Ashwell Dissenters from early 1600

Ashwell Nonconformists

Researched and typed by Jackie Embury




Protestant Dissenters of Ashwell

Taken from a typed document found in a Lawyer’s file about Ashwell located at Hitchin Museum – August 2012

Taken from authentic sources:

The following are among the places for religious worship certified by Protestant Dissenters under the ‘Toleration Act’;  the first two are the first entries in the Meeting House Book of the Independents in Ashwell.

“We part of the inhabitants of Ashwell, doe  desire you to register the house of Stephen Ingre of the same parish, in the county of Hertford, for a Meeting House;  he liveth in the middle of the towne in High Streete.   Witness our hands from Ashwell this 14th day of March 1692;  Edward Waller, senior, William Chapman, Robert Bacon, Thomas Griegorie, Thomas Ingre;  Registered 18th March 1692.”

“May 30th, 1693.  To the Archdeacon of Huntingdon. 

Wee, the inhabitants of Ashwell, whose names are underwritten, desire to register the barne of Richard Bygrave, glazier, for a meeting house.  It stands in the midst of the town aforesaid.  Tho. Mackeris, Edw. Waller, Wm. Chapman, Richard Bygrave, Stephen Ingrey, Registered 6th February, 1693.”

“These are To certifie that a congregation of Protestant Dissenters doe intend to meet for religious worship at the house of Thomas Mackaris in the parish of Ashwell, 11th November, 1708, Wm. Bedford, Thomas Mackaris, Wm. Mayes, Wm. Sharpe, Reg, 12th November, 1708.”

“These are to certifie that a Congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious Worship at the house of Thomas Gregory in the parish of Ashwell.  2nd August 1709.  Thomas Mackaris, Francis Chapman, Thos. Gregory, Reg. 9th August 1709.”  (It is noted that Anne 15 and Henry 13 daughter and son of Thomas and Martha Mackeriss were baptised at St Mary’s Ashwell on 17 April 1714 – taken from parish register)

“These are to certify that a Congregation of Protestant Dissenters do intend to meet for religious worship at the house of George Martin in the parish of Ashwell.  Reg. January 5th 1715-16, Wm. Middleton, John Smith, John Spicer, Jonas Langton, Geo. Bygrave, Geo. Adams, Reg. 6th March 1715.”

“These are to certify…………… at the home of Joseph Bennett in Ashwell October 21st 1765.  Reg. 24th October 1765.  Jasper Bennett, Thomas Gregory, Francis Chapman.”

“We……… certify that a Building in Ashwell, standing in the yard of a dwelling-house belonging to Anne Christie, occupied by Uriah Bowles is intended to be used……. 14th April 1791.  William Chessum, Minister Ambrose Everard, John Pettengell, Jesse Sale, John Worland, Joseph Cooper.”

“We….. certify that a Building in Ashwell situate in High Street, and belonging to Mr Daniel Whitby, is intended to be used as……………... Protestant Dissenters.  8th November, 1793.  Daniel Whitby, Jas. Sale, John Pettengell, Jas. Dumville.”

“The house of Sarah Ripsher, Alms Lane, Ashwell, for Protestant Dissenters, Certified 30th April, 1811, by Robert Noddings, Edw. Payne, James Petty.”  (Latter believe error for Pitty?.)

“Dwelling-house of R. Christie at Ashwell for P.D. (Public Devotion?) April 11th 1815.  John Syderserf, John Newton.”

“Dwelling-house of Joseph Bailey, Ashwell, certified for P.D.  14th July, 1815.  John Wright, Joshua Kerbyshire, Abram Garratt.”

“House of Francis Gentle, Ashwell, certified for Wesleyan Methodists February 17th 1824, by Francis Gentle, Benjm. Gentle, John Carter, William Carter.”

“Building of Thos. Wake, Ashwell, certified for P.D. July 27th, 1825, by Thos Wake, Francis Gentle.”




This document is taken from the Records of The Congregational Church Assembling at Ashwell, Herts. (Now Ashwell United Reformed Church)

Historical Account of this Church

The following account was drawn up during 1893 by the late Pastor Revd. J Buckley Millsom

When and how nonconformity began in Ashwell it is difficult to say. – The Revd. John Brown DD of Bedford in a letter dated August 10th 1893 says –  “In the Record Office there is a document in Bunyan’s handwriting which I have seen and copied, in which he applies for licences for meeting places under the Declaration of Indulgences of 1672.  These are in six Counties…….”

