Stanbridge 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.
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 Stanbridge, included under Leighton Buzzard for 1706 and 1709, includes the following:
- 1706: no nonconformists are specifically mentioned in Stanbridge - total Anabaptists [i.e. Baptists] for the whole parish of Leighton Buzzard [including Billington, Eggington, Heath & Reach and Stanbridge] is given as 40 people;
- 1709: "Dissenters in Leighton about 39; Eggington 2; In Stanbridge 9. Most Anabaptists, some Quakers";
- 1717: "About three of which [families] are Dissenters called Anabaptists. Meeting houses None"
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 Stanbridge are as follows:
- September 1795: a house in possession of Nicholas Lucas was registered by Lucas himself, John Olney and Joseph Emearton [ABN2/76] later Olneys were Wesleyan Methodists;
- April and July 1817: the dwelling house of John Tearle was registered by John Hodgson of Leighton Buzzard, preacher [QSR1817/285]; Elizabeth Tearle, born in this year, married a Wesleyan Methodist and has a memorial in the church;
- November 1833: a chapel was registered by William Piggott of Leighton Buzzard [ABN1/2, ABN2/281]; again this may be a Wesleyan Methodist meeting as 1833 was the date quoted in the Ecclesiatical census of 1851 as the foundation date of that denomination's current meeting;
- March/April 1850: the house of David Squires was registered by Benjamin Johnson of Northall [Buckinghamshire], Jeremiah Borham and John Mead [ABN1/2, ABN2/421]