Tempsford 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 the 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 eighteenth century, presumably due to the mutual antagonism of nonconformists and established church. However, from that point registration with the church, via the Archdeaconry, began to become the favoured method, because the archdeaconry Registrar would issue a license at any time rather than during the days each quarter when the quarter sessions met.
Visitations to 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 compiled returs from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002); information for Tempsford includes the following:
- In 1706 there were roughly 60 families in Tempsford. “Some few dissenters there are but whether Presbyterians or Independents they know not themselves. They have no meeting house in the town. Mr John Denne, a merchant, and his family are Anabaptists. No Quakers, no Papists or reputed Papists.”
- In 1709 the parish contained “about 20 dissenters of no certain denomination.”
- In 1712 the parish noted that there were 3 or 4 Independents.
- In 1717 there were “sixty nine families in our parish whereof 8 are Anabaptists. There is no meeting house.”
- In 1720, there were “sixty seven, of them 7 are Anabaptists.”
Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service has a reasonable number of registrations of nonconformist meeting houses in both the Quarter Sessions and the 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 is 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 local registrations for Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 75, published 1996). He found the following for Tempsford:
- On 13 November 1756 a newly erected building, formerly a granary, in the possession of Joseph Field, coal merchant, was registered by John Moors of Tempsford, farmer, and John Arch of Thurleigh, farmer.
- On 15 January 1794 a converted brewhouse was registered with the Archdeaconry by Samuel Bennett, farmer, James Scholefield and John Hickling.
- On 17 December 1813 a dwelling house belonging to George Smart, cordwainer, was registered by Smart and Robert Ardines.
- On 15 November 1839 a building in the possession of William Wells was registered by Joseph Hindes.