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Harrold United Reformed Church

The Congregational Church around 1900
The Congregational Church around 1900 [Z50/54/6]

18th Century

The Congregational church, now the United Reformed Church, in Harrold is two hundred years old, its first chapel having opened in 1808. The history of independent nonconformity in the village, however, can be traced back further. A brief history of Harrold United Reformed Church written in 1994 states: "It is recorded that about the year 1774 and onwards the Gospel was first preached in the village by ministers unconnected with the established Church". That date was based on the fact that the first registration of a meeting house occurred in that year.

However, the episcopal visitation returns for the first twenty years of the 18th century, published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 2002 and edited by former County Archivist Patricia Bell, state that by 1720 "There is an independent meeting house licenced in our parish". There had been no such meeting when the return of 1717 was written. This meeting was not necessarily a chapel in the modern sense but may well have been someone's house or barn. As early as 1706 the vicar noted in a return that there were fourteen independents in the parish.

Independents is an early name for Congregationalists. It therefore seems reasonable to trace the history of the Congregational, later United Reformed Church in the village to the late 17th or early 18th century.

Early registrations of meeting houses are probably by Independents or Congregationalists, given the strength of this particular strand of nonconformity in Harrold, though this is not stated explicitly. The early registrations are as follows:

  • 12 January 1774 by William Pendred, William Sharlton, Walter Clark and John Boddington - registering the house of John Boddington at Quarter Sessions [QSP43/12];
  • 17 October 1791 by Eaton Jeffery and Ephram Smith - registering the house of William Faulkner "for occasional use" [ABN1/1, ABN2/69];
  • 8 August 1807: the house of John Mardling on The Green [ABN1/1]

George Bull Phillips
George Bull Phillips

The Old Chapel

On 12th September 1809 the newly built Congregational chapel was registered by Thomas Kilpin, Richard Hensman and Benjamin Allen. This is not the building which still stands today in the High Street but was on the same site. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a quite varied archive for the church catalogued as X242 and also used to have the title deeds to church property in Harrold (X377) until these were withdrawn in May 1969.

The chapel was opened on 25th September 1808 and was conveyed a few days earlier on 12th-13th September  [X377/17-18]. The site was described as "a piece of land in Harrold containing from the street in a northward direction 32 feet and in breadth 6 feet, and from the north end of the 32 feet a length of 50 feet and a breadth of 25 feet, bounded by land of Baroness Lucas north, the street and property of William Rey south, land of Joseph Mold west, William Rey east and all in occupation of William Rey". William Rey, grocer, and his trustee Richard Clapham, innkeeper, conveyed this land for 5 shillings, a nominal sum, to the chapel trustees: William Andrews of Olney [Buckinghamshire], esquire; William Wilson of Olney, peruke [wig] maker; William Smith of Olney, grocer; William Allen of Olney, laceman; William Clark of Olney, laceman; Thomas Kilpin of Bedford, ironmonger; Benjamin Allen of Bedford, fellmonger; Richard Hensman of Bedford, butcher; James Smith of Kempston, farmer and William Faulkner of Carlton, schoolmaster. This last may be the same man as that whose house was registered for occasional use in 1791. Rey conveyed further land in 1812, 1813 and 1819. A Sunday School for girls was opened on 12th November 1809 [X242/4/1].

The first volume of members of the church begins in 1811 [X242/2/1] and the first eight names, all admitted in that year, are: John Roberts (died 6th July 1856); Mary Roberts (died 26th August 1830); Thomas Clayson (died 6th July 1813); Priscilla Swannell (later joined the Baptists in Little Staughton); Mary Ireson, later Robinson (died December 1875); William Rey; Elizabeth Everitt (died 17th February 1843) and Martha Watkins (died 24th November 1842). The first pastor joined in 1812, he was Isaac West, who died in Christian Mallet [Wiltshire] in 1854, aged 77.

