Bells, Bell Ringers and bell ringing

 

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death, peacefully at home, on 24th December 2015, of Dr John R Ketteringham MBE, aged 86.

From "Bellboard"

 

My bell ringing Autobiography

Learning to Ring

I have always thought it somewhat ironic that I didn’t actually start to learn bell ringing until I returned to my home at Alford after a two-year course at Lincoln Technical College (now North Lincolnshire College).  Whilst at the College I actually lodged five houses up from where we live now and I regularly accompanied the Yeate’s family to St Giles Church on Sunday mornings. Jack Millhouse was well known for always being last to receive Communion so I knew him at least by sight before I ever started ringing!

Another bell ringing character I knew before I started to learn was one John Enoch Cook.  The course I was attending was based in the old Blue Coat School on Christ Hospital Terrace near the Cathedral and we used to take our sandwiches at lunchtime down to the main Tech building in Cathedral Street.  I always sat at the same table with Jack Cook and, of course, I knew a great deal about the antics which bell ringers get up to long before I had handled a rope!

On return to Alford I was soon persuaded by Ivor Smith, who was then Tower Captain, to learn and he and Ken Ketteringham were responsible for teaching me.  My first lesson was on 21 November 1947 and I was soon put on the tenor to cover to Doubles.  Alford at that time seemed to specialise in Doubles methods and it was Ivor Smith who ‘invented’ Candlesby Slow Course and several other methods.  On 17 January 1948 I went on one of the regular visits which the Alford ringers made to Louth and got into difficulties when ringing the fifth bell.  This was, of course before the bells were rehung and I think the fifth had a reputation for being difficult.  No one had noticed that I had caught hold of the rope.  This incident put me off ringing for about three months until Ivor persuaded me to start again.  Until the Louth incident I had been ringing the tenor behind, mainly because Harry Scoffin always rang the treble.  When I restarted I began to learn ‘inside’ starting with the second observation to Grandsire Doubles.


St Wilfrid Alford

In those days cycling outings were popular with the Alford ringers and on 17 May 1948 I had my first experience when I went with them Willoughby, Candlesby and Halton Holgate.  On 2 August 1948 I went on the annual outing of the Alford and Mablethorpe ringers and visited seven towers in south Lincolnshire.  This was, of course, very good experience.  Alford bells are very easy to ring and the opportunity to ring on bells very different to those in my home tower was to stand me in very good stead for future ringing.

On 13 January 1949 I rang my first 120s of Grandsire on the second and third. I had been elected a member of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild on 7 February 1948 and attended the Guild AGM in April 1949.  I remember this occasion quite well because I had to give up my chair at tea to the President, Dean Bishop Dunlop!  From then on I attended Guild meetings, took part in outings and special practices which were arranged at towers such as Legbourne.  There were enthusiastic bands at Louth and Mablethorpe in those days and the three towers often joined together for special practices.  On Saturday 13 August 1949 a joint meeting was held by the Northern Branch (Grimsby District) and the Eastern Branch of the LDG at Alford which tower was then in the Grimsby District. On Sunday 16 April 1950 I rang my longest length to date – 660 Grandsire Doubles on the third.

I did a lot of cycling in those days and this is how I went to the Guild AGM in 1950.  According to my record book I didn’t do any ringing at the previous AGM but this time I rang at St Giles, the Cathedral and St Peter at Gowts.  I stayed overnight with the Yeate’s family and rang at Nettleham the next morning and this was when I first met Geoff Parker and his father Bob.

The remainder of 1950 was a routine of local practices and meetings sometimes cycling or occasionally in Ivor Smith’s car.  My ringing was nothing spectacular but then came what I regard as my big break - three months in Leicester.

 

 
 

On stairs : Len Slack and Walter Badley (Churchwarden)
Back row L to R : Margaret Ketteringham; June Parrott; Edgar Chandler; Ivor Smith; Hazel Broomhead; Ken Ketteringham; Judy Utting; Revd P. E. Mann; Mrs Mann
Front row L to R : Harry Pike; Keith Jones , George Willoughby; Philip Gibson, Herbert Sutton

 

The picture above shows the Alford ringers in 1954 on the occasion when a recording of the bells was made to send to an old Alfordian, Mr. Burkett, who was then living in America.

