Baptists in Sandy
Sandy Baptist Chapel March 2010
share a number of points of agreement with the teachings of 16th century French theologian John Calvin [Jean Cauvin], who broke away from the Roman Catholic church in 1530 and published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. The Baptist church proper did not evolve until the early 17th century but Calvinism was present in
Sandy as early as 1552. On 3rd October that year a Sandy milliner named Robert Webster made his will [ABP/W1536-1553/268]. The first item is as follows [with the original spelling preserved]: "Firste, I offer, geve, bequethe and delyver my soule Into ye hands of my lord god and maker, and unto ye custody of Jesus Christe my only redeemer and savyor In a stedfast faithe willyngely to lay my body downe to reaste and kepe qwyetly earthe in earthe, fully trustynge and lokynge I shall risse againe at ye comynge of my lorde Jesus Christe and be set on his ryghte hande amonge his electe, with an uncorruptible body to heave and receive his godly blessynge with all his electe and to inheret and inioye his g;orious kyngedom amonge his angels". The doctrine of the elect meant that one was chosen to be saved to Heaven, or damned to Hell, before one's birth, in fact, at the moment of Christ's crucifixion - an idea of Calvin's not acceptable to the Roman catholic church or the protestant church of Martin Luther on which the Church of England came to be based, the first holding that one was saved by good deeds, the latter by one's faith in the redeeming power of Christ.
Visitations by the Bishop of Lincoln to Bedfordshire in the early 18th century give some idea as to the number of Baptists 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 for Sandy includes the following in which it seems as if most of the nonconformists were probably Baptists:
- 1706: Sandy was reported to contain about 150 families: "Out of these there are about 20 that dissent from the Church of England...generally infected with Antinomian principles, and for the most part against Infant Baptism [i. e. Baptists], which is all that can be certainly said of them. There is no Meeting House in this parish".
- 1709: Sandy had the same number of families: "Of these other dissenters about 30, Anti-paedo-baptists. There are, as 'tis said, several licensed houses, but no constant Meeting. One Killingworth is their chief leader".
- 1712: "Families 160, of which about 18 are Dissenters, bseides some few dispersed in other families. 1 family of Quakers. The rest a Mixed Multitude".
- 1717: Of the 150 families: "some few are Dissenters, how many I can't say, nor of what sort they are, but as to their principles they are all, I think, Antinomians and against infant Baptism. 2 or 3 families of these have of late come into this Parish, and in these some furious Zealots who are very troublesome and give great disturbance to their honest neighbours. I do not know of any Licensed or other meeting house in this parish. But we are threatened with several, and now and then a confused Assembly of Dissenters I hear of. Who is their teacher I know not, but am apt to believe they are all Teachers".
- 1720: "Whole families that are Dissenters we have but few, and these generally new comers amongst us; but single persons that are dissenters and their families, we have a pretty many, all of late very troublesome, some exceeding insolent. What denomination they are of I know not, neither do they, I believe, know themselves, but as to their principles they are generally Antinomian and universally against Infant Baptism. I do not know of any licensed or other Meeting house in my Parish".
In 1791 two registrations of nonconformist meetings were made with the Archdeaconry of Bedford, both involving men named Skilleter. William Skilleter was a strong supporter of the Baptist chapel in the town in the mid 19th century and it is possible, therefore, that these were Baptist meetings. Jeremy Skilleter registered his own house [ABN1/1] and John, Robert and Joseph Skilleter, together with Samuel Freeman and Turners Squire registered the house of John Purser [ABN1/1, ABN2/68]. In 1801 the house of John Horwood was registered [ABN1/1]. In 1801 the house of John Horwood was registered [ABN1/1]. In 1813 the house of William Christmas, cordwainer (shoemaker) was registered by Christmas himself, John and Jeremy Skilleter, Joseph Keep, William Whittlemore and John Harwood [ABN1/1, ABN2/153]. Jeremy Skilleter's house was registered in 1816 [ABN1/1].
