John Sparkes Goldsmith – Founder Secretary

John Sparkes Goldsmith was instrumental in the formation of the Guildford Diocesan Guild in 1927, as well as being the proprietor of The Ringing World, which he founded in March 1911.

Early years

John Sparkes Goldsmith

A member of a long-established family of Southover, Lewes, John Sparkes Goldsmith was born there on 13 January 1878. His grandfather and father successively held the office of parish clerk, and when his father died during Goldsmith’s early boyhood, his mother took over the position. She employed her son to toll the bells for deaths and funerals, and it is recorded that, at the age of 10, he was given special permission for release from Southover Day School for a quarter of an hour on saints’ days to chime the bell for the 11 o’clock service. When he began to learn change ringing he took to it with enthusiasm. The band at Southover was capable of ringing Grandsire Triples, and this was the method for his first peal in 1893 aged 15. He rang three more peals that year, while in the following year he rang in a peal of Stedman Triples, and conducted his first peal.

Progress in ringing
With assistance from the nearby Brighton band, Goldsmith made good progress in ringing and conducting. In 1896 he rang three peals of Superlative Surprise Major, and in 1897 his first of Major as conductor. That year also saw peals of Stedman Caters and Cambridge and London Surprise Major, as well as his 50th peal. Only two years later his 100th peal was scored – London Surprise Major at Arundel. After this, other activities intervened, and although he remained a keen peal ringer, he never rang peals at such a rate again. However, when opportunity occurred he went on peal tours, and on one such tour to Ireland in 1901 he conducted a peal of Superlative at Bray, the first in a Surprise method outside England.

Experience in newspapers
When Goldsmith left school he was apprenticed to his uncle, who owned the East Sussex News. He learned all aspects of producing and printing a newspaper, and developed skills as a reporter. In 1902 he married and shortly after left Lewes to take up an appointment at Woking. In 1903 he took charge of the editorial work of The Woking News and Mail, and soon became manager.

Foundation of The Ringing World
At Woking there were only limited opportunities for ringing, and in the next few years he rang few peals, for lack of opportunity and because he was planning to start The Ringing World. As a journalist, it was clear to him that the old Bell News was not serving the needs of ringers and that there was a need for a new, brighter paper. Early in 1911 he circularised many towers, giving information about his proposed new paper and asking for information on the number of ringers who would be likely to take the new paper. Evidently the response was encouraging, as the first issue of The Ringing World appeared on 24 March 1911.

The paper was an immediate success, with peals being reported promptly and with up-to-date information, and had got itself on a sound financial footing by the start of the First World War. However, a sharp rise in costs and shortage of materials and labour, caused by the war, brought on a crisis in the affairs of the paper. This was an anxious time, and the paper only survived because Goldsmith took on other work, giving lessons in shorthand and typing, and then holding a position in the Woking Food Office. After the war he worked for a time for the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue.

One difference to Bell News was Goldsmith’s use of editorials commenting on matters of interest and trying to mould opinion. Until September 1934 these weekly editorials were written entirely by Goldsmith, but in that month he went on the tour of Australia, being away for four months. During that time he sent back regular reports on the tour and these were subsequently published, with additions, in a book entitled A Great Adventure. The first edition of 1,000 copies sold out very quickly, necessitating a reprint. With his return to England, Goldsmith took up the leader writing again, and there was no break until February 1941, when he was taken ill, which caused another four month break before he resumed. His final leader of the series was published in the issue of 26 December 1941, although he wrote two more in February 1942.

His ringing career
Goldsmith’s achievement in founding and running The Ringing World tends to obscure the fact that he was one of the leading ringers of the day, despite being away from the main centres of ringing, and he rang in a number of notable performances. In 1924 a Cumberland band, including Goldsmith, rang a peal of Stedman Caters at the Imperial Institute in London. In 1927 he took part in the first performance of Law James’ composition of four-spliced Surprise Major at Warnham in Sussex. He also took part in the first 12 bell peal in more than one method (spliced Cambridge and Superlative). In the 1930’s he took part in the first peals in several surprise major methods. His last tower bell peal was Stedman Caters at Great St Mary, Cambridge just before the Second World War, and his last handbell peal was of Bob Major in the crypt of St Martin’s in the Fields in honour of the 80th birthday of W. H. Fussell. His final total was 463, not large but containing many notable peals.

Although little of Goldsmith’s ringing was done in the area in which he lived, he was a major supporter of the Guildford Diocesan Guild from its foundation in 1927, coinciding with the formation of the new Diocese. He was a member of the Organising Committee which canvassed membership of the new Guild, drafted the Guild rules, and organised a preliminary meeting in May 1927 which approved the formation of the new Guild. He subsequently acted as Secretary for 10 years from 1928 to 1938.

Wartime service

When the Second World War broke out Goldsmith was put in charge of the Woking Food Office, a full time job. As a consequence he had to edit The Ringing World by deputy, although still continuing to write articles and make up the paper. He was taken ill in February 1941 and had to have a serious operation, which was successful although his recovery was slow. After making an excellent speech at the College Youths’ luncheon in November 1941 he became ill again. Although he returned to his work at the Food Office he was not the same and had to resign. Another operation was unsuccessful and he died on 1 June 1942.  He was buried in the churchyard of the tiny 12th century church of St Nicholas, Pyrford, near Woking, Surrey, beside his wife who had died in 1938. Despite the war time conditions many ringers travelled long distances to be present, and those who could not do so sent floral tributes.

The church contains just one bell, which most unusually can be chimed by one or both of two ropes hanging down at the back of the church.  Consequently, the church is not well known to ringers, but it was very appropriate that a small gathering of ringers met at Pyrford on Saturday 24th September 2011 to honour the memory of John Goldsmith during the centenary year of The Ringing World.  Representatives of The Ringing World, the Guildford Diocesan Guild, of which JSG was the first Secretary, the Sussex County Association and Southover tower, and St Peter’s, Old Woking, where he rang regularly from 1903, and the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths, of which he was a member, together with several of JSG’s descendants were also present.

Lady Chapel Memorial Bell

Lady Chapel Memorial Bell

The Guildford Guild also donated a memorial bell to Goldsmith in 1947, for the new Cathedral being built on Stag Hill.  This now hangs as a sacring bell in a small turret over the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral.

In 2021, the Guild paid for its fittings to be renovated so that the bell can continue in regular use.