Leicester and my first peal

At this time Harold Poole and the Cathedral band had a reputation for twelve bell ringing second to none and there was great rivalry between the Cathedral and St Margaret’s. I attached myself to the tower which was situated roughly half-way between the two – All Saints. There were then six bells and Allan Cattell was the tower captain. The Whiteheads were also prominent ringers at this tower.

I soon had my trusty cycle sent to me by train and I was ringing somewhere almost every night, attending meetings on Saturdays and, of course, Sunday service ringing. Saturday 10 February 1951 was one of those memorable occasions one never forgets. Paul Taylor was a very kind man and had time even for novices like me. He invited me to the Loughborough bell foundry and took me all over himself. I was even allowed to ‘ring’ Great George of Liverpool Cathedral! This bell weighs 14 tons 15 cwt and was set up in such a way that the clapper could be struck almost as if one was ringing a bell up. What an experience for a young, inexperienced but very enthusiastic young ringer! Paul was one of those people who always appeared to know you and we met in all sorts of places all over the country and he always spoke to me.

     
 

Great George
Liverpool Cathedral

 

Ernest Morris

 

Everybody was very kind to me in Leicester and I spent many hours with Ernest Morris in the Vestry at St Margaret’s.  Whilst Ernest was illuminating Peal Books and other documents he would talk to me and he was extremely encouraging.  Amongst the Peal Books I watched Ernie working on was that of Jack Millhouse.

Then came another milestone in my ringing career – my first peal.  This was rung on 8 March 1951 and was nothing particularly spectacular – Grandsire Doubles with me on the treble.  The conductor was Colin Kirk and he and young John Thompson, who rang the tenor, were members of the local band.  Michael Brown of Sapcote, Ted Clements of St Margaret’s and Allan Catell made up the band.

I remained in Leicester until the end of March 1951 and then moved on to Portland College which is just South of Mansfield.

Nottinghamshire and good striking

The Rooke family of Warsop spent a holiday at Mablethorpe each year and I had first met them when they attended Alford practice night.  I was, therefore, soon ringing at Warsop most Sunday evenings and on the Monday practice night.  Bert Rooke was a stickler for good striking and the Warsop band was notorious for winning every striking competition over a wide area of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.  This is a part of the country where at that time cup contests were very popular.  Although Bert was a very strict tower captain he was well respected by his ringers and he had a very loyal band.  I have always been grateful for my time ringing with the Warsop ringers.

This picture shows the band which won the Crawford Cup Competition in 1958

Back row : Bert Rooke; Robert Lucas; Fred Flint; Douglas Rooke
Front row : James Rooke; Revd Habgood (Vicar); George Challans

See also: Personal Tribute to Douglas H Rooke

There were six bells at Warsop at that time. They have since been augmented to eight and can be heard by clicking here .  This laid the foundation for my appreciation of good striking.

I was soon cycling long distances to practices and meetings but almost invariably I would go to tea at the Rooke's and ring for Sunday evening service at Warsop.  It goes without saying my striking and method ringing improved by leaps and bounds.  In July the Rooke family paid their annual visit to Mablethorpe and I was able to have time off at the same time.  My second peal was rung at Candlesby on 26 July 1951 conducted by Bert Rooke.  The method was Grandsire Doubles and it was the first peal on the bells.  It was my first ‘inside’ and the next day we rang Plain Bob Minor at Alford conducted by Douglas Rooke with me on the second.  The next day we completed the hat trick with a peal at Mablethorpe of Kent and Plain Bob Minor with me on the treble conducted by Bert.  I hate to think how many blisters I had!

I remained at Portland College until the end of September 1951 and continued to attend practices or meetings almost every evening.  We also rang handbells on several Sunday evenings single-handed at Portland College with Richard Willcocks who rang at Doncaster Parish Church until he became wheelchair bound after an attack of polio.

