Victoria County History



A. P. M. Wright & C. P. Lewis (Editors)

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'Histon: Nonconformity', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 9: Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds (1989), pp. 106-107. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=15343 Date accessed: 24 November 2014.


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A group of c. 30 Independents was meeting in Histon by 1669, with Francis Holcroft and two assistants, Joseph Oddy and Samuel Corbin, as teachers. The members were said to be mostly women and girls from the middle and lower classes in the village. (fn. 64) The most prominent family was evidently the Matthewses, several of that name being presented as resolved dissenters in 1686, (fn. 65) and one of whom registered a house for worship in 1700. (fn. 66) In 1675 the group drew members, 8 men and 22 women, from Cottenham, Landbeach, and Waterbeach. (fn. 67) There were 12 dissenters in Histon itself. (fn. 68) Nine Independents were reported in Histon in 1728, (fn. 69) but nonconformity was not strong in the village before 1798, places of worship being registered only in 1738 for Baptists and in 1746 by a minister from Chesterton. (fn. 70) The vicar in 1783 reported that dissenters in his parish were not numerous. (fn. 71) In 1873 about a third of the inhabitants were said to be nonconformists, (fn. 72) but the proportion probably increased considerably later in the century and in the early 20th as both Methodists and Baptists gained in strength.

Wesleyan Methodism evidently became established in Histon earlier than any other village in the county, (fn. 73) the result of a preacher being sent in 1798 by a local landowner, Richard Matthews. Houses were registered for worship in 1798, 1802, 1812, and 1816, and a chapel was built by the green in 1818, largely through the efforts of the Matthews family. (fn. 74) Although the vicar thought their numbers declining in 1825, (fn. 75) average attendance at evening service in 1851 was 200 adults. (fn. 76) A new chapel seating 200, called the Matthews Memorial Chapel, was opened in 1896 on High Street. (fn. 77) By the 1890s the Methodists had been overtaken in numbers by the Baptists, (fn. 78) but they revived in the mid 20th century as Histon's population grew. In 1964 the church had 109 members, the largest number outside Cambridge in the Cambridge Methodist circuit. (fn. 79)

A Baptist congregation was established in 1858 as an offshoot of the Zion chapel in Cambridge after C. H. Spurgeon had preached in the village. A chapel was built the same year and membership rose from 19 in 1858 (fn. 80) to over 100 by the 1880s. (fn. 81) Members of the Chivers family were closely involved with the chapel from the start (fn. 82) and their growing influence in the village helped it to thrive. (fn. 83) Membership rose from 104 in 1895 to 239 in 1915, remained at the same level until 1945, and was still over 100 in the 1980s. (fn. 84) The chapel was rebuilt to seat 400 in 1900. (fn. 85)

The Salvation Army opened a meeting place in 1891, moved into the former Wesleyan chapel on the green in 1897, to new premises in 1906, and to Impington Lane in 1956. (fn. 86)


64 Orig. Rec. of Early Nonconf. ed. Turner, i. 38; cf. V.C.H. Cambs. vi. 249; viii. 96.
65 C.U.L., E.D.R., B 2/70, f. 48v.
66 P.R.O., RG 31/6, no. 4.
67 Bodl. MS. Rawl. D. 1480, f. 124.
68 Compton Census, ed. Whiteman, 167.
69 C.U.L., E.D.R., B 8/1, f. 18v.
70 P.R.O., RG 31/2, Ely dioc. nos. 64, 99.
71 C.U.L., E.D.R., B 7/1, p. 37.
72 Ibid. C 3/25.
73 Cf. Camb. Ind. Press, 29 July 1882.
74 Tice, Methodism in Cambs. 19; P.R.O., RG 31/2, Ely dioc. nos. 158c, 240, 314, 366; RG 31/2, Ely archdeac. no. 15; ibid. HO 129/186 (1), f. 9. For the correct Matthews: Serjeants at Law (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 240-1, 525; Reg. of Adms. to Middle Temple, ii. 448.
75 C.U.L., E.D.R., C 1/6.
76 P.R.O., HO 129/186 (1), f. 9.
77 Camb. Ind. Press, 28 Aug. 1896; Methodist Statistical Returns (1972), 9.
78 Camb. Ind. Press, 5 June 1903.
79 Methodist Church, Camb. Circuit Plan, Oct. 1964-Jan. 1965 (copy in possession of V.C.H.).
80 J. S. Chivers, Histon Baptist Ch. 1858-1958, 1-2 (copy in Cambs. Colln.).
81 Baptist Handbk. (1871 and later edns.).
82 Chivers, Histon Bapt. Ch. 2.
83 Burian, 'Benevolent capitalists', 79-81, 146-8, 175.
84 Baptist Handbk. (1895 and later ends.); Baptist Union Dir. (1981-2).
85 Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1900).
86 Camb. Ind. Press, 19 Feb. 1897; 27 Apr. 1906; G.R.O. Worship Reg. nos. 32859, 36013, 41841, 65849.