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Registration and Early References in Odell

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 Odell includes the following:

  • 1706: "…there are but few Dissenters. No Meeting house, no Papists or reputed Papists here";
  • 1709: "18 Independents";
  • 1712: "5 [families] of Independents";
  • 1717: "there are about 3 familys, with some single persons, Dissenters; and they such as are commonly called Presbyterians. There is no Meeting-house of any kind in the Parish";
  • 1720: "there are about 4 families with some single persons Dissenters; And they are such as are commonly called Presbyterians. There is no meeting house of any kind in the Parish"

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.

Volume 110 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. Those for Odell are as follows:

  • 30th September 1672: the house of Thomas Robinson [Presbyterian];
  • 26th October 1811: a building of Thomas Hinde [ABn1/1];
  • October/November 1814: a building of Elizabeth Mason – probably a Wesleyan Methodist chapel given the type of form used [ABN1/1, ABn2/163];
  • February 1838: the dwelling house of William Hart, shepherd, late in occupation of John Parrot was registered by Hart himself, George Savage and  William Barley [ABn1/2, ABN2/322];
  • September/November 1839: a chapel in occupation of Charles Coleman was registered by William Barley, Thomas Cumberland and John Newcombe [ABN1/2, ABN2/342]

There is no chapel in Odell today. The comparative insignificance of nonconformity in the landscape in Odell may, perhaps, be put down to two things. The village was, for three hundred years, effectively a closed village, property of the Alston family, who were convinced Anglicans (two members of the family, both called Vere John Alston, having been rector). Odell lies between the much larger settlements of Harrold and Sharnbrook, both of which had thriving meetings of various denominations of nonconformity and these may well have been sufficient for the comparatively small numbers of Odell dissenters