After all this activity my return to Lincolnshire must have been rather a let down.  I cycled to practices at Mablethorpe and Spilsby and also attended the Alford practice and rang there on Sundays.  I also arranged occasional practices with Angus Dixon as conductor.  I rang my next peal on 25 October 1951 at Alford having persuaded Geoff and Bob Parker to come over for the weekend. This peal was conducted by Geoff and was in four methods.  On 15 December 1951 I cycled all the way over to Martin by Timberland and met short.  We ended up ringing a peal of Doubles conducted by Geoff Parker!

On 29 December 1951 I rang my first peal in seven methods at Willoughby.  This was conducted by John R. Young and most of the band were from Frampton.  This band was quite famous for their exploits in the field of spliced Minor.  In my record book I made a note that having rung my first peal on 8 March during 1951 I rang seven peals and also rang in 64 new towers.

For the greater part of my ringing career I have been an arranger of tours, peals and the like. This can be a bit of a strain but it did enable me to decide what to ring and where to go!  In 1952 I started arranging quarter peals many of which I called.  This was, of course good practice and I continued to make progress with my method ringing.

Ringing in Hertfordshire and London

Early in 1953 I started a course in St Albans, and St Peter’s became my ‘home tower’.  I soon settled in here and was treated very kindly by the local ringers which included such notables as George Debenham, Vic Frost, and Tom Southam.  In my notebook I recorded my first long lengths of Grandsire Triples and Grandsire Caters.  I travelled around a lot both to practices mainly on the back of Tom Phillimore’s motorbike and to meetings in London by train. Tom was also a student in St Albans and I had some fairly hairy moments with him! On 6 February I rang a peal of Plain Bob Major at Knebworth which was my first on eight bells.  I had met up with Olive and Harold Rogers at London County meetings and went over to Isleworth quite often to ring quarter peals.  By this time I was living and working at Broxbourne on the east side of Hertfordshire.  I regularly cycled over to Walthamstow for practices and Sunday morning ringing.  I rang several quarters of Grandsire Triples and Caters at Walthamstow and on 2 May 1955 I called a quarter peal of Plain Bob Major and this was my first on eight as conductor.

In 1954 I went on my first ringing week which took place in Oxfordshire.  This was with a group from Chichester known as the St Christopher's Guild which was based in Chichester. The group was led by Norman Smith and Winnie Keys and there were four other ringers from Chichester. Peter Bond was also a member of the Guild but was unable to join the tour. In addition to myself other non-Chichester ringers were Shirley and Martin Richardson, Michael Maisey, Julian Pawley, Frank Lewis and Charlie Sangwin.  We travelled by cycle and stayed at Youth Hostels. It was quite a strenuous week but very enjoyable and was a great introduction for me to this type of ringing week.

This photograph was taken on 30 August 1954 at Home Farm Balscot, Oxfordshireduring my first ringing week which was with the St Christopher's Guild, where there was a ring of six bells (1 cwt 22 lbs) hung in the wash house by farmer Mr P. Jervis. The photograph shows left to right Michael Macey, Kilby Holtom, Winnie Keys, JRK, Charlie Sangwin and Mr P. Jervis

This photograph was taken at Whitnash on 1 September 1954
Left to right : Norman Smith; JRK; Winnie Keys; (?); Shirley Richardson; Frank Lewis; Local ringer; Julian Pawley; (?); Michael Maisey; (?) (?) and Charlie Sangwin


 
Rambling Ringers Cycling Tour in Norfolk 1955
Left to right : JRK, Peter Giles, David James, Robin Worsdall, Douglas Rooke and Barrie Hendry

Left to right : Michael Vernon, Jean Kirkman, Jean Brooks, JRK, Douglas Rooke, Clive Smith, David James, Neil D. Lomas, Jack Cook, John Smith, Ann Barr, Barrie Henry.

I was travelling around a great deal now and got to know and ring with a number of prominent ringers.  I rang quite a lot with a group which included Peter Bond, Ernie Rowe, Ian Oram and John Morris.  John was particularly helpful and rang in a number of quarters which I called He would travel considerable distances to help, and it was a great tragedy when he died at the age of 21. On 20 November 1954 came another highlight in my ringing career, when I rang the treble to a peal of Cambridge Royal at Beckenham, called by Harold Rogers. On 11 December I rang my first peal of Triples Grandsire at Edmonton, called by Wilfrid Wilson. Wilfrid was another London ringer who was very good to me.  Eventually I would often meet him at County Hall and he would give me a lift for peal attempts at such places as Stoke Poges and Stoke D’Abernon. Wilfrid owned a Jaguar and it was quite an experience riding with him!

