Stagsden Registration and Early References
The first known nonconformist meeting in Stagsden was registered by the Congregationalists in the house of William Man in 1672, the year in which 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.
Volume 81 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (2002) is devoted to returns made during episcopal visitations to the county by the Bishop of Lincoln in the early 18th century, edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell. One of the questions asked was the number of nonconformist families in the parish; the various responses were as follows:
- 1706: "100 Dissenters, and near 100 more that frequent no place of publick [sic] worship at all. The Dissenters are some Anabaptists, some Davisites, some Quakers. They have 2 Meetings, one of Davisites, the other of all sorts. No Papists, nor reputed Papists, have any concern in this Parish";
- 1712: "...about 2 of them [families] Dissenters, Independents. One Meeting. They assemble once in a Month or six weeks, 50 or 60 at a time";
- 1717: "Nine of which [families] are Dissenters, mostly Anabaptists. My Lord, There is a Licensed meeting house at which Dissenters of Several denominations meet about three or four times a Year, but in no great Numbers";
- 1720: "...how many dissenters, I know not, nor of what sort, having been vicar there not above three or four weeks.... Yes, one [Meeting House] Anabaptist, they assemble not above three or four times in the year, noe [sic] constant speaker, but sometimes one sometimes another".
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.
Early registrations in Stagsden
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 Stagsden being as follows:
- The house of Samuel Ward in 1768, registered by Joshua Symonds, Thomas Woodward, Thomas Kilpin, Thomas Rush and Ward himself [QSP43/7]. It is likely that this was Bunyan Meeting as Symonds was minister of the main meeting in Bedford;
- the house of John Goodman was registered in 1769 by Amos Bass, Thomas Syckes, Thomas Bass and Goodman himself [QSM15, 61 and QSP43/9]. This may have been a different denomination since none of the Bunyan Meeting names from the year before are repeated;
- in 1832 the dwelling house of Richard Barcock was registered by Barcock himself as meeting for an undisclosed denomination [ABN1/2, ABN2/269 and ABN3/3, 118];
- in 1844 James Henman registered his own house, again for use by an undisclosed denomination [ABN1/2].