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Baptists in Shefford

Baptist Church January 2008
Baptist Church January 2008

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has no records deposited by the Baptist church in Shefford - the early deeds are held centrally by the Baptist church. The History of the Bedfordshire Union of Churches written by John Brown and David Prothero and published in 1946 notes that as early as 1798 the neighbouring Baptist ministers resolved to preach once a month in Shefford but were not able to find anywhere suitable until 1814.

In 1825 a newly erected building at the North End of Shefford Hardwick was registered by Thomas Inskip and John Impey [ABN2/223]. Given other evidence [see below] this seems to be the current Baptist chapel

The following brief history of the church land and buildings in Shefford is taken from notes made by George Page around the time of the Second World War [CRT170/3/10]. A conveyance of 29th September 1826 from William Henry Whitbread to trustees sold them a piece of ground on which they had built their meeting house for £13. The deed referred to the congregation simply as "Protestant Dissenters" and goes on to elaborate: "the minister to be elected by the majority of the men and women who are members of the Society". New trustees were created in 1878 as by then only John Nathaniel Hake survived from the originals. In 1881 Samuel Whitbread presented adjoining land for the erection of a minister's house and an extension to the burial ground - more land for the latter being purchased in 1929.

As far as the history of the congregation goes, again Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has little material. Brown and Prothero's History notes that it was recorded in 1833 that: "The inhabitants of Shefford being not much disposed to unite in Divine worship even in the Established Church" that the majority of early attenders at the Baptist chapel came from outside the parish. In George Page's correspondence the Baptist minister in 1845 referred to the earliest church books thus: "All our Church books previous to 1880 vanished in disputes at that time".

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 Union Chapel in Shefford Hardwicke, as this part of the town was then called, was made by Edward West "Deacon and Manager" who lived just down the road at Bloomfield House. He noted that the chapel was a union of Baptist and Independent Congregationalists and had been built in 1825. He gives seating accommodation as 290 and reported that 42 and 30 Sunday Scholars attended in the morning and 65 and 26 Sunday Scholars in the afternoon. He further noted: "The attendance is less and the school smaller than it was having been without a settled minister the last six months".

The Baptist Handbook for 1947 notes that Shefford was part of the Baptist Union and that the chapel could seat 350. However, there were only 38 members of whom 11 taught at the Sunday School which was thriving with 65 children. Rev.J.Cornish had been the minister since 1926.