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The Creation of the Parish of Shefford

Saint Michael and All Angels from south west January 2008
Saint Michael and All Angels from south west January 2008

Until 1903 Saint Michael and All Angels, Shefford was a chapel of ease, forming part of the parish of Campton. In that year it became a separate ecclesiastical parish. The chapel of ease attracted large congregations. 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 Saint Michael's Chapel of Ease, made by Robert Johnson "Chapel Warden, Plumber and Glazier" reported that the chapel could hold 502 and that at the morning service 329 attended, that day there was no afternoon service. The average attenddance he reckoned at 300 in the morning and 400 in the afternoon. He noted, to maplify this: "There is always a larger congregation in the afternoon".

The Whitbread archive has an interesting collection of correspondence regarding the creation of the parish [W3988]. On 28th November 1898 Samuel Whitbread, who owned the advoswon of Southill, wrote to the Rector of Campton, George Osborn stating that he was prepared to see part of the parish of Southill (coloured brown on the plan below) ceded to Shefford to help form the new parish. as "This land is practically the only land in our own Parish near to Shefford where there is any probability that houses may in future be built".

Southill land to be transferred to Shefford
Southill land to be transferred to Shefford [W3998] [please click on the thumbnail to see a larger image]

He felt that Shefford should be run by a curate whose salary would be paid by a number of parishes, who he would assist, rather than creating a separate living for Shefford. If a separate living were to be created he was happy for it to be shared by the Rectors of Campton and Clifton but most unhappy that the patron should be the bishop (he was supported in this by the incumbents of Clophill, Meppershall and Southill) to which the Archdeacon responded: "I received with great regret the decision at which you have arrived. Matters must now remain in status quo". 

There matters seem to have stayed until 1902 when George Osborn and the Rural Dean, the Rector of Clifton John Pycock, tried to get things moving again by speaking with Samuel Whitbread. The Rural Dean wrote on 22nd March: "The chief points of the scheme about which I wrote to you are:

1. To make the whole of Shefford and that part of Clifton known as Clifton Fields and the houses in Southill which adjoin Shefford into one separate and distinct Ecclesiastical Parish under the care of a Resident Clergyman, with Shefford Church as the Parish Church (The Vicar of Meppershall declines to share in the new arrangement).

2. To provide a separate income for the new Parish by contributions from the several existing Benefices which participate in the scheme and by raising by public subscription & co. a Fund to be made over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and increased by a benefaction from them as an Endowment Fund for the new Benefice.

Mr.Osborn and I are prepared to contribute £50 a year each and my chief object in consulting you is to ask if you will be good enough to continue your present contribution of £20 a year and allow your name to appear on a Committee to raise subscriptions & co. for the proposed Endowment Fund.

In the case of a permanent scheme these contributions will of course have to be secured in perpetuity. The question of patronage is an important one. I believe that according to the Rules of the Commissioners the patronage must be public and in the hands of Bishop, or Archdeacon or some official or officials of the church, otherwise they will not assist with a Grant. I understand that Sir Algernon Osborn is willing to relinquish all claim to such patronage and I feel quite sure that my Patron will do the same. Perhaps we i.e. yourself, Mr.Osborn and I could secure the first presentation and then place the patronage in other hands. The importance of immediate action is in my opinion great.

1. Because the need of a Resident Clergyman in Shefford has long been left and the successful work of Mr.Garrard has awakened the people to the fact and while they are grateful for the present arrangement they feel it is an insecure one.

2. The Church is in great need of restoration and much more hearty co-operation will be enlisted in such work on the part of the Inhabitants if they feel sure of a Resident Clergyman among them and of a continuance of the present work.

3. I think the fact that the Patrons and Inhabitants of the 3 Parishes interested in the scheme are favourable to it and that the Bishop has given his sanction to it, is a combination of favourable conditions which may never occur again, or may be attained with difficulty in the future".

In reply Samuel Whitbread expressed "a deep dislike of what is generally known as Public Patronage" but would not object to the patronage resting with the Archdeacon "if it is really necessary" as he knew the district and its needs better than the Bishop. He added that to create an endowment of £20 per annum he would have to contribute capital of £350 and was prepared to do so.

The curate in charge since 25th May 1903 applied to become the first vicar - the living being £130 per annum with no vicarage provided; the three trustees were the Archdeacon of Bedford and the Rectors of Campton and Clifton and they were not impressed, the opinion of his former vicar being that "while making a good Curate he could not recommend him as Vicar or for a Sole Responsibility". Added to the fact that no property was included and the curate was a married man his application was unsuccessful. Mr.Whitbread was, in turn, not impressed by the trustees' actions: "This has been a very unfortunate affair and I cannot see that you have got a very good way out of it. Members of the congregation say to me this is the second time that we have had a clergyman put in charge of the Parish to whom we have become attached, with whom we were satisfied, and then without a word of warning or consultation with us the Patrons suddenly decided that they cannot offer him the Living without assigning any reasons. I am afraid they are sore and angry and that this state of affairs does not bode well for the smooth working of the Parish in future". 

In 1904 Mr.Whitbread was approached to contribute to the purchase of a site for a vicarage "alongside of the Old School" offered by a Mrs.Atkinson for a lower price than valuation. The writer remarked "I have not much idea that the present Vicar will ever see the new Vicarage built. He is astonished at the lethargy of the people and asked me about the reason, so I told him very plainly but he did not relish the information I could see!". Mr.Whitbread's response was short and to the point: "recent events have so entirely disappointed the expectation upon which I ventured to take any part in the movement as to render me unwilling to give further assistance". He was also involved in schemes in two other parishes "which are more pressing". In the event the Vicar did not stay very long, leaving in 1909.