Over: Nonconformity

Pages 353-354

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9, Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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Several nonconformist congregations were established in the 1650s and 1660s and there was a burial place by 1679. (fn. 1) In 1676 the 42 dissenters recorded were among the most numerous in any Cambridgeshire village, forming almost a tenth of the population. (fn. 2) Dissent seems to have spread rapidly in the early 18th century. By 1748 most inhabitants were said to be nonconformists and the proportion was rarely less than half of the population until 1900. (fn. 3)

By 1652 the officers of the Baptist congregation at Fen Stanton (Hunts.) were in touch with three women at Over and in 1655 their leader Henry Denne preached publicly. Even in the 1650s, however, some Baptists in Over attended the parish church, while at least one allowed a Quaker to visit her house. (fn. 4) In 1669 there were said to be only four Anabaptist families, who attended meetings in other villages, but in 1672 a house was registered for worship. (fn. 5) In 1735 meetings were held but there was no organized church and the later Strict Baptist chapel dated its origin from 1737, when a new pastor Mr. Fisher preached at Over. The size of the congregation fluctuated but in 1810 a new meeting house seating 300 was built in Over End. In 1851 it had an attendance of 150-280 at each of its three services on Census Sunday, the largest in the village. (fn. 6) At its peak c. 1870 there were over 80 members and 125 Sunday-school pupils, but numbers were declining by 1900. (fn. 7) The vicar claimed in 1897 that most adult Baptists were unbaptized. (fn. 8) Baptisms in the 19th century seem usually to have been conducted in the Ouse at Over Cote, though on one occasion in 1847 a pond was used instead because the Ouse was too rough. An indoor baptistery was built in 1925. (fn. 9) Membership fell below 20 in the 1920s but revived afterwards (fn. 10) and there was still a resident pastor in 1983, living in a manse built in 1974. (fn. 11) The central range of the chapel at the corner of West Street and Glover Street, probably dating from 1810, is of gault brick and has plain twolight windows with hoodmoulds. It has been extended in gault brick at both ends. In 1867 the Baptists acquired a graveyard in New Road, (fn. 12) which remained in use in 1983.

A Quaker preached privately in Over as early as 1654 (fn. 13) and there may have been an organized meeting before 1660. (fn. 14) A wealthy Over maltster, John Ainsloe, was leader of the Cambridgeshire Quakers by 1660. In 1670 members of the Over conventicle were fined more than any other group in the county. At least 14 individuals from Over were gaoled or fined between 1660 and 1684. (fn. 15) In 1669 there were c. 50 Quakers in the village and their meetings sometimes drew in another 150 from the surrounding area. (fn. 16) The sect probably declined after Ainsloe's death in 1693; there were only four Quakers in 1728 (fn. 17) and none were certainly recorded thereafter, the meeting reported in 1748 probably being an error for the known Baptist congregation. (fn. 18) Quaker burials seem to have taken place in an orchard. (fn. 19)

An Independent congregation taught by Francis Holcroft and Joseph Oddy was in existence by 1669, when there were c. 80 attenders from Over and 20 from elsewhere. (fn. 20) There were Over people among the members of the stronger Willingham church by 1675 (fn. 21) and a regular meeting may not have survived in the village. 'Presbyterians' (probably Independents) numbering 24 were recorded in 1728 but although they had a meeting house they assembled there only once in every 10 weeks. (fn. 22) A house had been registered for worship by Independents in 1725 (fn. 23) and there was still a meeting in 1748, (fn. 24) but any remaining Independents may have joined the Baptists in the late 18th century; (fn. 25) by 1783 the Baptists were the only dissenting congregation in the parish. (fn. 26)

Ludovic Muggleton visited Over at least once and in 1681 wrote a letter of blessing to a woman follower there. (fn. 27)

Methodism reached Over in the early 19th century. The Wesleyans' Cambridge circuit recorded nine members in 1824 but did not have a preaching place in 1836. (fn. 28) The Primitive Methodists used a house first registered for worship in 1835 (fn. 29) and built a plain brick chapel in a lane south of High Street in 1848, which was filled to its capacity of 140 at two of the three services on Census Sunday 1851. (fn. 30) It had c. 30 members in the 1870s, rising nearly to 50 by 1890, when a congregation of 200 was reported. The Sunday school at that date had a roll of over 100. (fn. 31) Originally in the Cambridge circuit, the chapel joined the St. Ives branch in 1860 (fn. 32) and was part of the Huntingdonshire mission after Methodist union in 1932. (fn. 33) It remained open in 1982.


  • 1. B.L. Add. MS. 5849, f. 93v.
  • 2. Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 163; cf. Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 295, 308.
  • 3. B.L. Add. MS. 5821, f. 36; C.U.L., E.D.R., B 7/1, p. 92; C 1/4; C 1/6; C 3/38.
  • 4. Fen Stanton Rec. ed. Underhill, 25, 41, 119-20, 147-9.
  • 5. Orig. Rec. of Early Nonconf. ed. Turner, i. 38, 352, 486.
  • 6. Over Strict Bapt. Chap. Bicentenary, 1937(copy in Cambs. Colln.); P.R.O., HO 129/177, f. 26.
  • 7. Baptist Handbk. (1865 and later edns.).
  • 8. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38.
  • 9. Over Bapt. Bicentenary.
  • 10. Baptist Handbk. (1915 and later edns.).
  • 11. Camb. Evening News, 23 July 1974.
  • 12. Inf. from vicar, the Revd. G. W. Ogden-Swift.
  • 13. Fen Stanton Rec. ed. Underhill, 120.
  • 14. Spufford, Contrasting Communities, 284.
  • 15. Sufferings of Quakers, ed. J. Besse, i. 89-98; P.R.O., PROB 4/407; PROB 11/418, ff. 180-1.
  • 16. Orig. Rec. of Early Nonconf. ed. Turner, i. 38.
  • 17. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 24v.
  • 18. B.L. Add. MS. 5821, f. 36.
  • 19. Trans. C.H.A.S. ii. 120; cf. Sufferings of Quakers, i. 91.
  • 20. Orig. Rec. of Early Nonconf. i. 38.
  • 21. Below, Willingham, nonconf.
  • 22. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 24v.
  • 23. P.R.O., RG 31/2, Ely dioc. no. 15.
  • 24. B.L. Add. MS. 5821, f. 36.
  • 25. Cf. below, Willingham, nonconf.
  • 26. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 7/1, p. 92.
  • 27. Spiritual Epistles of John Reeve and Lodowicke Muggleton, ed. A. Delamaine and T. Terry (1820), 497.
  • 28. Tice, Methodism in Cambs. 44.
  • 29. P.R.O., RG 31/2, Ely dioc. nos. 602, 641.
  • 30. Ibid. HO 129/177, f. 27.
  • 31. C.R.O., uncat. Prim. Meth. rec.: quarter-day acct. bk. St. Ives branch 1860-9 and Camb. circuit 1874-91; chap.schedules 1872-91; Sunday sch. reports 1878-91.
  • 32. Tice, Methodism in Cambs. 74.
  • 33. e.g. Meth. Ch. Bldg. Return(1940), 16.