The one in Herts being “For the house of Thos Morise of Ashwell.”   In our own Church Book (at Bunyan’s Meeting House) there are the following references to members received into fellowship from Ashwell, under date April 7th 1672 we find “Sister Mauris of Ashwell” and Mary Prutton of Edworth”.  “July 13th 1672 Friend Mauris, Sister of Ashwell”.  In 1693 Martha Mackeriss of Ashwell was received.”  (It is noted that Anne 15 and Henry 13 daughter and son of Thomas and Martha Mackeriss were baptised at St Mary’s Ashwell on 17 April 1714 – taken from parish register)

** (“At an assembly of the congregation at Gamilingay the 7th of the 4th month 1672.  There was received into fellowship with this congregation, Humphrey Thorowgood of Southill, sister Mauris of Ashwell and Mary Prutton of Edworth.”

Also “At the meeting of the congregation at Gamlinhay the 13th of the 7th moneth.  There was received into fellowship with the congregation, sister Astwood of Gamlinghay and friend Mauris his sister of Ashwell.”)**

As Bunyan preached in many towns and villages within 20 miles of Bedford, and formed communities in them, it is not unlikely that he periodically visited Ashwell.   It was his practice not to form converts in such places into separate churches, but to affiliate them upon his Church at Bedford.

It is difficult to say if any, or if anyhow much of Bunyan’s work survived him, or whether at the end of the next century any part of it entered into the foundation of the Independent Church at Ashwell.   

John Bunyan, it may be remarked was by no means a Strict Baptist, many of the members of the Church at Bedford – perhaps the majority  of them – were not Baptists, as the succession of Ministers of “Bunyan Meeting” since his time proves, all of them (six) being Independents.

We have a little more light upon the history of the Independent Church at Ashwell when we come towards the end of the last century.  What may be called the rise of Evangelical Nonconformity in Ashwell, as in many other places, is connected with the great revival of the last century, and may be thus briefly described:-

The two sections of the early Methodists – Calvinistic and Armenian – consisted at first of clergy of “the Church as by law established.”  These men as is well known, refused to be bound by the Parochial divisions of their church, but went “everywhere preaching the Gospel”.   Ecclesiastically this was wrong, but was fully justified by the great and most blessed results flowing from it, results that remain and are justified of good to this day. 

Among the Calvinistic Methodists, John Berridge of Everton, Beds, stands forth very prominently.  No doubt he was a Calvinist, but this distinction belongs to him, that he was not a Controversial Calvinist, but rather a man who had a firm hold upon the spiritual truths of the Gospel and cared for nothing so much as to preach and teach them.

Sometime probably in the second half of the last century (1750+) Mr Berridge visited Ashwell;   great numbers of persons from many miles around Everton had been in the habit of attending his preaching in his own church, and it is not at all unlikely that he was invited by some from Ashwell to visit their village.

Anyhow, he came and preached in a barn belonging to Mr Christy at West End.  That his labour was successful there is no doubt, but to what extent is not known, nor is it known over how much time his visits to Ashwell extended. 

Mr Berridge did not attempt to form any persons influenced by his ministry into a separate church;  nevertheless such was the result of his labours.  What he did not intend, was we believe, by the Grace of our Lord, wrought out in that after some years – the exact extent of which is not known – a place of meeting for a separate congregation was obtained, licensed and furnished for worship.

This building was a “beer house” a malting, and stood in front of the present Chapel, close to the street and sideways to the same.   The worship was conducted by such ordained ministers and lay preachers as the people were able to obtain.

In, or about, the years 1793, a church was formed upon the principles held by “Independents”, and a Mr Barfield,who resided in Royston, became the first minister of the church, being publicly ordained, according to the custom of the Independents, by prayer, charge and laying on of hands.

He continued Pastor until 1803 , when he resigned and went to Enfield where he died.  His successor was Mr Akin of Eversden, who was pastor for some years – how many is uncertain – and retired in consequence of ill health. 

For many years after the retirement of Mr Akin the church had no settled minister.  The pulpit was supplied mainly by students from Wymondley College and such ministers as could be procured, especially for the Ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In the year 1826 Mr Woodward was invited and became Pastor.  He is described as “one of the ministers of the Herts Union”, probably an agent employed by that Union.  He had been educated for the Established Church, but how he became a dissenter is not known. 

