baptist chapel in Beeston Green and a Methodist chapel at The Baulk in Beeston, a Methodist chapel in Northill, a Mormon meeting in Thorncote and a Baptist chapel in Sandy.