I was elected to membership of the Ancient Society of College Youths on 26th September 1953 during the Mastership of Frederick E. Collins.  My proposer was Bill Rawlings and seconder Selwyn Dearden.


The above photograph was taken at the first ASCY dinner I attended,
in November 1954.
I am seated first left facing the camera!

Return to Lincolnshire

On 19 February 1955 I called a peal of Plain Bob Major at Woodford and I suppose this could be regarded as my debut as a caller (rather than conductor) of peals. Soon after this I returned to Lincolnshire.

I again spent several weekends with the Rookes at Warsop and on 11 April 1955 I called a peal of Plain Bob Minor with a band which included Bert and Douglas Rooke, George Challans and Margaret Johnson all of the Warsop band with Harold Denman as sixth man.  I mention this because it was an excellent peal with such a renowned band of expert strikers around me.  On 7 May 1955 I rang the treble to a peal of London Surprise Major at Heydour with Jack Millhouse conducting.  This was my first of many peals with Jack.  Another peal of the 1950s which I remember was the only one I rang with Ernest Morris – Plain Bob Major at Duffield on 29 July 1959 conducted by Michael Blore.

I spent the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend with the Rooke family in 1958, and on the Saturday an attempt was made for a peal of Little Bob Major, with Bert conducting, at Southwell Minster. The anticlockwise ring of eight with a tenor weighing nearly 27 cwt were rung from a gallery and I can well remember just how close the metal grill was to the bell ropes (see photograph below). I have already said how high a standard Bert set and after almost three hours of very good ringing a fluffed dodge caused him to stop the peal. I suspect that the cause of the mistake was due to tiredness and it was very disappointing.

It was not a successful weekend from the peal ringing viewpoint, because we also lost a peal at Chesterfield on the Monday!


Southwell Minster Ringing Gallery

Another peal which I particularly remember from this period was Yorkshire Major at St Neots on 27 December 1958 conducted by 17 year old Rod Pipe with his father Cecil ringing the tenor in 3 hours 40 minutes.

     
  Cecil and Rod Pipe 1961  


The 1960s

In 1960 I worked for a short time in Bristol.  I rang a number of peals with Liz Bowden, John Gilbert, Reg Hooper, John Hunt and Bryn Shackleton.  I returned to Lincolnshire in 1961 and later that year I joined the Society of the Friends of the Exercise on their tour based at the King’s Arms East Budleigh Devon which is the home village of the founder of the Society.  The tour was organized by Frank Mack and many of my Bristol friends took part.  It was mainly a tower visiting week with a few peal attempts and I was particularly privileged to be a member of the band which rang the only successful peal.  This was an extremely well struck peal of Stedman Triples conducted by Bryn Shackleton on the fine eight at Probus, Cornwall.

I n 1963 I moved to London and rang in a number of peals at Willesden.  This was in the hey-day of the Willesden band and I rang the treble. However, I was asked by John Mayne to ring inside to a peal of Chesterfield on 1 April 1965.  I was terribly nervous but I must have rung reasonably well and I was bought several drinks afterwards! The band was as follows :

1. Claudia Critchley 2. Joan Beresford 3. JRK 4. Alec Cutler 5. John Hill 6. Bill Critchley 7. Tom Lock 8. John Mayne (Conductor).

One of the most frightening incidents in my ringing career took place during a peal attempt on the ground floor six bells at St Stephen's, St Albans on 18 July 1964.  When we started it was quite a pleasant morning, but during the second extent we could hear thunder, and the storm seemed to be virtually overhead.  Eventually we could hardly hear the bells for the noise of the rain and thunder.  Our ringing was brought to an abrupt end as the tower was struck by lightning!  We were all deafened and half blinded by the sudden intense flash.  I was ringing the treble and the rope was torn out of my hand and the ringer of the fourth felt a shock through the damp rope.

