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Disturbing a Chapel Service

The old chapel [Z426/1/36]
The old chapel [Z426/1/36]

On 19th June 1837 Peter Robins appeared at the Quarter Sessions in Bedford on an unusual charge of disturbing a congregation. Matthew Flanders of Little Staughton gave evidence against him [QSR1837/3/5/23] stating that he was an attendant at the Baptist chapel at Little Staughton, explaining that it was an old established chapel for dissenters, duly licensed according to Act of Parliament. Flanders was at the chapel on Sunday evening at about 6.30 pm. Rev. Mr. Robinson was performing the service.

Flanders saw Robins coming across the meeting house yard towards the door. He opened it, came in and said “Hullo! What is the matter here? What insurrection is this? What the Hell have you been at here?” Cooper, Robins’ brother-in-law, took hold of Robins and tried to turn him out, but was not able to do so. Robins then challenged the best man in the meeting to a fight. Cooper and Bennett then got Robins outside the door. Robins then stripped and challenged Bennett to a fight. They tried to pacify him, then left him and went back into the Chapel. They shut the door behind them but Robins immediately burst open the door and rushed in again, and asked who had been interfering with his brother-in-law and who had cheated him [Robins] out of a pint of beer. The congregation, as may be imagined, was alarmed and disturbed by this conduct and the service was interrupted for some time.

Peter Robins was duly convicted and fined the, then, huge sum of £40. The register for Bedford Gaol gives us some more information about him. He was aged 39 and stood 5 feet 9 inches high. He had brown hair, grey eyes and a brown complexion. He had evidently led a violent life as he had marks on each thigh, either from cuts or gun-shot wounds. He had been born over the border in Great Staughton [Huntingdonshire] but lived in Little Staughton.

This was not his only brush with the law. Sixteen years later he was back in gaol [QGV10/3] accused of stealing a leather jar, worth 2/6 and two gallons of rum worth £1/12/-  in Little Staughton on 4th April 1853 from John Wide. This all suggests that Robins had something of a drink problem. On this occasion Robins’ eyes are described as blue, his complexion as fresh and his face as long. He was a married labourer with six children hence, perhaps, the drinking. He was given three months’ hard labour.