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Blunham Baptists

Baptist Chapel
The Old Meeting in March 2007

William Abbott, the pastor, wrote a history of the Old Meeting in 1854 [X525/1] in which he stated that the first mention of Baptists in Blunham was in 1709 when Rev. Thompson of Bedford was appointed to visit the parish one Sunday in a month. In fact, the return for the Episcopal Visitation by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1706 noted that most of the dissenters in Blunham (who accounted for about half the population) were "Antinomians" [a term used of Baptists]. Anabaptists in large numbers are also recorded in the notes for the visitations of 1709, 1712, 1717 and 1720. Early preachers are recorded as Richard Dixey and John Nutter [1709], Chapelle [1712], Joseph Perry [1717] and Agar [1720]. In 1720 the meeting house was noted as being "of long standing". This meeting house seems to have been a barn, replaced by the current Old Meeting House in 1751 [see below]. 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. Interestingly the first registration he found for Blunham was of a building called Lake House Barn on 1st May 1672 by Congregationalists, the term often being used interchangeably with Anabaptist or Baptist at that date. About 1710 he noted that the houses of Mary Ravens, widow and William Dix, husbandman, were registered by Joseph Ravens [a known Baptist - see below] and Samuel Henshman of Bedford, grocer.

The first thing written by the Baptists in Blunham themselves is in 1724 and is recorded in the church book [X525/1] thus: "We do In the presence of God and of His holy Angels give up our selvs [sic] unto the Lord and unto one Another as A distinct Church of Christ To walk with God and one Another In the Faith of the Gospel and observation of all gospell [sic] ordinances and the Discharg [sic] of All Relative Dutys [sic] In this House of God end Else where as the Lord shall Enable us in token of which I Lift my Right hand This 19th of June 1724" a list of 21 names follows. The first settled pastor was Charles Usley and the first deacons Thomas Aspinall, Joseph Farr and Thomas Hubbard.

As noted above, William Abbott stated that the Baptists had met in a barn in the village which later became the Old Meeting. It was a copyhold property, it formed part of the Manor of Blunham and the deeds are with Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service [X525/2-22]. Joseph Ravens [see above] was tenant of the Manor in 1726 and surrendered it to a fellow Baptist, Thomas Aspinall, who in turn surrendered it to trustees in 1731 at which point it is first referred to as a "meetinghouse set apart for divine service".

The current building has a date stone of 1751 with the initials TC and IH - the initials are those of Thomas Craner and John Hubbard, the former joining in 1738, becoming pastor the following year, the latter joining in 1732 and becoming deacon in 1743. William Abbott notes that it was in 1751 that it was decided a new meeting house was needed and this was done on the site of the old barn. The meeting was registered with the Archdeaconry of Bedford on 13th March 1753 [ABN1/1 and 2/2].

In 1832 it was decided that further improvements were necessary, as a new pastor refused to accept unless the roof was raised and the house repaired. William Abbott records that the pastor did not, in the end, go to Blunham, but the improvements continued anyway resulting in three new galleries and general repairs, which were completed in January1833. Edwin Welch discovered that the Baptist meeting house in Blunham was registered for holding marriage ceremonies on 28th September 1837. The meeting was again registered on 26th march 1861 by William Abbott and continues to be used down to the time of writing [Mar 2007].