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Cotton End Baptists

The Old Meeting House March 2011
The Old Meeting House March 2011

The Old Meeting House at Cotton End was built in 1837 but there is ample evidence for Baptists at Cotton End in the 18th century. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a number of volumes deposited by the Baptist meeting and the first Meeting Book [X358/1] begins with the following entry: “The Baptist Church of Christ at Cotton End, Cardington, Beds, was first formed in the year 1776 upon the strict communion plan, but was thrown open soon afterwards, to receive Mr. Thomas Taylor as member, who was a Pedobaptist and would not unite with them upon any other condition”. Strict Baptists did not believe in the baptism of children, whereas the pedobaptists (as the name suggests) did.

Another book [X358/3] takes the story back further: “It appears by an old Book kept by the Trustees in whose hands properly bequeathed by Mrs. Clare. Daughter of Mr. P. Woodward, was invested in the behalf of the people, that their Trusteeship commenced October 9th 1755 when the sum of £2.7.2 was paid over to them by the Executors to Mrs. Clare’s effects. The names of the first Trustees were – Thomas Clare, John Watson, Ebenezer Custerson, George Markham, Thomas Thody, William Pope. The Trustees took it in rotation, two each year, to keep a regular account of all receipts of money and disbursements on behalf of the people. At the end of the year their account was examined and signed by the Trustees, and the book given up to the two appointed for the succeeding year. The first account of their paying Mr. Woodward anything for preaching was January 31st 1756 from which time to January 29th 1757 they advanced him £11.17.6. How long he had laboured for the people in the work of the ministry to this period is unknown but it seems that after this time he was removed from them by death. It appears they were supplied by different ministers from the period of Mr. Woodward’s removal January 1757 to July 1761 when Mr. Marshall and Mr. Boyer commenced their joint services”.

The first Church Book [X358/1] went on: “The Church was first composed of the following nine persons, viz:

  • Mr. John Quenby, Deacon
  • Mrs. Mary Watford
  • Mary Watford junior
  • Elizabeth Pearce
  • TempeChurch
  • Anne Ayres
  • Mary Valentine
  • Elizabeth Curtis
  • Hannah Beeby.

Mr. Thomas Taylor and Mr. Richard Beeby were afterwards chosen Deacons. A List of Pastors and Ministers in the BaptistChurch at Cotton End from its Formation in 1776 to the present time June 1827, 51 years”

“June 1776 Mr. Thompson was ordained. He was the first Pastor and filled the office about 2 years and a half. Mr. Crapps supplied the Church as Minister 1 year. Mr. Luke Heywood was the 2nd Pastor. He supplied the church 18 months and filled the Pastoral office about 2 years. Mr. Lee, Mr. Walker and Mr. Shrewsbury supplied as Ministers. Mr. William Kilpin was the 3rd Pastor. He lived afterwards only 5 months. Mr. Scroxton and Mr. Mackness supplied as Ministers. Mr. William Freeman was the 4th Pastor and continued 27 years. Mr. Carlton supplied as Minister. Mr. Holloway, 5th Pastor”.

“1777 the Meeting House was built. 28 feet long. 28 feet wide. It was registered in the Register’s Office of the Archdeaconry of Bedford December 27 1777”.

The meeting did not have an auspicious beginning as its first pastor was “charged with being criminally connected with a Female at Ridgmont” in December 1779. The entry continues: “Mr. Thompson being contumacious [obstinately resisting authority] the Church requested the attendance of the following Ministers as a special Meeting to assist in the investigation of the evidence adduced, in support of the charge”. One of the men was the Pastor of Ridgmont. “The Church being fully satisfied that the Charge was proved were under the painful necessity of declaring Mr. Thompson no longer their Pastor and of excluding him from their fellowship as a Member”.

The book contains the names of people baptised and received into the church fellowship from 1783 onwards. In 1792 it was noted: “Mr. Mackness supplied the Church regularly ‘till the close of this Year. The Church and Congregation were not united in him; and the continuance of his services contrary to the wishes of a large majority created considerable discord and confusion. At length the Subscribers withheld their support and he declined coming. It is not known where he went to”.

In 1796 the meeting house was enlarged by 14 feet in length, the pulpit was removed from the east to the south side and the west gallery was removed to the north side. The enlargement cost £172/18/9½ which was a very large sum for the time. The minutes of church meetings are recorded from Christmas Day 1805 onwards when Sister Thompson was restored to membership after three months suspension for “improper conduct”. One wonders if she was related to the first pastor. In 1806 it was recorded: “Brother Beard and J. Malden were appointed Messengers from the Church to Brother Daniel to admonish him of the impropriety of his Conduct in not filling up his place particularly on Ordinance days”. The following month it was noted: “Brother Daniel present, received the reproof of the Church with a becoming temper of mind, acknowledged with sorrow the late inconsistency of his Conduct and promised to be more attentive to those duties which were incumbent on him as a Member of the Church in future”.

