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Baptists in Westoning

Hope Strict Baptist Chapel about 1900 [Z50/130/28]
Hope Strict Baptist Chapel about 1900 [Z50/130/28]

Volume 110 published by the Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1996 and edited by Edwin Welch contains registrations of Bedfordshire nonconformist meetings drawn from a number of sources. A Baptist chapel was registered on 7th January 1799 by the minister, Francis Hews, Richard Gutteridge, William Cheshire, Thomas Hill, William Tossey, Joseph Rawley and William Mayles [QSR1799/57 and QSM20 page 103]

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service does not have any records deposited by the chapel itself but does have some early deeds from the Webber Archive. In June 1814 [WE1737-1738] John Smith of Westoning, yeoman, conveyed a barn "lately converted into a chapel by a society of the people called Methodists residing in or near the parish of Westoning" to Thomas Millard of Flitton, yeoman, for £80. Millard was a member of the society and purchased it on trust that if £50 plus £12 in expenses was given to him by five other members he would convey it to them. The reference to Methodists is amplified by a deed of June 1814 in the Sharman and Trethewy Collection [ST247-248] which says the same thing. It seem likely that Millard intended to sell to the Methodist but the deal fell through and he offered the site to the Baptists.

Four years later in June 1818 Millard conveyed the barn "for the use of the denomination of Particular Baptists, teaching the doctrine called Calvinistical, maintaining the doctrine of eternal and personal election, particular redemption, justification by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, effectual calling, regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit, the perseverance of the Saints, the Resurrection of the dead, and the everlasting glorification of the just" [WE1739]. Millard sold the barn for £62 to the following trustees: Rev. George Dance of Westoning, Dissenting Minister, William Gaseley of Westoning, John Warren of Harlington, farmer, George Bredshall of Eversholt, labourer, Abraham Dale of Harlington, labourer, Thomas Chew of Leighton Buzzard, miller and Thomas Fowler of Toddington, baker.

For the rest of the history of the chapels one must rely on a book entitled Further History of the Gospel Standard Baptists Volume 3 by S. F. Paul, published in 1958. He states that the Westoning meeting was in communion with the Bunyan Meeting in Bedford, as noted by the Bunyan Meeting church book in 1656. Bunyan himself preached a sermon at Lower Samshill on 12th November 1660 when he was arrested and taken before a justice of the peace at Harlington. This resulted in his twelve year prison sentence in Bedford. The traditional site of the meeting, Bunyan's Oak, in fact lies just south of the modern parish boundary in the civil parish of Harlington.

S. F. Paul notes that four people from Westoning were fined £20 in 1671 for not attending church but frequenting the Baptist meeting instead. He also notes that the chapel records state that Francis Hews was joint pastor in 1795; he was from Aldbury [Hertfordshire]. He died in 1810 and was succeeded by the George Dance noted in the conveyance of 1818. The book refers to this new meeting as being at Mead's Yard. Dance moved to Bishop's Stortford [Hertfordshire] in 1824. S. F. Paul's history notes that the Mead's Yard chapel was blown down in a gale in 1828. A new meeting was established at the house of William Stanley in 1828 [ABN1/2, 2/240 and 3/3]. The site of the current Hope Chapel in Greenfield Road was acquired in 1831 and the chapel was built in 1835 with seating for about 250.

S. F. Paul states that a dispute arose in the congregation in 1846 and that some of the congregation left to meet that the house of William Aldridge. In July 1846 Thomas Flower of Dunstable did indeed register a building occupied by farmer William Aldrich for worship [ABN1/2 and 2/385]. This seems to be the genesis of the Wesleyan Methodist meeting in the High Street in Westoning.

Hope Strict Baptist Church August 2009
Hope Strict Baptist Church August 2009

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 Hope Particular Baptist Church was made by the minister, George Muskett and deacons Samuel Taylor and John Spring who noted the following pieces of information: the church had 150 free seats and 140 others and that morning had had a congregation of 130, with 300 in the afternoon and 80 in the evening. The church had 26 members - i.e. those who had been baptized.

S. F. Paul had written an earlier pamphlet (1949) called Nevertheless in which he traced the history of the meeting and its ministers. A list of ministers can be assembled from the book as follows:

  • Francis Hews: about 1790 to 1810;
  • George Dance: before 1818 to 1824;
  • Thomas Chew: 1824 to 1844 when he died;
  • George Muskett, from Shottesham [Norfolk]: 1849 to 1865 when he left for Norwich [Norfolk], in failing health;
  • William Darbyshire: 1867 (becoming full-time pastor in 1873), from Haslingden [Lancashire]  to 1883;
  • Mr. Wilson of Biggleswade: 1883 to 1893 when he died;
  • Supply Ministers: 1893 to 1907;
  • Joseph Field: 1907 to 1917 when he left for Gornal [Staffordshire];
  • Supply Ministers: 1917 to 1921;
  • J. S. Tingley: 1921 to 1931 when he left for London;
  • Supply Ministers, including S. F. Paul: 1931 to 1949 at least.

Hope Strict Baptist Chapel, then called a Particular Calvinistic Baptist Chapel was again registered by deacon John Neal of Toddington on 2nd June 1894 and registered for marriages separately on the same day. Interestingly, on Ordnance Survey maps of 1882 and 1901 the chapel is labelled as a Methodist (Calvinist) chapel! Clearly membership is thriving [2010] because a new chapel has been built adjoining the old premises in Greenfield Road. the church's website states that the old building became dilapidated and the new chruch was opened in 1989, at which point the name of the church changed from Hope Strict Baptist Chapel and Westoning Baptist Church.

Westoning Baptist Church August 2009
Westoning Baptist Church August 2009