He was ordained in October 1827.  During his ministry the Church and Congregation increased so much that it became necessary to build a larger place of worship, and a new chapel was built and opened in April 1830.  The year following Mr Woodward resigned his charge and did not long survive his retirement. 

After him Mr Wildey of Wheathampstead became pastor and continued until 1834.

His successor was Mr Richardson – about 1836.   He had been a city missionary in London, and was commended to the Church in Ashwell by Mr Freeman of the London Missionary Society.  The first half of Mr Richardson’s ministry seems to have been peaceful and successful, but the second was much disturbed to the great injury of the cause and that in many ways.

On the night of February 2nd 1850 a great fire broke out in Ashwell and raged until a good part of the village and with it the Chapel, had been destroyed.  The burning of the Chapel led to Mr Richardson’s retirement.

One circumstance in connection with the burning of the Chapel is so curious, yet so characteristic that it deserves record.  A large sum of money was subscribed for the benefit of those who had suffered by the fire.  This money came from all quarters and persons.

After all claims had been met it was found that a surplus of £300 to £400 pound remained in the hands of the then Vicar of the Parish.  The Independents of Ashwell thought that the surplus, or some part of it, should have been allotted towards the rebuilding of the Chapel – especially as the insurance was only for £400.  But not one farthing was given out of it.  The Vicar and those who acted with him preferred giving the money to the Hitchin Infirmary.  This was accordingly done.  Comment is needless.  As it was then, so is it now. 

The people however soon accomplished the work of building the Chapel as it now stands, and it was opened for worship in 1852 by the Revd. Joshua C Harrison of Park Chapel, London.

When the Church of Guilden Morden was formed now (1893) more than 50 years ago (1840 ), the nucleus of that Church consisted of nine members from Ashwell Church.  They resided at Morden but were communicants of and worshipped at Ashwell Church, which is therefore the mother Church.

In 1852 the Revd. Jas. Buckley Millsom accepted the call to the pastorate, which he filled for 41 years, resigning in 1891, owing to ill health.

** This is additional information received from Bunyan’s Museum Bedford (11.8.2011).  “In terms of the Bunyan Meeting Church Book, I have access to a transcribed copy which according to the notes has kept the spellings etc from the original."

In terms of the dates “In common with early records of other Nonconformist and Quaker causes there are in the earlier minutes in this volume references to ‘First Month,’ ‘Second Month’ etc.  In this context ‘First month’ is April,’ ‘Second month is May’ and the last or ‘Twelfth month’ is ‘March’.  For this dating see the entry of 26 February 1674 with its description of ‘the 11 month called February."

It is possible to view the original by appointment with the Librarian at &#;strong&#;;&#;strong&#;


Bedfordshire Parish Registers II Edworth - held at Edworth Manor

 Excerpt from The Parish Register of Edworth 1552 – 1812

John Bunyan

“A generation or so earlier occurred the unfortunate incident involving Bunyan’s reputation, which raises little Edworth to notoriety.  The story of how Bunyan carried Agnes Beaumont one wintry evening in 1673/4 to the nonconformist meeting at Gamlingay, of the angry retaliation of her father, of his sudden death a few days afterwards (page E17 – there are number of Beaumont burials recorded on this page), and of the evil spreading of scandal about this innocent episode, has often been narrated.  The register affords ample evidence of the adhesion of the Beaumonts to their parish church, of which Thomas Beaumont was warden in 1712 (page E22 – Memorandum that a pewter Salver and a Hersecloth were provided for this parish on ye eleventh of October in the year 1712 by Tho.  Beaumont, Churchwarden”

A full account of the above 'Agnes Beaumont of Edworth' by Patricia L Bell can be obtained from the Bunyan Museum, Bedford or downloaded from the internet.  It makes very interesting reading!

Page E18 – Burials
5 Nov 1715 – Geo Prudden, labourer

Page E19 - Burials
5 Apr 1726 – Mary Prudden, widow of a labourer and an independent dissenter (Mrs Prudden is also mentioned in the full account of Agnes Beaumont of Edworth)

7 Oct 1742 – Mary Prudden, an Independent dissenter (daughter of the above)

jye 2013




This page was added on 08/01/2013.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.