THREE YEARS OF LIBERTY: 1672-1675.
THE months between May, 1670, when constables and musquetiers were making raids upon the Nonconformists of Bedford, and March, 1672, when the Conventicle Act was suspended by the Declaration of Indulgence, may be roughly divided into two parts; the first extending to April, 1671, when Parliament was prorogued, not to be called together again for two years; the second, embracing the following eleven months during which the King, uncontrolled by the House of Commons, did very much as he liked. The first of these periods was, of course, the hardest for the Nonconformists, who usually fared worse under the Cavaliers in Parliament than at the hands of the King. During this time a yet more determined endeavour was made to put an end to all religious services outside the Established Church. The business of detecting and suppressing conventicles was organized into a system under the local magistracy. Some of the worst men in the community found lucrative employment as spies; their pay depending upon the diligence with which they hunted down the peaceable people who frequented these gatherings. They had every inducement to be vigilant, for they received at the rate, of £7 or £8, and sometimes even as much as £15 for a single successful conviction.
In special cases the offenders were reported to the central Government. Among the State Papers there is a Spy-book arranged alphabetically, showing how the district between Bedford and Cambridge was at this time placed under surveillance. In reports that one Audey lives at Meldreth, three miles from Royston, "where are concourses of many hundreds both Independents and Baptists," and how he rides into Herts, Cambs, and Beds, to gather concourses of people to their meetings; that Francis Holcroft stops at the house of Widow Hawkes, at Barlyn in Herts, and holds meetings in the neighbourhood, three hundred at a time, and also meets with many hundreds at Cambridge; that Lock, Audey's assistant, "takes turns to ride" to