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Toddington Baptists

The Baptist Church June 2015
The Baptist Church June 2015

Records show that there were Baptists in Toddington by at least 1663 as on September 2nd that year the rector noted in the parish register that Ann Lyons was "buried by White the Anabaptist (during my Absence in Lancashire)". On 8th October Ann White "was buried in the quakers' burying place by Edmund White the Anabaptist, contrary to law". By the early 18th century, however, they seem to have had a reasonable relationship with the Church of England as by 1717 they were meeting in the house of John Strange in Chalton, he being one of the churchwardens!

According to A History of the Churches forming the Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire Baptist Association published in 1856 [X347/111] the Baptist Church was originally a branch of the independent (later Congregationalist) church at Hockliffe. Due to that church's practice of mixed communion, five of its Baptist members left and on 27th March 1816 formed the Toddington Baptist church with Revd. Thomas Rumsey as their minister. Another account attributes the foundation to the influence of Thomas Willis, a former worshiper at the Baptist chapel at Thorn, who turned his attentions to Toddington when the Thorne Baptists moved to Houghton Regis. A small chapel and a parcel of land for a burial ground were acquired in Station Road. Thomas Rumsey resigned "owing to age and infirmity" in 1833 and was succeeded by Rev. William Wood of Clophill, on probation until he was ordained as pastor on December 31st 1833, at which time the membership numbered twenty. This rose to a figure of 57 in 1850, but by 1856 had fallen to 37. The low number of members made it necessary for Rev. Wood to keep a school to supplement his income.

On Sunday 30th March 1851 a census of all churches, chapels and preaching-houses of every denomination was undertaken in England and Wales. The Bedfordshire returns were compiled by David W. Bushby and published in 1975 as Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 54. The return for the Bethel Baptist Chapel at Toddington was provided by the Minister, William Wood. The chapel could seat 200, with 60 free seats and 150 other seats, and had standing room for 40. On the day of the census 150 had attended the morning service, 100 the afternoon service, and 100 the evening service. The average attendance was 216 in the morning (100 with an additional figure of 116, presumably Sunday Scholars), and 100 in both the afternoon and the evening.

The list of Baptist ministers known to have served at Toddington is as follows:

  • Thomas Ramsay, 1816-1833
  • William Wood, 1833-1862
  • Thomas Hayden, 1863-1864
  • --, McNaughton, 1866
  • C. Hewitt, 1867
  • S.H. Akehurst, 1868-1870
  • T.G. Gathercole, 1870-1873
  • Henry Cowles Field, 1891-1900
  • Edwin Smart, 1901-1903

Between 1873 and 1891 the Toddington Baptists were without a pastor and services were conducted by men from Luton and Houghton Regis. The church reverted to the supply system again after 1903. By the 1880s the original chapel had become dilapidated and was pronounced unsafe. A new, larger chapel seating 250 people with attached schoolrooms was built at a cost of £550 and opened on 16 October 1884. In 1933 a new rostrum and communion table, and a new pipe organ were installed.