Sources for Bedfordshire priests, clergy and ministers
Who were the clergy and priests who tended the spiritual well-being of Bedfordshire people?
Pre-Reformation Bedfordshire clergy
The higher clergy of the Church of England from 1066 to 1857 – bishops, priors, deans and sub-deans, archdeacons, precentors, treasurers, chancellors, canons and prebendaries of secular cathedrals – are listed in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, which is the standard authority, providing summary career details for all named individuals. It is divided into three sub-series: 1066-1300, 1300-1541 and 1541-1857.
- The pre-Reformation volumes for Bedfordshire higher clergy were published in Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066-1300: Volume 3, Lincoln, edited by Diana E Greenway (London, 1977) and Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1300-1541: Volume 1, Lincoln Diocese, edited by H P F King (London, 1962). They are available on British History Online (opens in a new window).
- The parish clergy for Bedfordshire from the earliest identifiable men to the present day have been calendared and are included in the catalogue of Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service (opens in a new window). Enter Fasti in the Reference field for lists of clergy in all Bedfordshire parishes: add the name of the parish in the Freetext field to narrow the search.
Pre-Reformation religious houses
An account of the religious houses – abbeys, monasteries, preceptories, priories, friaries, hospitals, college and alien house – and their heads are given in the Victoria County History for Bedfordshire, vol. 1, available on British History Online (opens in new window). However, the account was written in 1904 and later sources fill in more detail.
- TNA guide on the Dissolution of the monasteries 1536-1540 (opens in a new window) includes reference to the classes of documents at The National Archives that list some monks and nuns and record pension payments to them.
- G. A. J. Hodgett, ed. The state of the ex-religious in the Diocese of Lincoln 1547-1574 from the returns in the Exchequer, 1959. Lincoln Record Society vol. 53.
Church of England clergy (post-Reformation)
Diocese were subject to reorganisation in the 1540s, but Bedfordshire parishes remained within the diocese of Lincoln. Its clergy may be found through
- Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 9, Lincoln Diocese, ed. Joyce M. Horn and David M. Smith (London, 1999) for higher clergy. It is also available on British History Online (free) (opens in a new window).
- Clergy of the Church of England Database (CCEd) 1540-1835 (opens in a new window) for clergy at all levels.
- catalogue of Bedfordshire Archives and Records service (opens in a new window) for Fasti for parish clergy.
- Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1858 with revised editions published every few years. An online version lists clergy from 1968 (subscription and some free lists) (opens in a new window).
- university alumni lists may note subsequent clerical careers or whether a student was the son of a clergyman: for Oxford University see Alumni Oxonienses, available for the period 1500-1714 in British History Online (opens in a new window); for Cambridge University see A Cambridge Alumni Database (ACAD) (opens in a new window)
The Baptist churches eschewed any strong central organisation. Lists of churches and their ministers were, however, published in the Baptist Magazine and an annual list was published by the Baptist Union in the Baptist Handbook from 1861. Both also contained obituaries of ministers and the Magazine listed ordinations. Many volumes of the Magazine have been digitised (opens in a new window).
A database of ministers serving Strict Baptist churches (opens in a new window) has been compiled by the Strict Baptist Historical Society (opens in a new window). Obituaries may be found in the magazines of the various Strict Baptist groupings – The Gospel Standard Magazine, Earthen Vessel etc.
Catholic clergy (since 1558)
Note that Catholicism was weak in Bedfordshire after 1558 (see below).
The key secondary sources for Catholic clergy are:
- Godfrey Anstruther OP, The Seminary Priests: A Dictionary of the Secular Clergy of England and Wales 1558-1850 4 vols (Ware, Ushaw and Great Wakering, 1968-77). Includes real names and aliases.
- Dominic Aidan Bellenger OSB, (ed.) English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800: A Working List (Bath, 1984). Discusses the sources; explains the use of aliases from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries (usually the priest’s mother’s maiden name); and lists priests by county of origin. The list for Bedfordshire contains only six names for the period 1558-1800.