Of course we got out of the tower as quickly as possible and I'm afraid the bells virtually rang themselves down.  The fire brigade quickly arrived and the wooden spire was examined and eventually it was agreed that there was no danger of fire. However, it was discovered that the lightning conductor from the top of the spire terminated in a joint to the metal bell frame close by the treble bell and there was no direct path to earth from this point.  The only path was through the conduit pipe of the electricity supply and through the clock wires which pass close by the rope of the fourth bell.  The metal frame of the clock is anchored to the floor of the tower.

So much for the medieval belief that bells drive away thunder!

In 1965 I went on George Thoday’s tour of Cornwall ringing five peals and again in 1966 visiting Yorkshire also ringing five peals.

I was becoming established in London and at the vicar’s invitation formed a band at Barnes. This became a regular peal ringing tower. We rang 9600 Lincolnshire there on 8 June 1968 and I was arranging many peals.  The bands included David Rothera, Tim Pett, Tony Fortin, Peter Fleckney, Chris Kippin, John Pladdys and Jonathan Porter.  I was also ringing in peals arranged by Alan Pink and Frank Lufkin. Bill Birmingham was very kind to me as were Olive and Harold Rogers. Isleworth was, not surprisingly, a regular peal tower!

St Olave’s Hart Street was at that time a popular peal tower and on New Year’s Eve 1968/9 the vicar invited me to arrange a band to ring a peal.  This request was, of course, taken up and the ensuing peal came round a few minutes before midnight.  This was the only observance of the tradition of ringing the old year out and the new year in which was observed in the City of London.  The Rectory adjoins the ringing chamber and we then joined a party which was taking place there. The soup and food was very welcome!

In February 1969 Geoffrey Bridges invited some of those he was regularly ringing peals with in London to stay in Derby for a weekend.  On Friday 21 February we rang a peal of Worthington at All Saints, Leicester.  This was the first peal in the method replacing a false peal rung a few weeks previously at St Andrew’s Cambridge.  I have still got a postcard from Richard Inglis in which he congratulates the band on ringing the peal but he is obviously not pleased. On the Saturday we rang peals at Shepshed and Loughborough bellfoundry but the highlight of the weekend was a peal at St Andrew’s Derby.  On 2 November 1969 I rang another peal on these bells before the final service.  The following day the church was demolished and the bells were later scrapped.  I wonder if anyone has got a recording of these bells.

 
 
 
The band and umpires for a peal of 10,752 Rutland Surprise Major rung at Barnes on 17 May 1969
 
 

Left to right : Philip Bosworth (Umpire); JRK Treble; John Pratchett Fifth; Chris Starbuck Third; Chris Rowson Third;

Geoff Bridges Second; Tim Pett (Conductor) Seventh; Brian Woodruffe Sixth; Tony Lewis Tenor; Andrew Wilby (Umpire).

 


On Tuesday 1 July 1969 I took part in a peal at St John’ Windsor which had been arranged to mark the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. In the afternoon we rang a quarter peal on the eight bells which are hung in the Curfew Tower at Windsor Castle. These are an anti-clockwise ring with a tenor weighing about 26 cwt. I have always regarded this as a great privilege, and one of the highlights of my ringing career. Unfortunately I have no record of those who took part and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who can supply details.

 

 
 

Curfew Tower, Windsor Castle

 

On 22 November 1969 we rang the first peal of Moorgate Delight Major at Barnes and this created an interest in this group of methods. From a practical ringing viewpoint there is no difference between these methods and Surprise so I decided I would try and be the first person to complete the alphabet of Delight methods! Little did I realise that it would take 16 years for me to do this!

The 1970s

During the late 60s and early 70s we rang a number of previously unrung Surprise Major methods, with Tim Pett conducting compositions which I produced. Occasionally we rang a ‘new’ Surprise Royal method at Isleworth. In fact I rang quite a number of peals at Isleworth and Olive and Harold Rogers were very kind to me. Although Olive and Harold had to endure a lot of leg pulling I think this was mostly good natured and I am sure there a many ringers who, like me, remember and are grateful for their encouragement and generosity.

