Heritage: The man who became vicar of Havering-atte-Bower aged 70

Fred Tugwell was buried at the church in Havering-atte-Bower where he had been vicar for 10 years. P

Fred Tugwell was buried at the church in Havering-atte-Bower where he had been vicar for 10 years. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin celebrates a clergyman who enjoyed working beyond the retirement age

Nowadays, we’re told nobody has a job for life. Everybody can expect to retrain for new challenges in mid-career. And you may have to work beyond the retiring age too.

Maybe we can learn something from the Reverend Frederic Tugwell, who became vicar of Havering-atte-Bower at the age of 70, and worked enthusiastically until his death 10 years later.

His first half century is easily summarised. Born in Wiltshire in 1812, he became a successful grocer (specialising in bacon) in the cathedral city of Salisbury. Marriage to Elizabeth Andrews in 1840 produced eleven children, four of whom died young.

Then, in his late forties, he changed direction, and became an Anglican clergyman. Mid-life crisis, or a desire for a fulfilling vocation? What did Elizabeth think?

Most clergy were graduates, but a middle-aged grocer was unlikely to get to university. Luckily, there was a backdoor. St Bees College, on the Cumbrian coast, trained humbler candidates for the Church. The family relocated 400 miles north.

In 1865, Frederic Tugwell became vicar of a poor parish in Lambeth, the start of seventeen years of hard work.

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In 1881, when a Thames high tide caused severe flooding, he raised relief funds. Publicly thanking subscribers, he described his “joy” at helping people. The Reverend Frederic Tugwell sounds a lively and a lovely person.

The next year, aged 70, he moved to Havering, exchanging a working-class parish of 9,000 people for a forelock-pulling community of just 473 - a village dominated by the wealthy residents of a few Big Houses.

An active member of the village Conservative Association, Frederic Tugwell had no problems about this.

His first public appearance, in October 1882, was at a “Harvest Home”, a traditional autumn celebration for farm labourers. On leaving Lambeth, he’d been told “he would find nothing to do in a small place like Havering”.

In fact, he had big plans for “their nice little church”. He’d already raised money to install new lighting. He wanted to redecorate in bright colours to make the interior “look pleasant and warm in winter time”. Good-humouredly, he added that “there was plenty of money in Havering, and he meant to have some of it.”

In short, he was “as busy as a bee, and as happy as a bird, and had received a hearty welcome everywhere”.

Unlike aloof clergymen, Frederic Tugwell was a very human person, keen on practical hobbies like fretwork. He was energetic too.

Using clergymen’s jargon, Havering’s historian the Reverend Harold Smith said Tugwell “worked the parish as well as it has ever been worked”.

Living at Havering vicarage with Elizabeth, one unmarried daughter plus a cook and a housemaid, Frederic Tugwell might seem isolated from the wider world.

In fact, two of his sons had emigrated to Australia. A third, Herbert, became a clergyman and a missionary in Nigeria.

In 1890, aged 78, Frederic Tugwell was diagnosed as diabetic. Almost certainly, he had late-onset Type 2 Diabetes, which was difficult to treat and must have made him very tired.

Yet in 1891, aged 79, he organised the rebuilding of the local school, Dame Tipping Primary. There’s still a commemorative plaque on the outside wall recording his name.

In April 1892, he chaired a village meeting to select local officials, and that month celebrated his 80th birthday.

A few weeks later, he lapsed into a diabetic coma. Frederic Tugwell died on May 28, 1892.

A local newspaper wrote that he was “universally and most deservedly respected.” Havering turned out in force for his funeral at his church. At the graveside, the church choir and local schoolchildren sang the hymn, “Now the labourer’s task is o’er”.

Elizabeth died in 1903, and was buried with him.

Frederic Tugwell proved that a veteran who loves his job can make a contribution beyond the retiring age. Of course, it helped that he could walk to work!