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Early and General Nonconformity

In 1672 Charles II issued a Declaration of Toleration for Protestants dissenting from the Church of England; this had the effect of some dissenting meeting houses registering with the Secretary of State. The Toleration Act of 1689 enshrined the right of protestants to dissent from the Church of England and, once again, encouraged meeting houses to register voluntarily with local quarter sessions and Anglican church. Registration provided protection against persecution, laying a duty of protection upon magistrates and so was popular with nonconformists. Most registrations were made with quarter sessions until the middle of the 18th century, presumably due to the mutual antagonism of nonconformists and established Church. However, from that point registration with the Church, via the local archdeaconry began to become the favoured method, because the archdeaconry Registrar would issue a licence at any time rather than during the days each quarter when the quarter sessions met.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a reasonable number of registrations of nonconformist meeting houses in both the Quarter Sessions and Archdeaconry of Bedford archives. Registration continued through the 19th century even though persecution faded away - this was because registered buildings were allowed to claim exemption from parish poor rates, were exempt from control by the Charity Commission and were allowed to be licensed to carry out marriages. These things meant that registration became almost compulsory in practice for well established nonconformist meetings. This is fortunate for the local historian because sometimes the only surviving references to a nonconformist meeting occur as registrations. One drawback with the registrations are that they do not usually inform the reader of the particular type of denomination involved, though sometimes it is possible to infer it from other evidence.

Early Registrations

As might be imagined, Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a number of registrations of nonconformist meeting houses in Kempston, though the oldest known, that of the house of John Baxter for use as a Congregationalist meeting in 1672 was not registered with either quarter sessions or the archdeaconry. The first such registration was in 1799, with the archdeaconry, of the house and premises of John Burr [ABN1/1]. The dwelling house of Ann Burridge was registered in 1804 [ABN1/1] and the house of James Ames the next year [ABN1/1] whilst two years later the house of Samuel Favell was registered [ABN1/1]. It is quite possible that each of these registrations was for a Wesleyan Methodist meeting.

The next registration in the parish was in 1812 of the newly erected building of John Joice in Giles Close [ABN1/1 and ABN2/145], those registering being James Smith, Joice himself and William Dugliss. In 1821 the dwelling house of George Lumbis or Lumbus was registered by its owner [ABN1/2, ABN2/186 and ABN3/3, 35].

The 1830s saw two more meeting houses, of unknown denomination, being registered in Kempston - the house of William Cooper in 1833, by Cooper himself, William Carter, William Robinson and James Musgraves [ABN1/2 and ABN2/276] and the dwelling of Isaac Barratt in 1835 [ABN1/2 and ABN2/310]. A further registration of a meeting of unknown denomination occurred in 1842 of a building of William Smith [ABN1/2 and ABN2/365].

In 1899 the "Unsectarian" Mission hall in Duncombe Street was registered by Arthur William Panter of Bedford Road, Kempston, builder, the proprietor (this was cancelled in 1914).