‘Tenor King’ Pat Cannon stood in a number of peals I arranged at this time. It was always an experience ringing with Pat especially when he was calling his favourite method, Double Norwich. What a tragedy it was that he died in a traffic accident whilst on a ringing tour in South Africa. Anyone who has rung with Pat will remember this remarkable ringer with genuine affection.

The 70s were a particularly active time ringing-wise for me especially whilst living in London. I think I can claim to have been a loyal member of the College Youths and many of my peals were credited to the Ancient Society. Peals with the ASCY which I particularly remember are Yorkshire Maximus at Saffron Walden, Yorkshire Royal at Fulham, Cambridge Royal at Abergavenny and Stedman Cinques at Cripplegate. Of course, there were many others and I think I can say in all honesty that the vast majority of peals which I rang were well struck and this has always been of more importance to me than the method.

During my early years in London I rang with the Putney ringers and at Kilburn. I rang at Willesden on Sundays until I started, at the request of the Vicar, to teach a band at Barnes. I was also doing a fair amount of simple handbell peal ringing. In addition to the ringers I have already named regulars in the peals I arranged were Alan Ainsworth, Bill Birmingham (senior), David Brown, Alan Flood, Alan Long, David Moore, Keith Walpole, Andrew Wilby and David Woodward.

For the 25th Anniversary of my election to the ASCY on 23rd September 1978 I arranged a peal of Cambridge Maximus at St Margaret's Leicester and included in the band many of those with whom I had done much of my ringing.  Unfortunately I had not been well and decided not to ring although I did listen to the peal.  I never did ring a peal at St Margaret's.


Peal Tours

In 1969 I arranged my first peal tour and thereafter these were an annual event. The first tour actually lasted for two weeks with the first week in Derbyshire and the second in Lincolnshire. This was a mistake and subsequent tours were for seven days only.

The ringing in the peal weeks in the 1970s provided some of the best ringing I have ever enjoyed and the company was excellent. The photographs taken on four of these tours can be seen here.


We returned to Somerset for the 1974 tour and in 1975 the tour was on home ground in Lincolnshire. For the next few years I joined in peal weeks and it was not until 1980 that I arranged my next tour which was in Norfolk. In 1981 I arranged a peal week based in Lincoln but with peals in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire as well as Lincolnshire. In 1982 and 1983 the peal weeks were in Lincolnshire, but in 1984 I arranged a very successful week in the Lake District. The last peal week I arranged was in 1985 in Shropshire.

Move to Worcester

When Joan and I married in 1971 four peals had footnotes recording the event. These were Rutland at Ashstead conducted by Gerald Penney; Tokyo at Hart Street conducted by Roger Bailey; Wimbledon Little Delight at Hackney conducted by Keith Walpole, and Yorkshire Major at Isleworth conducted by David Brown. We lived in Plough Lane which was across the road from Wimbledon Football Club but soon decided, when the opportunity came, to move out of the London area.  So in early 1972 we moved to Worcester. I soon became one of the band who rang at the Cathedral and All Saints. For a time I was technically in charge of St Swithun’s but, although the bells had been restored recently, there was no ringing at that tower because of problems with the structure of the building.  I also became Branch Secretary and edited the Branch Magazine. All this, together with a considerable amount of peal ringing, made for a very busy life – perhaps, on reflection, too busy.

My introduction to Worcestershire towers came with the 1971 peal tour.  An unforgettable peal was at Pershore Abbey.  The photograph below gives some idea of the approach to the ringing cage.  Several of the band found it very difficult to pluck up courage to brave the walkway across the beam which can be seen to the right of the photograph.  I rang several peals here and had little difficulty.


Looking up at the ringing 'cage' at Pershore Abbey!


During my first two years in Worcester I arranged and called most of the peals I rang.  One peal I was particularly pleased to have rung was Grandsire Triples at Worcester Cathedral on the eight with the ninth as tenor (20 cwt 6 lbs in E).  It was a privilege to ring in this peal as I doubt very much if I could have managed a peal on the 50 cwt twelve.

