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Rushden Echo & Argus, 31st July 1942, transcribed by Kay Collins
Miss Alice Williams retires
Her Life a Sermon
Miss A Williams Honoured
Affectionate Tributes at Rushden

Miss WilliamsAt the age of 84 Miss Alice Williams, of Rushden, is on the point of giving up her leadership of a Bible Class at the Park-road Baptist Sunday School, and she still goes out preaching in the villages. She was the radiant little “heroine” of a happy occasion at the Baptist Assembly Rooms on Monday, when her half-century of continuous Sunday School work was acknowledged in intimate speeches and appropriate gifts, these including the Sunday School Union’s “golden” Diploma of Honour.

First of many speakers was Mr. Eric Tomkins, son of a former pastor of the church, the Rev. W. J. Tomkins, Miss Williams had “mothered” him since the death of his parents, and he said of her, “When God had finished making her he lost the pattern.”

Mr. Tomkins told how Miss Williams had gone to Sunday School in every sort of weather and could never be dissuaded. Her work for church and school was “absolutely her life.”

“There is much more that I could say,” added Mr. Tomkins, “but nothing is too good.” He expressed the “much more” in a kiss.

It was announced that Mr. Bernard Tomkins, another son of the old minister, had been detained in hospital at Chipping Norton when due to return to Rushden from a holiday. There was another “family” tribute however, Mr. W. T. L. Flood testifying that Miss Williams had been a second mother to him.

A Famous Family

The Rev. R. P. Jones, who presided, related that Miss Williams came from a famous family. Her father and one of her brothers were ministers; there were two other brothers whose service as local preachers in Durham and Manchester respectively extended over nearly 40 years. Two sisters could preach and were leaders of Bible classes, and an uncl, the Rev. Charles Williams, of Accrington, was renowned as “the uncrowned king of Lancashire Baptists.”

When a baby Miss Williams was nursed by C. H. Spurgeon—she could be proud of that, and he would have been proud of her, said Mr. Jones. Her father, the Rev. Thomas Williams, was an assistant to Spurgeon at the Tabernacle, having charge of the Park-street Mission. Mr. Spurgeon would have neither organ nor choir, so Miss Williams’s father had to strike a tuning fork to start the singing. When the Rev. Thomas Williams was dying the news was sent to Spurgeon who rushed to the bedside.

In 1885 Miss Williams came to Rushden, being in the household of the Rev. W. J. Tomkins. Later she was asked by Mr. Harris to take charge of the Bible Class, and she had now been leader for 47 years. Mr. James Sykes senr., and Mrs. Cowley, of Bournemouth, were the oldest living members. Hundreds more—some now in Australia and some in Canada—had passed through the class, and a very stong bond of affection existed between Miss Williams and the scholars.

Mr. Jones related how Miss Williams had met adversity and trial in ‘a valiant and humorous was,’ and spoke of the affection and esteem in which she was held by all.

Beautiful Lessons

Mrs. S. L. Hunt, and old member of the class, recalled the old days when Park-road was a slushy “Back Way,” through which the girls went gladly to hear the beautiful lessons of “this dear sweet Miss Williams,” who taught them to love Christmas and the fireside, the summer days, the trees and the fields, also advising them on their choice of sweethearts. Other “great” Sunday School teachers were mentioned—Kate Sanders, Miss Wallace, Nellie Colson, Sarah Jane Knight and Deborah Corby—this speech, also ending in a kiss for Miss Williams.

Miss Gladys Mann, a present-day scholar, made a pleasing contribution, after which Mr. C. A. K. Green, who joined the church 61 years ago, gave an interesting “family talk,” speaking of Miss Williams as “a mother in Israel”—one who had spent a useful, quiet, unobtrusive life in association with the church. The young women, he said, had been her joy, her society and her companions; they had caught her spirit of calmness, love and assurance.

Mr. F. J. Sharwood, C.C., said there was not a great deal of Miss Williams, but the result of her work had been tremendously big. She had probably prepared and delivered more than 2,000 lessons.

Diploma and Gifts

The diploma “for continuous and valuable service to the Sunday School sause during 50 years” was presented by Mr. Joseph Whiting, organising secretary of the Sunday School Union, who said it was not unlikely that he knew Miss Williams before any other person in the room—from the time when the Rev. W. J. Tomkins was minister at Ridgmont, Beds. Mr. Whiting also produced a book that Miss Williams’s uncle, the Rev. Charles Williams, of Accrington, gave him as a boy for compiling the best list of sermon “heads” over a period of three months, the inscription being in Mr. Williams’s own beautiful penmanship and dated 1881. Miss Williams, he said, had been engaged in a preventive ministry, and many lives must have been fashioned and formed through her work.

Mrs. Hollowell, in homely and happy manner, presented Miss Williams with a fireside chair and a Post Office savings book in which £27 had been placed to her account, these being the gifts of many church members and friends and many who have passed through the Bible Class. “I have never found her depressed or grump,” said Mrs. Hollowell. “She has set us a very fine example in being content with the things she had. . . . I think the most beautiful sermon she ever preached is the sermon of her life.”

The meeting stood for a round of applause as Miss Williams transferred to her new chair.

Her Early Life

Afterwards Miss Williams gave a simple account of her early life and told how her father, in charge of a city mission church, worked among ragged children who had neither shoes nor stockings. She decided that she would be a “Bible woman” when she grew up, and for 12 or 13 years she took a Sunday School class. Afterwards she went to Bedford with her brother and there met Mr. Tomkins. After her brother’s marriage she lived with Mr. and Mrs. Tomkins at the Ridgmont manse, and in the village Baptist church she conducted a Bible class both morning and afternoon playing the harmonium for the school and the organ at the chapel for three years. The family moved to Rushden when she had been with them 4½ years. After the death of Mrs. Tomkins she left off teaching for three years, but when the minister remarried she resumed the work. She had been at Rushden through seven ministries.

“I think I shall always be young in spirit,” she declared; “I am like my dear father. I have had wonderful health—I have never been in bed one whole day of the 50 years. I have loved my work and I have had joy in it. I want to live yet—I am not tired of life by any means.”

The concluding speech was a very able one by Miss May Nichols, chosen to follow Miss Williams as leader of the class. “She has had a unique place in our church and in our affections,” said Miss Nichols.

It was announced that the flowers on the table were the gift of Mrs. Selwood. The opening prayer was offered by Mr. R. G. Hudson, of Chelveston, president of the Rushden, Thrapston and District Sunday School Union.

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