Reverend Timothy Matthews
This page was compiled by Trevor Stewart
Silhouette portrait of Rev. Timothy Matthews [X373/377/1]
How many of the young people of Bedford who regularly gather in Esquires nightclub in Greyfriars actually realise that they are in a church that is the legacy of one man and funded and constructed by his congregation.
Timothy Matthews was born in Long Sutton Lincolnshire in 1795. He was Curate at Bolnhurst Church between 1818 and 1825 and at Colmworth between 1818 and 1830.
Matthews was a major controversial figure, a rebel, a law unto himself and who, although ordained as an Anglican clergyman, was more often at odds with his church and his bishops and regularly preached at non-conformist places of worship, rather than in an established church. He was, though, still recognised as the finest preacher of his time and was often called upon to take services in London.
After one particularly unpleasant meeting with his Bishop, Matthews came into Bedford and became a street preacher. So charismatic was he that his following grew daily and soon he had to consider seeking a permanent place of worship, the Anglican churches in the town all being barred to him. His congregation set about raising the funds necessary to enable them to purchase land fronting onto Bromham Road and then in 1837 to construct a new Chapel to be called Christ Church (not to be confused with Christ Church in Goldington Road) and where Matthews was to become the Pastor.
His fame continued to spread and he was regularly seen (and heard) parading through the town loudly blowing a bugle to summon his ever increasing congregation to church. He was a great evangelist but still a rebel and he took to baptising new members of the church in the river Great Ouse by the town bridge. There is one record that on a particular Sunday in 1841 he is reputed to have personally baptised over 2000 new converts in the one day.
In 1821 at Colmworth Timothy Matthews had married Ann Fielding, a member of the Fielding family who had come from Halifax to Staploe to farm some family owned land. Ann’s sister Mary was a dissenter and one of six who had emigrated to Canada from the village in 1832. Through her marriage to Hyrum Smith she became one of the founders of the new Mormon faith and is still greatly revered in Salt Lake City. When this new religion had been established and missionaries were being sent back to the United Kingdom, it was Timothy Matthews who welcomed them and allowed them to use his church, much to the consternation of the local establishment.
The connection with Ravensden comes about because the Zion Baptist Chapel in Oldways Road was formed as a direct result of Matthews missionary activity in the village every Sunday afternoon, when after a busy morning preaching in Bedford, he would march through the village with his famous bugle calling folk to worship.
The first church met in two rooms in the cottage of gardener Thomas Symonds and his wife Hannah but the congregation quickly grew and a barn was rented. Hannah began raising funds for a purpose built chapel but sadly Matthews died in Bedford in 1845 before sufficient money had been raised to begin construction. He was buried in the grounds of his Bromham Road church but as this was unconsecrated ground he was subsequently moved to the churchyard in Colmworth. The new Baptist Chapel at Ravensden was finally opened in 1853.