The Howard Meeting March 2007
Independent nonconformity has a long history in Cardington. 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. It throws some interesting light on nonconformity in the parish. In 1706 it was recorded that 42 families out of 140 were dissenters "most of the Independent perswasion [sic], and have 2 Meeting-houses in the Parish". Independents shared many points of belief with Baptists.
In 1709 it was noted that there were 180 independents out of 570 souls in the parish: "They have a Conventicle in which they meet once in a month or six weeks, but in no great numbers". In 1712 the vicar reported: "Families 140, of these 80 intirely [sic] Conformable, 32 intirely Dissenters, the rest mixed". In 1717 51 of 157 families were dissenters "under the Denomination of Independents ... There is one Licens'd House, where I am inform'd they meet once in a fortnight or three weeks, under a Variety of Teachers, but in what Numbers I know not, but this I am told, they have their Agents, who go round the parish not only to give notice of their assembling, but to perswade [sic] those of the Church Communion to hear their teachers, as they stile [sic] them". Finally in 1720, fifty of 163 families were labelled as dissenters "chiefly, according to the best information I can meet with, of the Independent Sect ... There is no constant Meeting held in this Parish, but several Dwelling Houses are Licensed where they occasionally assemble, but in what Numbers I know not, nor can I Learn that they have any settled Teacher, but I'm told at this sort of Meeting the Office of preaching is generally usurped by the Meanest Mechanick [sic]".
In 1775 the house of Robert Huckle was registered for worship by Joseph Smith of Cardington, John Whitemore of Cardington and Joshua Symonds of Bedford [ABN1/1, ABN2/35]. Symonds had been minister at the Bunyan Meeting in Bedford but by 1775 had become a Baptist. This may have been a purely Baptist meeting or a Union chapel, that is a chapel for Baptists and for Independents, in which case it was likely the predecessor of the Howard Meeting. John Howard himself was living in Cardington at this time.
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has very little in the way of archives from the Howard Meeting itself, which was first registered in 1839 by Benjamin Prole, William Wootton, John Edward Bodger and Ebenezer Malden [ABN1/2; ABN2]. The original meeting was a wooden board and tile building, replaced by the present church in 1908.
Today the church is known as the Howard Memorial Church and forms part of the United Reformed Church. In 1985 the United Reformed Church agreed to let the Methodists, whose chapel had closed two years before, to share the meeting for worship.