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Wesleyan Methodists in Upper Caldecote

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. 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.

 1856 chapel in Upper Caldecote
1856 chapel in Upper Caldecote [MB926]

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a number of registrations of meeting houses in Upper Caldecote, the first being in 1832 in part of the dwelling house of Griffin Cant and registered by Cant himself - as the form was a pre-printed proforma of the type used by Wesleyans it is possible this was the first registration of a Wesleyan meeting [ABN1/2, ABN2/273 and ABN3/3, 121]. Another possible Wesleyan meeting was registered in 1851 in the house of John Millenier or Millena by the suggestively named John Wesley Wilson [ABN1/2 and ABN2/426]. The first definite registration of the Wesleyan chapel was in 1856 by Thomas Wood of Biggleswade, the minister. The first trustees of this chapel were John Odell, John Bond, John Neal, Samuel Cocking, Nodes Woodham, Ebenezer Marshall, John Sargeant, Allen Jeeves, William Woodward and William Odell. This chapel, in Hitchin Road, cost £207 to erect. In 1887 the chapel was renovated and a schoolroom added. A licence to hold marriages being granted in 1901 - the first one held being that of Matthew Brunt of Upper Caldecote and Charlotte Bowles of Ickwell.

 Z307-1 New Wesleyan chapel in 1909
new Wesleyan chapel in 1909 [Z307/1]

In 1907 the chapel trustees purchased a piece of land for a new chapel from Mrs.Glynn Taddy. The new building was designed by Thomas Cockrill in 1908. His first design for a 250 seater chapel came in an £1,350 and he was asked to scale it down to 200 seats and a cost of £1,000. In the event the lowest tender was £1,256/1/7 by Charles Wright of Langford, who had also built the Wesleyan chapel in Northill in 1902. The building was redecorated in 1937, a new organ installed in 1948 and a new heating system installed the next year, with a new stove in 1951. The chapel was completed in 1909 and still stands at the time of writing [2007] and is still used as a chapel.

 Upper Caldecote Methodist church Apr 2007
Upper Caldecote chapel Apr 2007

In 1927, in common with the rest of Bedfordshire, Upper Caldecote was valued for rates under the Rating Valuation Act 1925. Every piece of land and building was valued, including chapels. The valuer reported that the old Methodist chapel [DV1/C/4: 85] was "used as store shed and for chitting potatoes [standing seeds in a tray in the light until shoots appear] was a chapel".

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service sources for Wesleyan Chapel in Upper Caldecote:

- MB840: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1838-1851;
- MB841: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1851-1859
- MB835: Biggleswade & Hitchin Circuit schedule book with Upper Caldecote from 1852: 1852-1860;
- MB842: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1859-1872;
- MB836: Biggleswade & Hitchin Circuit schedule book: 1861-1870;
- MB910: Sunday School Teachers' Meeting minute book: 1863-1878;
- MB839: Biggleswade Circuit Sunday School schedules: 1869-1874;
- MB912: Sunday School attendance register: 1871-1875;
- MB913: Sunday School attendance register: 1872-1877;
- MB843: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1872-1897;
- MB911: Sunday School minute book: 1890-1934;
- MB914: Sunday School attendance register: 1892-1893;
- MB906: Trustees' account book: 1893-1956;
- MB915: Sunday School attendance register: 1894-1895;
- MB844: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1894-1897;
- MB916: Sunday School attendance register: 1895-1899;
- MB845: Biggleswade Circuit baptism register: 1897-1947;
- CD881: draft codicil to will of Anne Jane Harvey of Ickwell Bury leaving £500 to chapel trustees for two windows "or some other suitable memorial" to memory of her daughter Beatrice Susan Audley Harvey: 1898;
- MB1425: Wesleyan Methodist Twentieth Century Fund historical roll in two volumes - Upper Caldecote in Volume II: C20th;
- MB907: papers regarding appointment of and resignation of trustees: 1900;
- MB902: Trustees' minute book: 1907-1912;
- MB908: receipt from Charles Wright of Langford, builder, for erecting new chapel: 1909;
- Z307/1: exterior photograph: c.1910;
- MB909: signed discharges of three trustees: 1915;
- MB903: Trustees' minute book: 1915-1935;
- MB1687: Biggleswade Circuit Sunday School Union Council minute book: 1921-1938;
- MB922: Receipt for installation of hearing aid in chapel: 1933;
- MB904: Trustees' minute book: 1936-1963;
- MB837: Biggleswade Circuit schedule book: 1936-1955;
- MB918: Collection Journal: 1942-1950;
- MB923: Organ Fund account book: 1943-1948;
- MB925: correspondence etc. regarding installation of new organ: 1947-1949;
- MB924: Souvenir programme for dedication of new organ: 1948;
- MB919: Collection Journal: 1950-1961;
- MB920: Pulpit Notice Book: 1951-1955;
- MB917: Wesley Guild minutes: 1953-1974;
- MB838: Biggleswade Circuit schedule book: 1956-1966;
- MB926 and pamphlet 170: Caldecote Methodist Church: Centenary of the Building of the First Methodist Church 1857-1957: 1957;
- MB927: copy Biggleswade Chronicle with report of centenary celebrations: 1957;
- MB921: Pulpit Notice Book: 1959-1963;
- MB1423: Register of Biggleswade Circuit property including Upper Caldecote: 1960-1977;
- MB1424: List of Trustees of Biggleswade Circuit chapels: 1965;
- MB905: Trustees' minute book: 1963-1977