Registration and Early References in Riseley
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); information forRiseley includes the following:
- 1706: Riseley was a hotbed of dissent. The parish comprised 114 families "Of these, 3 are of Quakers, 18 of Anabaptists, 10 come wholly to Church. The rest go both to church and Conventicles. There are 3 Licensed meeting houses in this parish. No Papists, or reputed Papists".
- 1709: "Families 117; Souls 629. Of Quakers 2 Families, Independents 15, Churchmen 53. All the rest neither go to Church nor Meetings. The Independents have 3 licensed Houses. They meet 5 or 6 times a year, 2 or 300 in number, most from other parishes".
- 1717: Of 114 families 9 were Independents and 2 Quakers, there was now no licensed meeting house.
- 1720: Of 110 families 10 were Independents, 1 Quakers and 11 went to no form of worship. There was still no meeting house.
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.
Edwin Welch researched the history of registrations in Bedfordshire for Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Volume 75 Bedfordshire Chapels and Meeting Houses [published in 1996] and found the following for Riseley:
- 8th April 1758: Hill Farm, in occupation of Nathaniel Harper was registered by Harper himself and John Norman of Little Barford, farmer [ABN1/1; ABN2/11];
- 6th October 1763: the house of Stephen Dickins was registered by Samuel Berry, Joseph Marshall and Robert Day [QSP43/11];
- 28th September 1773: Stephen Dickins' house again registered by Berry, Marshall and Day [QSP43/11];
- 30th December 1783: the house of William Curtis was registered by Curtis himself, George Dickins and William Dickins [ABN1/1; ABN2/54];
- March-April 1805: a room in Stephen Dickins' house was registered by Dickins himself, William Rootham, William Vallantine and John Goss [ABN1/1; ABN2/116];
- August-September 1830: a building in occupation of William Fowler was registered by Thomas Brown, John Watts and Thomas Woodruff [ABN1/2; ABN2/250; ABN3/3, 98]
- April 1839: the dwelling house of Isaac Flavel was registered by Flavel himself [ABN1/2; ABN2/339].