On 14th December 1974 I called a peal of Bob Major at Chaddesley Corbett for Robin Drinkwater’s first peal. Included in the band were John Harrold and his son Kevin.  John had recently come back into ringing probably because Kevin had recently learned. John soon took over most of the arranging and conducting much to my relief.

 

Worcester Cathedral   All Saints Worcester


Return to my homeland

In 1976 the opportunity came to work with the Royal Observer Corps at their Midland Area Headquarters which was about to transfer from Spitalgate near Grantham to Fiskerton near Lincoln. On 10 April 1976 I called a peal of Yorkshire at Hallow as a farewell. It was for me but Joan and Stephen had to remain in Worcester and I was travelling back at weekends. This was a very difficult time and it was not until 15 August 1976 that I called a peal of Cambridge Minor at St Andrews, Pershore as the farewell peal for the Ketteringham family. In between I called one peal which was of Plain Bob Royal at Gloucester Cathedral. This was long before the restoration and conditions were appalling.

My first peal on my return to Lincolnshire was at St Giles Lincoln on 19 February 1977 with Jack Millhouse conducting. My next two peals were both at Louth! The first on 5 March conducted by Ian Butters and the second on 27 August conducted by myself. I only rang three more peals that year.

I gradually returned to peal ringing mainly with Jack Millhouse and Ian Butters conducting. Bill Holmes was a great friend of mine and he transported me to the majority of the peal attempts in which I took part.

   
  Bill Holmes of Edenham  

I had continued to take an interest in composition and in the 1979 LDG report there are 17 peals rung to compositions of mine. 12 were conducted by Jack Millhouse, 3 by Ian Butters and 2 by Mike Maughan. On 4 October 1980 Ian Butters called a peal of Tee Jay Surprise Major to a composition of mine. This was the first peal in this method in which all the bells did all the work! The first peal in the method was called by Mike Maughan and was in short courses.

When I first arrived in Lincoln I explained to the tower captains at St Giles (Colin Drabble) and the Cathedral (Jack Millhouse) and also to John Freeman who had a great deal of influence on ringing matters in the City that, because of travelling and Stephen’s age and medical history, that I did not want to commit myself to membership of any tower at that time. This was because I believe that becoming a member of a band meant a commitment to support it as far as was possible, and I felt that at that time, family came first.

In effect, after we moved house and were resident in Lincoln, I rang at both towers quite as much as any of the actual members of the bands, particularly at the Cathedral. There is no doubt that had I agreed to join the Cathedral Company at that time I would have been elected. I published at my own expense Lincoln Cathedral: A History of the Bells, Bell Ringers and bell ringing in 1987 to mark the 375th anniversary of the founding of the Cathedral Company. I also compiled a peal book and a record of all those who had been members of the Company since its foundation. I was able to tell the Company when important dates were imminent including the 375th Anniversary and the 300th peal on the bells. Needless to say I was not invited to ring in any of these peals because I was not a member of the Company!

In 1985 I became Peal Secretary of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild and at this time it was usual for the annual peal total to number around 200. As I proved every composition this entailed a great deal of work. I think I am the only peal secretary to have done this since George Feirn but I believe the Guild Annual Report should be a reliable source of Compositions. Actually I discovered three false peals rung after I ceased to be peal secretary! Also during my time in this post one young ringer rang a large number of peals and pocketed the peal fees! I had the embarrassing job of sorting this out but fortunately someone paid the missing money – a not inconsiderable sum. Another conductor from outside the county insisted on using names for minor methods not acceptable to the Central Council! Being peal secretary has its problems.

After major heart surgery in 1992 I had to stop ringing, but I continued to do bell-related research, and my MPhil thesis had as its theme the Use of Church Bells.

