Monday, 22 February 2021

Tough Assignment - Annie Moore - Arrives in Eton Wick

Mrs Frances Annie Tough
When Annie Tough came to the village in 1877 almost every family had some contact with the Church, be it Congregational or Church of England. Yet according to her biography published in the 'Christian Messenger' of 1903, 'she was impressed by the godlessness of the young people in the village' and spent part of her first Sunday in the village distributing tracts. Her memoirs confirm the truth of this but bring to light more detail of the mood and circumstances in which the events occurred. Disappointed to find there was no non-conformist service which she could attend that first Sunday morning, she did indeed 'set forth, armed with a bundle of tracts' to distribute throughout the village. Much to her surprise on the following day, she found herself the topic of conversation but, as she confessed in her memoirs, she did not regret the morning's work for it gave the people in the village an 'insight into what kind of person had come to live amongst them' and herself 'a footing in the place'.

Even so she keenly felt the loss of fellowship with her own Church and people. As soon as she could she joined the Primitive Methodist Society at Windsor but found the two mile journey too great to allow her to attend more than once each Sunday. She was made welcome by the Church of England but, of course, as she explained politely to the clergyman, her own Methodist faith meant she strongly opposed the doctrine of his church.

Instead she attended the services in the Iron Room, though she found them dull and uninspiring. The congregation was small and none of those who went to the services were actually members of the Congregational Church. As she wrote in her memoirs 'Conversions were an unheard of thing'.

To suggest, as the author of her biography does, that Annie Tough filled a Christian vacuum in the village is nonsense and belittles her achievements, but there is no doubt that her faith made an impact on the village, and in her own words 'got her into a little difficulty'. Seeing 'about 20 big lads and girls romping on the Common', one Sabbath afternoon she 'seated herself on a fallen tree', and 'got into conversation with several of them'. Before 'long, the others had gathered round, and she began to talk to them of Jesus, some listened attentively, others jeered, and ridiculed. She sang several hymns to them and left'. A report of this small incident reached the ears of the Congregational Church at Slough, which now had oversight on the Eton Wick Iron Room chapel. The church elders were told that she was trying to start a Primitive Methodist Society in the village, and in their indignation at her supposed effrontery actually asked her to a meeting to answer for her behaviour. Knowing nothing of the purpose of the meeting until she arrived, Annie could only quietly explain what had occurred - and then receive their sincere apologies. Annie herself was more than a little indignant at having been called into question in this manner, and now, if not before, she was firmly resolved that 'by the help of God.. she would not rest until a Primitive Methodist Cause was gained' in Eton Wick, where she could labour according to the dictates of her own conscience'.

She set about trying to rent a place to use for worship, but met with no success, and instead turned her attention to improving the Congregational meetings. Conditions there had begun to improve. Services were by now being held in the morning as well as afternoon, and she eventually had the courage to suggest that children's services should also be held each Sunday for she felt that little was being done for the children of the village. Her suggestion was favourably considered and a 'good brother, who was not a member anywhere, but attended both Church and Chapel, offered to conduct the services "if Mrs Tough would assist". The little Sunday School was an instant success, drawing a great number of children to it, even though many of them must have already attended the Church of England services and Sunday School. Indeed it was so successful that it incurred the displeasure of the village schoolmistress and the curate.

The children were questioned at day school on Monday morning and given detentions, and eventually the curate wrote to Mrs Tough:

'Dear Mrs Tough,

I have heard that you have been holding a Sunday School in your chapel for sometime past, and that our children are in the habit of attending it. I shall be most obliged to you if you will not encourage them to do so, as I have forbidden them to attend, as I wish them to attend our Church Sunday School only, as both they and their parents are members of our Church, and as such ought not to attend Chapel Sunday School which is entirely different in its teachings. I address my letter to you as the children tell me you are, as it were the Superintendent of the Sunday School. Hoping you Will understand my meaning and take it in good part.

I remain, Yours faithfully, W.W. Keating'

It is not too difficult to understand why the Rev Keating should take this stand. The Church of England in Eton had only just become established on an independent footing and he was the first of the curates to have a special oversight on the village. He was also quite young, and perhaps as fervent a Christian as Mrs Tough. She, however, was equally determined in her vocation and as tough by nature as by name. The ensuing correspondence, which was taken up by local and national newspapers, did little good for the Eton church, but no doubt a lot for Annie and the Christian cause of Methodism.

The Eton Wick History Group is most grateful for the kind permission given by the Eton Wick Methodist Chapel to republish this history on this website.

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