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Baptists in Potton

Potton Baptist Chapel March 2007
Potton Baptist Chapel March 2007

The Baptist chapel lies some way back from the road on the north side of Horslow Street. As the photograph shows, it is an unprepossessing building, very different from the Baptist chapel in Carlton, say. In his booklet Potton Baptists, published in 2005 the minister, Stan K. Evers states that the Church was founded on 13th June 1800, as shown in the minute book, by nine people including the first two deacons, John Keeling and James Sprague. The meeting was registered in May 1802 by John Keeling, Livett Frank, William Bigg, Joseph Miller, Joseph Freshwater, Jeremiah Lee and Thomas Hagger [ABN1/1, ABN2/108]

Sadly Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has no deposit of archives by the Potton Baptists – a deposit was made by a lay pastor in 1951 but it was withdrawn in 1964. The service, however, still has the catalogue descriptions of the formerly deposited material. A trust deed of 1864 recites surrender of a piece of land for the new meetinghouse on 25th February 1802, which was described as a piece of ground, part of an orchard belonging to a messuage of Jeremiah Lee in Horslow Street, then occupied by Mary Boutell, widow and Thomas Bonest, abutting east on the house and garden of Jeremiah Lee called Potters; the land measured 70 feet along the west side, 62 feet to the east and 60 feet on both north and south. Jeremiah Lee had purchased the property from John Harding and surrendered it to the first trustees Richard Wallis, Thomas Haggar, John Keeling, Joseph Ingle, James Sprague, Livett Frank, William Masters, George Lincoln, William Barracks, Edward Gardiner, Joseph Holder Freshwater and Jeremiah Lee himself. The property was copyhold, that is to say, it was part of the Manor of Potton Much Manured. People held copyhold properties from the manor and instead of conveying them to someone else had to surrender them to the Lord of the Manor at a manor court and the new owners then had to seek admission from that manor court or a subsequent one. This allowed the manor to claim a fee (or fine) for the privilege.

In 1849 an additional thirteen poles of land were conveyed by William Perry of Potton, gardener, to the Baptist trustees for £33/13/10 for use as a burial ground. The land abutted “parish property” to the south, more land of William Perry to the north, land of Frederick Braybrooks to the west and the meeting house to the east. The trustees were now: Perry himself; David Dew of Gamlingay [Cambridgeshire], farmer; Joseph Martin of Beeston, shoemaker; Samuel Cook of Potton, shoemaker; William Wilkerson Perry of Potton, gardener; William Kitchin of Gamlingay, farmer; Robert Frazer of Everton, tailor; William Northfield of Potton straw plait dealer; John Plowman of Potton, farmer; John Usher Taylor of Saint Ives [Huntingdonshire], chemist; William Woodham of Gamlingay, farmer; John Gilbert of Gamlingay, grocer and Francis Bingham of Potton, brewer.

On Sunday 30th March 1851 a census of all churches, chapels and preaching-houses of every denomination was undertaken in England and Wales. The local results were published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1975 as Volume 54, edited by D. W. Bushby. The return for the Potton “Calvinistic and Particular Baptist” meeting was made by one of the deacons, Samuel Cook. The building had 183 free seats and 240 other. The combined congregations, adults and Sunday School, were three hundred in the morning, four hundred in the afternoon and two hundred in the evening. The average congregation for the preceding twelve months was reckoned to be four hundred.

In April 1863 a wool warehouse was registered for worship by David Noble of Potton, market gardener and occupier. Stan Evers tells us that this second meeting house was in Royston Street, it seems to have closed by 1880. The main Baptist meeting in Horslow Street was once again registered in November 1868 by Henry Hercock of Potton and was also registered for marriages on the same day.

In 1911 the trustees changed once more, the new body comprising: Benjamin John Northfield of March [Cambridgeshire], minister; John Hazelton of Saint Neots [Huntingdonshire], minister; Daniel Herbert Hale of Clifton, merchant and farmer; William Randall of Tadlow [Cambridgeshire], a Justice of the Peace and a farmer; Alfred Weldon Light of West Hampstead [London], maker of magnetic appliances; Henry Woodman of Potton, joiner; John Coubrough of Potton, insurance agent; Charles Perry, market gardener; Richard Elphick, printer and stationer; George Thomas Woodman of Potton, joiner.

The last list of trustees in the material formerly deposited with BLARS dates from 1945 and gives the following: A. W. Whayman of Cambridge, minister; A. Maskell of Cambridge, bank official; A. H. Sibthorpe of Bedford, draper; R. H. Bennett of Saint Neots, minister; S. Woodman of Potton; John Woodman of Potton; G. W. Pibworth of Needingworth [Huntingdonshire], minister; D. Pibworth of Potton and W. C. Plail of Totternhoe [Middlesex], minister. The chapel remains open for worship at the time of writing [2013] as an independent Baptist church affiliated to the Association of Grace Baptist Churches (West Anglia).