The first reference to a licence issued for dissenting worship was in 1672 to John Wall. He was the miller, so perhaps the meetings took place at Desford Watermill.
In 1676 five nonconformists were recorded.
In 1706 there were three families of Presbyterians and two of Anabaptists living in the village and the Presbyterians had a meeting house.
By 1709, the number of Presbyterian families had doubled and their ‘teacher’ was a Mr Matthew’.
In 1715 fifty people attended an open-air meeting of Baptists.
Over the following years, other houses were registered for Protestant worship:
the houses of Thomas Gardner and William Sutton in 1715, Henry Aslin in 1716, Jonathan Johnson senior in 1731, Josiah Grudgens in 1739 and Sarah Dakin in 1761. (The latter was Vine Cottage on Main Street). John Foster’s house was registered in 1794, Joseph Button’s in 1797 and William Neal’s in 1820.
By the 19th century there were two chapels. In 1829 a congregation of about 15 Independents met for worship, as did a larger group of 80 Particular Baptists. see article.
Two chapels were also noted in 1846 but were described as belonging to the Wesleyans and an Independent congregation. Neither of these made a return to the religious census in 1851. We know that the Village Hall had its origins as a Wesleyan Chapel, sometimes referred to as the Mission Room.
The two congregations which provided returns to the 1851 religious census were the Particular Baptist and Primitive Methodist. The Particular Baptist Chapel on High Street could accommodate 120 worshippers, and all seats were free. On 31 March 1851, there was just a single service, in the afternoon, attended by 19 people, which was said to be about half the usual attendance. There was no Sunday school. The only service that day in the Primitive Methodist Chapel was in the afternoon and attended by 10 people, which was also the average attendance. They also had no Sunday School. Steward John Kinton recorded that ‘This sect is now at a very low ebb in this parish’. This chapel, built between 1837 - 40, which also had 120 seats, was used during the week as a schoolroom.
In 1861 there was an evangelistic movement by the Baptist church at Barton in the Beans to set up a base in Desford and it is recorded that they rented the National Schoolroom which was part of Mr Burdett’s house on Main Street (now Anson House).
Strict Particular Baptist's graveyard
It is unclear whether there were two buildings used as a schoolroom and exactly where the Primitive Methodist chapel might have been, but from information in a sales catalogue of the Prior estate in 1860, it might have been where the General Baptist Chapel was eventually built in 1866 (now the Free Church).
In 1863 it was recorded that the General and Particular Baptists and the Primitive Methodists all had chapels in the village. In 1881 there was a Baptist Chapel and a Calvinist Chapel, with no mention of Primitive Methodists. In 1904 the General Baptist Chapel became the Free Church and the building was enlarged to seat 300 people. The Free Church is still a member of the Baptist Union.