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Congregationalism in Potton

The Congregational Church in the late 19th century with Minister F. C. Layton [X744/80]
The Congregational Church in the late 19th century with Minister F. C. Layton [X744/80]

The Congregational church is one of the older types of nonconformity; Congregationalists were known as Independents in the 17th and 18th centuries because they were – every meeting being independent of any outside influence. Responses to questionnaires before episcopal visitations to Potton in 1709 and 1720 mention two or three families of Independents and about five families of Presbyterians respectively, forerunners of the later Potton Congregationalists.

The Congregational meeting in Potton was formed in 1846 and Potton Congregational Church had its first service in July 1848; a certificate registering the building for public worship was filled out by its minister, Frederick Basden in October 1849 [ABN1/2, ABN2/433]. The building was registered for marriages on 12th May 1850. The building stood at the rear of 8 and 10 Sun Street. The church first account book [Z771/9/1] gives an account of the formation of the meeting: “During the Ministration of the Revd. Richard Whittingham for upwards of 38 years in this Town [1806-1845] the principal part of the Inhabitants attended the Parish Church: after his decease it was considered desirable by several who used to attend on his ministry, and others who used to attend at dissenting places of Worship out of Potton, to procure a Gospel Ministry on the Voluntary Principle; when after some preliminary meetings for that purpose were held, a Committee was formed, and an Estate purchased comprising a House for a resident Minister and a convenient plot of ground to build a Chapel upon”.

“Trustees were appointed and subscriptions made for money to pay the purchase, and to defray the expenses in building a Chapel. On the eight day of October in the year of our Lord One Thousand eight hundred and forty seven, the two principal corner stones in front of the Chapel were laid: the one on the north by George Game Day Esquire of Saint Ives in the County of Huntingdon, and the one on the south by Potto Brown Esquire of Houghton in the said County”.

“The Chapel was opened for Divine service on the fourth day of July One thousand eight hundred and forty eight; when the Revd. Dr. Harris, Theological Tutor at Cheshunt College, preached in the morning and the Revd. Joseph Sertain of Brighton in the evening; to numerous and attentive congregations”.

“The purchase of the Estate was Three Hundred and fifty Pounds. The cost for building Chapel Nine Hundred and sixty Pounds making together the sum of Thirteen hundred and thirty Pounds”.

The first trustees were: Thomas Strickland, a brewer of Potton; James Shrosbery of Potton; Charles Bond of Potton; James Judd of Potton; John Edwards of Potton; John Claydon of Potton; John Tyler of Potton; John Paine of Potton; Thomas Smith of Sutton and William Cooper of Sutton.

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 Potton Congregational church was completed by Frederick Basden. The building had 50 free sittings and 232 others. The figures for services were as follows:

  • Morning: 152 general congregation; 129 Sunday scholars;
  • Afternoon: 210 general congregation; 129 Sunday scholars;
  • Evening: 261 general congregation

Basden commented: “The evening’s congregation considerably below average”.

The church was renovated in 1899 and a new Sunday School built in 1903 and opened in 1904 [Z771/1/2]. The chapel had a manse in which the minister lived and this underwent alterations in the early 1920s and again later in the decade [Z771/9 and 14]. In the early 1930s Charles Hutchinson of 4 Bull Street, builder, offered to buy the manse for £75 with a view to demolishing it, which he did in 1932 [Z771/4/17-20]. At this time one of the deacons was tanner F. W. Braybrooks of 24 Royston Street. In 1972 the United reformed Church was created by a coming together of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England.

The interior of the Congregational church before 1899 [X771/84]
The interior of the Congregational church before 1899 [X771/84]

The chapel closed in 1987 and the majority of its records transferred to Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service [Z771]. Following its closure the building became a Sports Centre, the owners of which emigrated to Australia in 2005. The archives comprise the following classes each of which has a varying number of individual records:

  • Z771/1: church minute and record books: 1850-1986;
  • Z771/2: deacons’ meeting minute books: 1930-1944;
  • Z771/3: church engagement diaries: 1941-1984;
  • Z771/4: chapel fabric and buildings: 1903-1960;
  • Z771/5: agreements, insurance and appointments of trustees: 1892-1955;
  • Z771/6: general correspondence: 1904-1986;
  • Z771/7: church newsletters: 1955-1986;
  • Z771/8: church rolls: 1848-1936;
  • Z771/9: account books and ledgers: 1846-1923;
  • Z771/10: statements of account: 1892-1959;
  • Z771/11: cash and cash analysis books: 1911-1970;
  • Z771/12: receipted bills: 1919-1973;
  • Z771/13: posters, leaflets and centenary history: 1899-1961;
  • Z771/14: photographs: c.1890-1900;
  • Z771/15: miscellaneous records: 1834-1919.