Registration and Early References in Ravensden
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.
Visitations by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in the early 18th century give some idea as to the number of nonconformists in each parish from returns made by the vicar or rector. Former County Archivist Patricia Bell has compiled returns from 1706 to 1720 for the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society (Volume 81, published 2002); the returns for Ravensden show that about ten percent of families in the parish were nonconformists:
- 1706: out of about 40 families 4 were Presbyterians, all baptising, marrying and burying according the the Church of England. They had no licensed meeting house. There were no Papists or reputed Papists.
- 1709: there were now 90 souls and 30 families, with four families of Presbyterians and two of Independents.
- 1712: no mention was made of nonconformists.
- 1717: there were still about 30 families in the parish, with 3 or 4 masters of families were Dissenters “who are called Independents”.
- 1720: out of about 30 families 4 or 5 were Anabaptists or Presbyterians.
Volume 75 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1996 and edited by Edwin Welch contains registrations of Bedfordshire nonconformist meetings drawn from a number of sources. The Ravensden section includes early registrations as follows:
- 8th January 1831: the house of John Wiles of Ravensden was registered by John Wiles;
- 10th January 1832: the house of John Allen was registered by John Allen;
- 27th/28th June 1834: an episcopal chapel was registered by Timothy Richard Matthews, clerk, of Bedford;
- 8th April 1858: a chapel was registered by John Allen;
- 7th February 1854: Zion Chapel (Particular Baptist) was registered by James Shepherd of Bedford, tailor (trustee)