The old chapel trustees named in 1808 gradually died off and by 1830 new ones were required. The deed [X377/22-23] named Richard Moss Worth as the minister and the new trustees as John Kettlewell of Harrold, carpenter; John Fairey of Harrold, baker; John Coleman junior of Harrold, baker; John Goff junior of Harrold, farmer; Henry Coleman of Harrold, baker; Charles Robinson of Harrold, wheelwright; Joseph Dines of Odell, farmer and Jared Dickins of Sharnbrook, glazier. The premises was described as: "the newly erected chapel with the Vestry Room and other premises, and the plot of ground at the side of the chapel" and the trustees were to: "permit the meeting house to be used as a place of public religious worship for the service of God by the Society of Protestant Dissenters of the denomination called Paedo-Baptist [they baptised children, in other words], and to permit such persons as shall be nominated by the male members of the society and the major part of them to take subscriptions towards the support of public worship and the support of the minister; to allow worship of persons of the denomination called Calvinistic Paedo-Baptist, with permission to mortgage, or sell, and to buy other property within 2 miles of Harrold; with power to invest, to improve trust property, repair building etc".

That same year a manse was provided [X377/31-32], a "newly erected messuage in Cross Lane in Harrold with garden in front of the same, yard and large garden at the back with pump and well, a small scullery being part of a lean-to abutting on a cottage now in occupation of Robert Thew which cottage is not intended to be conveyed, formerly in occupation of Isaac West, now George Bull Phillips with the School Room sometime since converted into a cottage in occupation of Thomas Valentine standing on part of the garden". These properties were conveyed by John Goff senior of Harrold, farmer and his trustee John Tealby of Harrold, baker to the trustees for £200 "on trust to be used as a minister's house". The next year the cottage in occupation of George and Robert Thew was also conveyed.

Plaque on Congregational chapel June 2008
Plaque on Congregational Chapel June 2008

The New Chapel

The old chapel was no longer adequate for the growing congregation and so it was replaced by a larger building on the same site, which was opened on 21st September 1836. A plaque on the chapel building commemorates the enlargement in 1863. The land for this was conveyed after the event (2nd December 1863) by Harrold shoemaker George Smith for £230, a cottage and bakehouse with oven, barn and garden had lately stood on the site [X377/38]. The new building was designed by Usher, the Bedford architect and was opened on 6th October.

On Sunday 30th March 1851 a census of all churches, chapels and preaching-houses of every denomination was undertaken in England and Wales. The local results were published by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1975 as Volume 54, edited by D.W.Bushby. The return for the "Independent Chapel", made by the deacon, John Goffe, noted seating accommodation for 464 and attendances of 162 and 156 Sunday Scholars in the morning, 206 and 156 Sunday Scholars in the afternoon and 195 and 100 Sunday Scholars in the evening - grand totals of 318, 362 and 295 - higher than those for the church!

Congregational Sunday School date stone May 2008
Congregational Sunday School date stone in May 2008

20th Century

A plaque on the Sunday School indicates that it was built in 1899. It was constructed on land given by Earl Cowper. It consisted of four new classrooms, a new vestry and a kitchen - all costing £620. The new structure was opened on 24th May 1900

By the middle of the 20th century congregations were waning and in 1966 it was decided to sell the manse as the expense could no longer be afforded, thus Rev.Jubb became the last full-time minister in Harrold. In 1968 the churches in Harrold, Olney and Yardley Hastings formed the Three Shires Group of Churches, with the manse in the Northamptonshire village of Yardley Hastings.

In 1972 the United Reformed Church was created by a merger of Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales. The Three Shires Group voted to join the new church in that same year.

In the 1980s two of the URC chapel's school classrooms and the hall, which were not used, were leased to businesses to help pay for the maintenance of the buildings. About this time the church then began to grow again and strengthen its relationships with the Anglicans in the village, Carlton and Odell. With numbers of children growing once more the unused front gallery in the church was turned into an upstairs room for them and for hire to other village groups.

United Reformed Church June 2008
United Reformed Church June 2008


A list of ministers is as follows:

  • 1812-1828: Isaac West;
  • 1828-1861: George Bull Phillips;
  • 1862-1869: George Deane;
  • 1870-1873: J.A.Theodore Skinner;
  • 1873-1874: J.G.Barham;
  • 1876-1886: William Jones;
  • 1886-1901: Alfred Martindale;
  • 1902-1909: A.J.Underwood;
  • 1910-1914: W.Henry Wrigley;
  • 1915-1922: J.G.Murray;
  • 1923-1930: H.G.Stuart;
  • 1930-1938: W.E.Davies;
  • 1939-1946: H.C.Harding;
  • 1946-1949: J.S.Wilson;
  • 1950-1954: Clifford Barrett;
  • 1955-1966: Raymond Jubb;
  • 1981-1988: Stephen Harris
  • 1988-1989: Wilfred Diggens;
  • 1989-1994: Basil E.Bridge;
  • 1994: Roger Whitehead