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Westoning 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. FormerCounty Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002). In 1706 the return noted that of seventy four families in the parish "there are but 3 Dissenters, 2 Anabaptists [Baptists] and 1 Quaker. No meeting house in the parish. No Papist or reputed Papist". The number of dissenting families had risen to four in 1709, going back to three, with the same split as in 1706 in 1712. In 1717 it was recorded: "Out of sixty two families, there are Five Dissenting Persons, one Quaker and Four Anabaptists" with no meeting house, with similar figures in 1720.