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Speaking in Tonges

By Steve Andrews

Back in the late 1750's, Mrs Skirmer was "deeply convicted of sin." And more to the point for this newsletter, Mrs Skirmer's brother, Mr Hall, lived in what is now Brookside Farm in Tonge, the home of Anita and Dave Garrett.

Now, Mr Hall took in lodgers. And one of those lodgers was Walter Sellon, then Rector of Breedon. It was his first sermon which so moved Mrs Skirmer that she invited him to preach in her house. Sellon was a Methodist - the formal split with the Church of England did not come till 35 years later - so Mrs Skirmer's house soon became the Mother Church for the Methodists in the area.

When she died - hopefully with her conscience at rest, poor woman - the preaching was moved back to Mr Hall's house - Brookside Farm. So little Tonge became the centre of the growth of Methodism in all the surrounding villages. It was Mr Hall who signed the deeds when the ground for Griffydam Chapel was bought.

Many of the famous early Methodist preachers came to worship and speak at Mr Hall's house. Among them was John Massey and there's a good tale about him.

John Wesley had been staying with his friend, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon at Castle Donington when he agreed to preach at Griffydam - this was before the chapel was built 1778. But the local squire - a Beaumont, so report has it - made up his mind to disrupt the event. So he gathered some of the local lads, primed them with booze, armed them with truncheons and left them to it.

The gang-leader was a local collier, a renowned pugilist and the terror of North Leicestershire. What would now be called a one-man crimewave. Name of John Massey. Wesley, though slight of build, was made of stern stuff, however, and stood his ground. Massey approached him "savagely", But the Methodist finished his prayer and started his sermon. Massey decided to hear a little of what was being said before he gave the signal to attack and that was it. Curiosity, commitment and conversion in that order.

So Tonge took its place in the firmament of Methodism. There was one recorded instance of a man who walked three hours - from Wymeswold - every Sunday to hear Walter Sellon. Brookside Farm today is a superb building and rightly features on the Millennium Mug. But its place in the development of one of the major Christian influences of the past two centuries is not so widely known.