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Strict Baptists in Riseley

The Baptist church on a map of 1884
The Baptist church on a map of 1884

A response to a questionnaire sent out in advance of an episcopal visitation to Bedfordshire in 1706 noted that there were eighteen families of Anabaptists in the parish. In June 1838 a barn in occupation of Mrs Everett was registered for worship by Joseph Love, Samuel Beall and Lads William Lugsdin [ABN1/2, ABN2/329-330]. We know this was a Baptist registration because Love, Beall and James Lugsdin registered a Baptist chapel in November that year [ABN1/2, ABN2/331].

The church book for Riseley is held by the Strict Baptist Historical Society but a transcription was made by H G Tibbutt and there is a copy in the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service searchroom. The book notes: "In the Spring of 1838 the Father of Mercies gave to a few of his numerous Family an ardent desire to introduce the Gospel in its purity and simplicity into Riseley, a benighted village containing a thousand inhabitants. Previous to this period a little place had been occasionally occupied by lovers of 'Free grace only', which place had so far fallen into decay as to preclude the possibility of assembling within its hallowed precincts without imminent danger". The new chapel was on the south-west side of Mill Lane (now Keysoe Road).

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 Calvinistic Baptist chapel was made by the minister, John Dixon:

  • There were 100 free seats and 160 others;
  • Congregation in the morning was 36 with 28 Sunday scholars;
  • Congregation in the afternoon was 65 with 28 Sunday scholars;
  • Congregation in the evening was 90.
  • Averages for the last twelve months had been 50 in the morning, 100 in the afternoon and 120 in the evening with 30 Sunday scholars in the morning and 40 in the afternoon.

George E Page produced a history of Baptist churches in the Bedford area in 1953, again there is a copy in the searchroom. He noted that by 1897 the meeting had been without a pastor for thirty years and that no records had been kept but regular services had been held. It seems that the cause in this "benighted village" did not really prosper. By 1945 membership stood at just two women and services were infrequent. H G Tibbutt noted that in September 1948 "it was decided to terminate the cause and close the chapel which, with the agreement of the Charity Commissioners was sold to Mr Saunderson, builder of Bedford, for £255". The building no longer survives