On 22nd April 1836 the minutes noted: “This evening a Meeting of the Trustees and Subscribers was held at which it was resolved that the present Meeting-house be taken down and a new one be built. The donations produced on the occasion were very handsome”. The last Sunday service in the old premises was held on 29th May 1836. On 13th June the church book relates: “This evening, in the presence of a very large concourse of people, the foundation stone of the New Meeting was laid by S. B. Frost, daughter of the Pastor. The occasion was most interesting. Suitable hymns were sung. Prayer was offered up by the Rev. S. Hillyard of Bedford, and the Pastor of the Church delivered an Address suited to the occasion. May the bounty of the Lord our God be upon us! May he prosper the work of our hands”. On 12th April 1837: “The new chapel was formally opened for Divine Service. The Reverend Doctor Bennett of Silver Street, London, preached two excellent sermons on the occasion. The attendance from congregations in the county was numerous, and the collections excellent”. The deeds to this building are held by the Baptist Church House in London and date from 1741 to 1944.

In 1851 a religious census was held. Each place of worship in the country reported the numbers of people attending the various services on Sunday 30th March. The return for Cotton End Baptists was completed by the minister, John Frost. He reported that the meeting house had three large galleries holding 220 and 76 pews holding a further 380. The congregations were:

  • Morning: 360 and 169 Sunday scholars;
  • Afternoon: 440 and 169 Sunday scholars;
  • Evening: 120.

The averages for the preceeding twelve months were 500 and 150 in the morning, 400 and 150 in the afternoon and 150 in the evening. The minister noted: "The Congregation is comprised not only of persons residing in Cotton End, but of persons from the circumjacent villages and from Bedford". In 1859 repairs and improvements were carried out on the meeting house. A new harmonium was also purchased.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Eastcotts, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the buildings associated with the Old Meeting found the block including the schoolroom [DV1/C286/48-50] owned by the Baptist Chapel trustees. The Sunday Schoolroom lay in the middle. To the north lay a cottage occupied by Mrs. Minney who paid £2 per quarter in rent. The semi-detached brick, plaster and slated cottage comprised a living room and kitchen downstairs with two bedrooms above in the roof. A plaster and thatched barn and a weather-boarded and thatched barn both stood at the rear.

To the right of the schoolroom was a brick, plaster and slated cottage in the occupation of C. H. Thody who paid rent of 3/1 per week. His accommodation comprised a living room and kitchen with two bedrooms in the roof. He also had a weather-boarded and thatched barn.

The manse stood to the south of the schoolroom. It was then inhabited by Rev. George M. Marshall, the minister. The detached brick and slated house stood in just over half an acre and comprised a living room, a parlour, a study, a kitchen and a scullery with four bedrooms above. There was also an entrance porch. The valuer commented: “No Bath”.

A brick and slate barn, washhouse and earth closet lay outside as did a weather-boarded and felt cycle shed. The valuer commented about the property: “Good Construction” and “NiceGarden”.

In 1937 the Baptists celebrated the centenary of the meeting house. The second Church Book [X358/2] relates: “Special Services on Thursday June 11th 1936 and on Sunday June 14th 1936 to celebrate the Centenary of the present Church (building), erected during the fourth year of the Ministry of Rev. John Frost. The Services on June 11th were combined with the opening and dedication of a “New Pipe Organ” installed at a cost of £275 to commemorate the occasion”.

“The organ was opened by “Mr. R. H. Willmer”, Clanfield, Oxon, and dedicated by the Pastor “Rev. J. P. Pugh””.

“This was followed by a very inspiring Service conducted by Rev. Bernard Cockett, M. A. London. The preacher took for his text Psalm 150 verse 3 “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet”. A public tea followed at which there were present about 180, and at the tea table representatives of the Beds Union voiced greetings and words of good cheer”.

“At 6 p. m. an Organ recital was given by Mr. H. J. Shrimpton, Long Crendon, Bucks. The Soloist was Mrs. Horace F. Gale of Bedford. The Chairman of the Evening Meeting was the area Superintendent Rev. F. J. Walkey O. B. E., M. C., Chesham and the speaker was the Rev. Bernard Cockett M .A. This Meeting was characterised by a very large attendance, the church was well filled, and by the uplifting Spiritual atmosphere which pervaded the whole Congregation”.

“On Sunday June 14th 1936 Mr. Ernest Wood J. P., C. C., London, ex-president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland conducted the Services. These Services also were impressive and inspiring, and thus we were brought to the close of a series of helpful Services, each of which contributed to the worthy celebration of a very memorable event”.

The Old Meeting House at Cotton End remains open for Baptist worship at the time of writing [2011].

The plaque on The Old Meeting House March 2011
The plaque on The Old Meeting House March 2011