Carlton Baptist Church
This page was written by Pamela Hider
Carlton Meeting House, postcard dated 1904 (Z1130/25/3)
In 1672, a house at Carlton belonging to one Gideon Fisher was licensed for Congregational worship at the 'First Declaration of Indulgence'. The 1672 Notes of Licence show it to be one of the very few places licensed for worship in Bedfordshire and it is virtually certain that Gideon's house and this farm were one and the same; and being isolated from the rest of the village, as this farm was, was very important in those unsettled times. John Bunyan, himself, is said to have preached in a barn here, which at the time was sited in a large orchard: "This is a 5 bay 17th century stone barn built in two phases, the earlier with a 'show' gable end of alternating bands of wide and narrow stones" (Historic Environment Record). Although part of the main barn remains today, it is unrecognizable, as it has been converted into a modern dwelling house which has been much modified.
'Nonconformist churches rejected key aspects of the established church, notably any centralized authority through the hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, ecclesiastical courts and the like. Each congregation was regarded as self-governing in respect of how it selected its pastor or minister, the forms of worship it chose to adopt, and how to deal with internal disciplinary matters'  .The new and growing congregation kept a Church minute book and in 1691 it stated that 'The Church of Christ at Carlton began in harvest An: 1688' . Episcopal Visitations in Bedfordshire 1706 - 1720 reported that congregations in their hundreds were meeting each Sunday in Carlton.
Eventually, in 1760, meetings were able to move from the barn at Fishers farm, to the new Chapel in the Causeway, built on land purchased from the Bithreys (who lived at Fishers Farm). In the 18th century, the original Georgian building seated 600-700 people. By the 19th century, a Victorian vestry and school extension had been added along with brick porches and an iron fence. During E.Silverton's ministry, 1858 -1863, 'The Chapel used to be full to overflowing, often 700 people being present and on occasions as many as 900 (in which case the sliding doors between the main chapel and the Vestry and the school room would be opened)....It was said the singing could be heard a mile off...People attended from many miles around.. On Sept 4th 1859 eight were baptized in the Great Ouse at Harrold before 3000 people' . On the day of the centenary of the Chapel building, in 1860, 'there were 3 services; 600 attended in the morning, rather more than that in the afternoon and in the evening 1200 assembled in an orchard' . In 1862, 4000 assembled in an orchard to hear the charismatic preacher C.H.Spurgeon . This orchard was most likely to have been that at Fishers Farm.
Following the death of Moses Beeby in 1952 (he had been minister since 1913), many years elapsed before a new minister was appointed. Numbers at Carlton Chapel declined as they did in churches everywhere. Social and intellectual changes in society had displaced church from the centre of community life. The educational role of the chapel became superfluous and welfare facilities undermined its philanthropic role. It was leisure activities such as sports and music which now attracted huge congregations . By 1994, it had amalgamated with the old Harrold Evangelical Church to form The Grace Baptist Church housed in the Old Mission Hall in Harrold High Street and services in Carlton Chapel were reduced to one per month. By the early 2000s, worship at Carlton ceased and the Chapel was sold. It is converted to a private residence, but Baptists from both villages still worship in Harrold today.
Deceased members of the Baptist community had been buried in the churchyards of local churches, but by 1830, Carlton Baptists had acquired land for their own burial ground, next to the Chapel. The earliest graves date from 1830 and the last burial was made in 1991. When the Chapel was sold, ownership of its burial ground was transferred to Carlton Parish Council.
List of Carlton Baptist Pastors
- John Greenwood: 1691 - 1698
- Robert Church: 1702 - 1721
- Joseph Dadly: 1724 - 1728
- John Pool: 1730 - 1751
- Thomas Hull: 1752 - 1778
- John West: 1787 - 1793
- Charles Vorley: 1796 - 1837
- George Hall: 1839 - 1845
- John Evans: 1852 - 1856
- Edward Silverton: 1858 - 1863
- William Carpenter: 1864 - 1865
- Richard Bax: 1867 - 1868
- James Brittain: 1869 - 1872
- John Jull: 1873 - 1879
- Frederick King: 1881 - 1890
- David Flavell: 1891 - 1896
- Alfred Hall: 1898 - 1903
- John Kingston: 1904 - 1909
- Moses Beeby: 1913 - 1952
- Kenneth Dix: 1967 - 1970
- John Field: 1973 - 1983
- Brian Westrep: 1987 - 1991
Dates in italics are approximate.
It will be seen that there were gaps between the tenures of pastors and these occurred for many reasons. Firstly, it took time to find suitable new pastors who would have to go through an almost 'audition' process to satisfy the self-governing congregation that they were the 'man-for-the-job'. Having been successful, they may then, over time, have encountered doctrinal issues or found they didn't care for the way in which the chapel was led or organised. They may have realised that a rural environment was not for them and/or harboured ambitions to move onto a larger congregation. Certainly in the 19th century, there was a strong religious revival going on in the country and opportunities would've presented themselves that were hard to resist. During these interim periods, services would have been taken by pastors from other congregations or by itinerant preachers. The latter might have seen this as an opportunity in itself to find favour with a congregation and thus secure a more settled position. Accommodation for the ministers has been dealt with on the page entitled The Old Manse
 The History of Carlton Baptist Meeting by Mike Pratt, pending publication on Carlton & Chellington Historical Society website.
 ‘First Church Book of the Carlton Baptist Church, original now believed to be held by the Evangelical Library, Bounds Green, London, N11 2UT. Typed transcription made in 1956 by F.W.P. Harris. Copy available on searchroom shelves under 170BAP.
 J.C. Doggett, Free Grace Record (a quarterly publication of the Strict and Particular Baptist Trust Corporation), Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 1960.
 A Brief History of the Strict and Particular Baptist Cause at Carlton, Beds., by Moses Beeby (written 1925 -27).
 Victorian Nonconformity by David Bebbington.
Newsletters of Carlton & Chellington Historical Society by M.J.Pratt - Z1521/1/5/7, Z1521/1/5/8, Z1521/1/6/1, Z1521/1/6/3, Z1521/1/7/2, Z1521/1/8/2, Z1521/1/12/1.
Carlton Baptist Chapel 2021