- C. Fitzgerald-Lombard OSB, (ed.) English and Welsh Priests 1801-1914: A Working List (Bath, 1993)
The official listings of Catholic clergy are:
- Catholic Directory of England and Wales, annual, first published in 1790. It has had various titles since first publication as The Laity’s Directory; eg The Catholic Directory, Almanack and Ecclesiastical Register (1840s); The Catholic Directory and Ecclesiastical Register (1850s).
- individual dioceses had their own directories in the later nineteenth century; some are still published.
General sources for Catholic laity which include clergy
- J. Gillow, A Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics (London, 1885-1902, 5 vols). Vols 4 and 5 are online in the Hathitrust Digital Library (opens in a new window).
- Several volumes of the Catholic Record Society series (opens in a new window) contain the Registers of the various English Catholic colleges abroad (eg in Douai, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Seville and Valladolid), where the priests were trained before c.1800.
Catholic clergy in Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire was in the London District from 1688 to 1850 and subsequently in the diocese of Northampton. The Religious Census of 1851 (BHRS vol. 54) gives only one mission in the county. In its early days this mission at Shefford was served from Weston Underwood, Bucks, with a resident priest from the 1720s or 1730s. Other earlier missions existed for short periods, in Chawston, Houghton Conquest and Turvey, dependent in each case on aristocratic or gentry patronage. The first mission in Bedford was founded in 1863; that in Luton in 1884.
Publications relating to Bedfordshire Catholicism:
- Anon. (probably R. Trappes-Lomax) Northampton Diocesan Centenary Souvenir (Northampton, 1950), pp. 54-65.
- Reginald Atkinson, The Shefford Catholic Mission, 1728-1823 (Shefford, 1978), 11pp.
- Derek Lance, The Returning Tide, Northampton Diocese 1850-2000 (Northampton, 2000), passim.
The Surman index (opens in a new window) lists c.32,000 Congregationalist ministers from the mid-seventeenth century to 1972. Use the facility for browsing by county to find those ministers in Bedfordshire.
The spread of Methodism in Bedfordshire (or Methodisms, as the author prefers) is examined by Dr Jonathan Rodell in The Rise of Methodism: a study of Bedfordshire 1736-1851 (2014) BHRS vol. 92. Methodist ministers were stationed to circuits for relatively short periods of time and were then re-assigned elsewhere.
General sources for tracing –
Wesleyan Methodist ministers:
- William Hill, An alphabetical arrangement of all the Wesleyan Methodist ministers (various dates). The online availability of several editions is listed on the Methodist Heritage website (opens in a new window).
- The annual minutes of the Wesleyan conference (opens in a new window) record where ministers were to be stationed. Their online availability is also listed on the Methodist Heritage website (opens in a new window).
Primitive Methodist ministers:
- William Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist ministers and their circuits (Teamprint, 1990)
- William Leary, Supplement to Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers & their Circuits (1990): corrections and additions as at January 1993 (Teamprint, 1993)
- My Primitive Methodist Ancestors (opens in a new window) has a growing section of biographies (opens in a new window)
Free Methodist ministers:
- Oliver Beckerlegge, United Methodist ministers and their circuits (Epworth Press, 1968)
Brief biographical information on selected Methodists is given in the University of Manchester’s Methodist Archives Biographical Index (opens in a new window). Official obituaries of all ministers who continued to be in good standing at the time of their death were printed in the Minutes of Conference of their respective connexions and may also have appeared in the relevant denominational magazine or newspaper:
- The Methodist Magazine
- The Primitive Methodist Magazine
- The Watchman
- The Methodist Recorder
- The Methodist Times
Finding the sources
To locate printed books and journals, see COPAC for locations in more than 80 British and Irish libraries (opens in a new window); and WorldCat for libraries in many countries (opens in a new window).
This post was written by Barbara Tearle with help from Peter Doyle and Jonathan Rodell.