Chapter Two - The Howard Church, Bedford

Howard Church

Since the 1880s the Union Chapel had been taken under the wing of Howard Church in Mill Street, Bedford and in 1906 Howard Church decided to ask Samuel Whitbread (see appendix) for a piece of land in order to build a new chapel in Cardington. The land was given and the Howard Church, Bedford raised the money for the building of the chapel as they saw good work being carried out in Cardington and wanted to help this continue. The Howard Church in Mill Street, Bedford no longer exists as a chapel but is now used as a nightclub, its name reflecting its previous use. I shall now just touch briefly on the history of the Howard Church as it is the reason for Howard Memorial, Cardington coming into existence.

Howard Church today

The Howard Church was formed because some of the congregation at what is now known as Bunyan Meeting, Mill Street Bedford, were unhappy with their pastor at the time (Joshua Symonds) as he had declared in 1772 that infant baptism was unscriptural and argued that only adult believers could be baptized. One member of this dissenting sect was John Howard (the well-known philanthropist and prison reformer – see appendix). The Howard Church, was built at a cost of £1321 18s 10d and although the church was formed in 1772 it wasn’t until 1775-6 that it was ready for public worship. The chapel was 68ft x 35ft and had seating for 800 people. Thomas Smith was the first minister of the new church from 1775 – 1796 and he occupied Howard’s house in Cardington while Howard was abroad as they were good friends. 100 years later, for the centenary of the Howard Church, a tea and meeting was provided but it was noted some names of church members had been lost which was deplored “but were believed to be written in the ‘Lamb’s Book of Life’”. The congregation numbered 83 in the 1770s when the church began, in the 1870s this had risen to 180 and in the 1890s the church had 240 members and 248 in the Sunday School. Also in the 1890s electric lights were installed and the church exterior painted at a cost of £19 10s. The religious series Songs of Praise was once broadcast from the Howard Church and among the hymns sung was The Day Thou Gavest. The youth club and men’s forum were set up in the 1950s, but due to the dwindling numbers in the 1960s the building was last used for worship in 1971. The Howard Church building stood in ruins for decades until it was bought in 1994 and turned into a nightclub (Mission) which closed in 2004 but reopened in 2006 as Chapel 29. The front and rear had to remain as the 17th century chapel as the building is grade II listed. When Howard Church closed in the 1970s, the majority of the remaining congregation joined with St Luke’s in St Peter’s Street Bedford. This was because at that time there were talks nationally to form a new United Reformed Church from the joining of Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches; the Howard Church was Congregational and St Luke’s Church was part Moravian and part Presbyterian. The official union between the two took place on Easter Day 22nd April 1984 and the church became known as St Luke’s United Church.

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