Wednesday 17 October 2018

Time for Reform: Nonconformists and Mrs Tough

A small number of families continued to attend the services of the Congregationalists, and as late as 1877 the Minutes of the Windsor Church described Eton Wick as 'flourishing'. But in that year a new personality, who was to have a decided influence on the lives of a great number of people, arrived in the village.

This was young Mrs Tough, who until recently had been Annie Moore of Rotherhithe, London. She came as a young bride to live at Bell Farm. Annie was an active Primitive Methodist and within a very short time had taken over the Congregationalist meetings and was conducting her own services and Sunday School in the Iron Room and cottages.

There is no doubt that Mrs Tough was successful in attracting families to her services and children to the Sunday School. Indeed, she was so successful that she soon incurred the displeasure of the new curate whose area of special responsibility ' included Eton Wick. In November, 1878, he wrote a short letter to Mrs Tough stating very clearly that he would be very obliged if she would kindly not encourage the children to attend chapel Sunday School, as he had forbidden them to attend it and he wished them to attend the Church Sunday School only. Mrs Tough sent a very spirited reply in which she assured the curate that she would do all in her power to urge the children to come to her meetings. As she explained, she had already made 'concessions to the Church in as much as chapel Sunday School was held at an inconvenient hour so as not to coincide with any church services, and parents and children were quite free to attend both. The letters were published in local and national papers and created quite a stir. Perhaps it was not surprising that the Church reacted in this way, for there was still much rivalry and intolerance nationally between the Established Church and the Nonconformists. Moreover, it was only three years since the Church in Eton had become separate from the College, and this was not a moment to welcome rivals.

Undaunted, Mrs Tough continued her work and mission in the village. Hers was a very personal religion. She sought out those who needed her help to find the way to Salvation - even those who did not recognize the need but had found solace, or pleasure, in alcohol; beseeching, cajouling and encouraging them, until they returned. Nine years had to pass, however, before the Iron Chapel could be replaced by a new building. Until the development of New Town there simply was not any available building land. Even then it was only the persistence of Mrs Tough that won from the developer the small plot of land on which the present chapel stands. He gave it as 'a reward for perseverance’. The money was raised by subscriptions and, even though the chapel was small, no little effort was needed by the collectors. Eton Wick was still a relatively poor community and the rich of the parish were firmly Church of England.

Within the chapel community were several people who are worthy of mention and whose names are recorded in stone on the walls of the chapel, but it is Mrs Tough who was known throughout the village. Her upright, forceful nature made her loved and feared. Even as an old lady she would wait outside the chapel until just before the service began to encourage people to come in. She died in 1930 and the Tough Memorial Hall was built in her memory.

This is an extract from The Story of a Village: Eton Wick 1217 to 1977 by Judith Hunter.

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