A request to write an account of my ‘ringing career’ came as much of a surprise as when the honour of being a Vice President was bestowed more than 12 years ago – this is not just false modesty but as you will see my illustrious companions in this roll are mainly those who have rung multiple peals and served the Guild and the ringing fraternity in many other ways as others continue so to do.
Holy Trinity Bramley is where I was first recruited and taught to ring; at that time there were no links with the Guild and the pinnacle of their repertoire was Grandsire rung by remembering numbers (bobs and singles not possible).
The first record of my name ringing simple rounds and call changes is 1967 which makes 2017 my 50th year !! coincidentally the 275th year since bells were first rung in this tower and a fitting anniversary in which to re hang and ‘rejuvenate’ the light ring of 6. This is a task only made possible by generous financial help from the Guild managing the Brigit Gordon Legacy. When after 1 year of ringing the team fell apart due to a ‘scandal’ it left just two of us with very basic knowledge to recruit and train 12 new ringers a task we undertook after a lapse of 2 years managing as best we could until the Guild came to the rescue putting most of the bad habits and techniques to right.
We now come to the real reason why; my profession is that of a Consulting Civil and Structural engineer and I retired from my practice in 1992 – just before that time a sharp eyed Tim Wellan the then current BRF administrator spotted a bell ringing Structural Engineer with time to help with restoring the ring of 8 in the Gilbert Scott church at Ranmore – it had serious structural problems. This wetted my appetite to do more and with the approaching millennium churches were minded to mark the occasion by restoring, replacing or augmenting to their full potential eg. Alfold had 3 small bells at the top of a 1300’s timber tower that had not been rung for 90 years – they now have a good ring of 6 and more importantly a band of ringers, Compton chimed 3 bells from behind the organ at ground floor and now have a ringing room at first floor and 6 bells rung full circle.
No two towers are the same, each have their own peculiar structural capacities/ idiosyncrasies to be understood; this has been a specialist extension to my structural knowledge that I have found fascinating – I have been involved with at least 10 major bells projects (plus two outside the diocese) working alongside really good project managers and ‘hands on’ BRF administrators. Another interesting project that comes to mind is St Andrews Farnham where a new peal was built into the original lower medieval tower level leaving the high Victorian tower extension with its timber bell frame intact for all to see. Additionally the Churches at East and West Horsley were surveyed and for different reasons deemed to be not feasible but perhaps St Mary Byfleet was the most disappointing as we had designed a ring of 6 and a team was being trained when the finance was withdrawn, hopefully a situation soon to be rectified through Guild activity.
Perhaps another reason why is that in 1995 I was appointed to the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) where for 20 years (until October 2015) I advised on structures generally and had the opportunity to inspect and comment on many more towers and with the bells advisor peruse applications for changes
of various magnitude. My advice to any band planning changes is to consult with the DAC bells advisor at an early stage, it can save a lot of frustration later in a project when permission or a faculty is required.
During my 20 years working alongside clergy I have mostly witnessed cooperation and encouragement but sadly also some clergy seemingly at odds with the bellringers in their church; having a faith is not mandatory but I am sure the problem is due to a total lack of interest or involvement and poor communication from both sides, the ringers treating the church simply as somewhere to practise their art, a great opportunity and asset wasted.
I have great admiration for those who strive to ring all manner and number of peals, the challenge is to those with the necessary ability and dedication to extend their personal limits at the same time improving the standard of change ringing generally. Alternatively, this great tradition of ours would surely die if it were not for the vast number of dedicated ringers just plodding away at lower levels of expertise enjoying the companionship of their associates and declaring to all within earshot that the Christian message remains to be heard.
CSJ January 2017.