The first certain registration of a Baptist meeting in Sandy came in February 1831 with a "Building in possession of John Foster to be used as a Baptist chapel". The building was registered by Thomas Middleditch, Blythe Foster and John Foster himself [ABN1/2, ABN2/254, ABN3/3]. The Bedfordshire Mercury of 8th October 1887 carries a piece which states that this building was erected in 1826 or 1827 by Calvinists who could not then pay for it and it was bought by John Foster and then registered for Baptist worship in 1831.
The secular authorities wished to know how many people in the country attended worship and the rough proportions for each denomination. Thus a census of worshippers was held on Sunday 30th March 1851, known as the Ecclesiastical Census. It was not a particularly popular exercise and the day itself, cold, wet and unpleasant, did not exactly encourage people to go outdoors. Nevertheless, the elder of the meeting, William Skilleter, recorded that the congregation stood at forty in the morning, a hundred in the afternoon and a hundred and fifty in the evening. He noted that the meeting had eighty free seats and a hundred and twenty reserved.
A section through the chapel of 1854 in Pleasant Place [CDE48/3]
Skilleter, described as a gardener and trustee, registered a new chapel on 11th September 1854. It was built on the site of the old 1820s building in Pleasant Place at a cost of £773/9/7 [CRT170/3/30]. A front gallery was built in 1859 and the back gallery and vestry enlarged at a cost of £218/12/5 in 1861 [CRT170/3/30]. Skilleter is mentioned in a newspaper piece of 25th March 1865: "LIBERAL GIFT: Mr. William Skilleter has purchased the beautiful villa residence of Mr. Forshaw, at a cost of £380, as a residence for the minister of the Baptist Meeting House in perpetuity. Mr. Skilleter was the principal contributor towards the new chapel and has steadily supported the cause for many years". William Skilleter was the uncle of John Usher, architect of the firm of Usher and Anthony and it seems likely that he designed the new chapel - certainly the elevations pictured abov and below are in the archive of his company.
The Baptist meeting was again registered by Thomas Voysey, the Sandy Baptist minister in 1861 and was registered as a venue for marriages in 1863. Both the latter two registrations were substituted for new ones in 1888. This was because a third Baptist chapel had then been built, in London Road. The Bedfordshire Mercury of 27th August 1887 reported that a tender to build it had been accepted from Mr. Wade of Saint Neots [Huntingdonshire] at a cost of £1,798. The foundation stone was laid on 4th October and the new chapel opened on 5th June 1888, the architects having been Usher and Anthony of Bedford [CRT170/3/30]. The old chapel in Prospect Place was the used as a Sunday School.
The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting the old chapel in Pleasant Place [DV1/C146/31] noted that it was built of brick and slate and was "old and damp". The main hall measured 37 feet 9 inches by 26 feet less a porch which measured 4 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 6 inches and a gallery measuring 23 feet 6 inches by 12 feet. An adjoining room measured 23 feet by 15 feet 9 inches "with moveable partition for dividing into two". An infants' class room measured 11 feet 6 inches by 16 feet and there was also a scullery with a copper, for heating water, and a sink, a coal hole and a utrinal and two w. c's outside. Upstairs lay four small rooms measuring 8 feet by 13 feet, 7 feet 6 inches by 13 feet 9 inches, 6 feet 6 inches by 9 feet and 6 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 3 inches respectively. the valuer noted: "At present there are about 230 Sunday School children on role [sic]. Average is about 200. School used only 4 days a week".
Transverse section through the London Road chapel of 1887 [CDE49/1]
Thirty five title deeds relating to Baptist premises in Sandy are held by Baptist Church House in London and date from 1823 to 1935. Sadly, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service does not have any records generated by any of the Baptist churches in Sandy. At the time of writing  the chapel remains a place of worship for Baptists. The former chapel in Pleasant Place is now a private dwelling.
The former Baptist chapel of 1854 in Pleasant Place - March 2010