Swaffham Bulbeck: Nonconformity

Pages 270-271

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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The parish had little organized dissent before 1900, although some households were dissenters from the late 17th century. In 1675 eleven people were presented for not coming to communion, (fn. 1) as were eleven others, a few from the same families, in 1679. (fn. 2) In 1686 four men were persistently absent from church. (fn. 3) A house was registered for dissenting worship in 1706, (fn. 4) and in 1728 two were thus licensed; but they were little attended, there being no regular teacher and only four families of Independents. (fn. 5) Although houses were again registered for Protestant worship in 1808, in 1812 and 1819 by the same group of 5-6 men, and in 1846, (fn. 6) no substantial body of nonconformists was noted until the late 19th century. (fn. 7) Leonard Jenyns found no regular meeting house, 1830 × 1850, when the few dissenters, 'steady without bitterness', sent their children to his Sunday school and sometimes came to church. (fn. 8) From the 1880s the Commercial End grocer and his son, J. G. Selby, built up the number of dissenters to divide the parish equally with the Anglicans by 1897. Their followers, described as moderate Baptists, then attended Baptist chapels at Swaffham Prior. (fn. 9) In 1897-9 Selby sponsored the establishment at Swaffham Bulbeck of a separate congregation with c. 40 members, for whom a corrugated iron hut erected on rented land off Mill Lane was opened in 1901. The 'Swaffham Free Church' was not formally attached to any denomination, although a pastor from Swaffham Prior sometimes officiated there over c. 50 years. In 1926 a new minimally Gothic chapel, built of concrete blocks, was opened on a site off the south-west end of Commercial End, given by Selby's sister in 1914. Several prominent owner-occupiers, such as the Fison and Edwards families, adhered to it. (fn. 10) The parish council, however, though dominated by dissenters did not, after the 1902 Education Act, oppose separate control of the church school endowment by Anglicans. (fn. 11) The chapel was still open in 1992. (fn. 12)


  • 1. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 2/63A, ff. 8v.-9.
  • 2. Ibid. B 2/66, f. 176.
  • 3. Ibid. B 2/70, f. 39v.
  • 4. P.R.O., RG 31/6, Cambs. Q.S. no. 13.
  • 5. C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 30v.
  • 6. P.R.O., RG 31/2, Ely dioc. nos. 209, 261, 373, 689.
  • 7. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/6; C 3/25.
  • 8. Blomefield, Chapters from my Life, 75-6.
  • 9. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/31; C 3/39.
  • 10. W. Simms, in Bulbeck Beacon, 1979, Dec. 10-11; 1980, Dec. 9-11; cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 3 May, 1901, p. 5; 11 Oct. 1901, p. 5.
  • 11. Char. Com. file 201023/1, corr. 1904-5.
  • 12. Cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 15 July 1976; Newmarket Jnl. 10 Apr. 1980.