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 for Sandy includes the following:
- 1706: Sandy was reported to contain about 150 families: "Out of these there are about 20 that dissent from the Church of England, whereof 3 are Quakers, the rest 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 3 or 4 Quakers, 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".
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.
Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has the registrations of nonconformist meetings of undisclosed denomination in Sandy from 1791 to 1852. The Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, Mormons and Salvation Army all had meetings in Sandy and Girtford.
In 1791 two registrations were made, 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 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].
In 1834 a chapel, denomination not specified, was registered by William Davies of Biggleswade [ABN1/2, ABN2/285]. In 1849 a dwelling house of William Barnes junior was registered by Thomas Smith of Bedford [ABN1/2, ABN2/408].