In 1994 I was asked to join the Redundant Churches Uses Committee as Bells Adviser to the Diocesan Furnishings Officer. I had been concerned for several years about the large number of bells, including three complete rings, (one each of five, six and eight bells) which had either been scrapped or transferred out of the Diocese. I was able to make sure that all bells in redundant churches were found new homes and also arranged for bells to be imported for use in augmentations. Of particular interest were the three bells from Wispington which were still in the tower and forgotten. These are now heard regularly sounding from the RC church of St Hugh right in the heart of Lincoln. By good luck I was able to arrange for five bells from Milton Oxfordshire to be transferred to Hackthorn and they were dedicated as a ring of six in April 2006. I also arranged for the transfer of the five bells from Aisthorpe to be rehung eventually at Boothby Pagnell. In 2005 I decided having established the importance of bells to resign from this Committee whilst I was still able to assist and advise my successor.

In 2000 I was elected President of the Central Branch of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild. and I was, at first, very pleased to be back amongst ringers again. I tried to play my part by talking to and encouraging young ringers and to help with the administration. Unfortunately the Branch Secretary was an RAF officer who had only been ringing for a very short time and had learned everything there was to know about the subject! Perhaps foolishly I gave up the post after two years. I should have stuck it out for a bit longer.

The first edition having sold out it was a great joy when, in 2000, the Lincoln Minster Shop agreed to publish a second edition of Lincoln Cathedral: A History of the Bells, Bell Ringers and bell ringing. This enabled me to update and greatly enlarge the book which I believe is the most comprehensive book of its kind.

Not entirely realising what a massive undertaking it was I thought it was high time someone attempted to compile a replacement for Thomas North’s Church Bells of the City and County of Lincoln which was published in 1882. George Dawson readily agreed to pass over to me the mass of information which he had and I compiled and edited this to form the basis of Lincolnshire Bells and Bellfounders. I then had to visit a very large number of towers usually with George doing the actual recording but also John Underwood or John Greenhough would accompany me when George was unavailable. As recorded in the book others helped in many ways and it was published at my expense in 2000. It very soon sold out and in 2005 in was decided to published an updated reprint. This at the time of writing is also almost sold out. Annual updates are available for this book and can be uploaded from my web site. I have made provision for someone to take over further editions of this book as I realise this isn’t going to be viable during my lifetime.

Ringing Down

As the result of a request at the 2001 LDG AGM I compiled and edited a tribute to Jack Millhouse which I had bound in leather and presented to the Guild at the 2002 AGM. I also compiled the Lincolnshire section of the National Bells Register.  Early in 2005 I suggested that a Guild Newsletter distributed by email to all towers with ringers would be a good means of facilitating communication throughout the vast area covered by the Diocese. The first Newsletter was distributed after the 2005 AGM and has been produced at quarterly intervals since then. There has been a very good response and a bonus has been that almost all ringers in the Diocese are contactable by email which means that urgent news can be circulated very quickly. The circulation also includes a large number of ringers no longer living in Lincolnshire but who are interested in knowing what is happening in the county.  My Bell Recording website has proved very popular and attracts visitors worldwide. I am at present in the process of arranging for this to be handed over to the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers as I would like to make sure that this website continues after I am no longer able to manage it. I am also hoping that the Campanological Handlist and the Compilation of 18th and 19th century documents relating to Lincoln Cathedral Bells will also be safeguarded in a similar way. At the time of writing I am working on an Index of all compositions published in the Annual Reports of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild.

All in all bells have played a part in my life for around 60 years. Probably the best years from a bell ringing point of view were those in London with Worcester second.

From a bell ringing viewpoint I am not sure whether it was a mistake moving back to Lincolnshire after having been away for so long and having had experience of the high standards achieved in London in particular. I have felt that I never fitted into the Lincolnshire bell ringing scene but the attitude of the Lincoln Cathedral Company may well have affected my judgement here. I certainly had some good and enjoyable ringing with Jack Millhouse and Ian Butters and I couldn’t have wished for a better friend than Bill Holmes. Just recently I have been able to do some ringing on the Branston ‘Pots’ and I am grateful to the Masons for giving me this opportunity, and the other ringers who have supported me.

Throughout my ringing career I have supported the LDG and the ASCY to the best of my ability, and I have tried to put back into ringing all that I have taken out in so much enjoyment.

This Ringing Autobiography continues here.


Links to web site of interest to bell ringers can be found by clicking here

Animated Rounds

Revised: 03/01/2016 (acah)

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional