Wednesday 26 October 2022

Tough Assignment - Mrs Sophie Chamberlain


Mrs Sophie Chamberlain at the age of 92 is our longest serving member, a modest person, but one who has quietly worked behind the scenes for more years than was remembered until we began to write this history. She was born in 1894 in Curlew Cottage in Northfield Road before it was known by this name. Neither of her parents were Methodist. Her father was an active member of the Church of England even serving as sidesman at St John the Baptist. Her mother had been brought up as a Baptist and, since there was no Baptist church in Eton Wick, she worshipped at the chapel and it seems likely that Sophie first attended the chapel as very young child with her mother. However, sometime while Sophie was still small, the family moved to another house on 'the front of the village' (Eton Wick Road) and for a few years she attended the Church of England with her father.

About 1905 the family moved back to Boveney New Town and once again her mother, Louisa Bolton and daughter Sophie became regular members of the chapel congregation. Sophie also joined the Sunday School and still vividly remembers the classes taken by Emily Lane. Three Sunday School Union examination certificates testify that she was a good Sunday School scholar. In spite of being a very shy person, Sophie loved the anniversary services even though it meant standing on a platform in front of the whole congregation and reciting a text or hymn -without a prompt for Mrs Tough did not allow this. To make certain she knew the words one year young Sophie decided to learn them by playing the piano and singing the words. It worked too well, for when Mrs Tough heard of this she 'encouraged Sophie to sing at the service instead of merely reciting.

When the Band of Hope was founded in 1913 Sophie became a member, and enjoyed the weekly meetings especially the hymn singing and reciting, though not always the talks against drinking. She, like the other members, signed the pledge and received her badge. About this time Sophie became a Sunday School teacher in charge of the beginners class. A year later the First World War began and brought Sophie into contact with Len Chamberlain, and at least one of her scholars still remembers his teacher proudly showing him her locket containing her sweetheart's photograph.

Sophie was married soon after the end of the war, living at first with her parents until she and Len moved into their own home in Alma Road. She continued as a Sunday School teacher until her son, Leslie was born, but for about ten years after this her chapel activities were confined to attending services, class meetings and the Sisterhood meetings. Her talent as a pianist, however, had not been forgotten and sometime during this period Sophie became the pianist for the Sisterhood and stand-by organist for the chapel. She fulfilled this role as pianist for nigh on fifty years, not giving up completely until about 1975.

In 1932 Mrs Chamberlain took on the role of chapelkeeper, a job that involved quite a variety of tasks and a considerable number of hours of labour every week. It was of course, her duty to keep the chapel floors clean, to maintain and light the old combustion-,stove and the fire in the schoolroom, to clean the windows and to polish the pews and the pulpit. It was also the chapelkeeper's responsibility to prepare the chapel and hall for each and every service and meeting - putting out the chairs and the hymn books, lighting the copper or boiler for the tea - and tidying the rooms at the end. Such work behind the scenes is often not noticed except when it is badly done, and this was rarely, if ever the case with Mrs Chamberlain, for as she confessed, 'she really loved that little chapel' and keeping it clean was an act of love and joy. At last in 1948, she gave up being chapelkeeper, though not for ever for she again took over the job in 1962 for another stint of nearly twenty years. Even then, at the age of 86 she was unwilling to relinquish all responsibility for the chapel and agreed to serve on the new property committee.

Meanwhile from 1951 to 1974 Mrs Chamberlain served as poor steward, and thus was responsible, or jointly responsible, for preparing the communion table and the bread and wine glasses for the communion service. The money collected at these services was retained by the poor stewards and used to buy fruit and flowers for members who fell ill. In 1974 the title was changed to that of communion steward and under this name Mrs Chamberlain served for another six years, making many welcomed visits to the sick in those years. 

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

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