FIFTY YEARS OF GROWTH.
The jubilee celebration of the Winchester Diocesan Guild, which took place at Winchester on July 6th, was a great success, over a hundred members and friends being present. The Guild was established at a meeting at Basingstoke on June 26th, 1879, largely as the outcome of efforts that had been made by the Rev. A. Du Boulay Hill (then of Winchester College and now of Berkhampsted), and the Rev. Canon Madge (Winchester). Both these gentlemen, happily, survive, but a number who were actively associated with them are no longer with us. The diocese at that time was a huge one, taking in the county of Hampshire, a big part of Surrey and the Isle of Wight. Change ringers were few and far between, and the means of intercommunication limited. But the spirit of belfry reform was abroad; the enthusiasts worked unsparingly. Various centres became rallying points, and among the practical ringers who did some wonderful spadework were men whose names should ever remain emblazoned on the records of the Guild, like the late Henry White, the late John W. Whiting, George Williams and others, Mr. Williams having, since his return to the diocese, filled the offices of hon. secretary and Master. Other names which have been prominently associated with the progress of the Guild have been the late Rev. C. E. Matthews as secretary, Master and president, and the Rev. E. W. Carpenter, who was secretary for four years.
The division of the diocese in 1927 led to the towers in the new Guildford Diocese forming their own Guild, but the reorganisation of the remaining territory into the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild has given new life and growth to the old organisation, which to-day is more vigorous than ever. Interest in the jubilee commemoration was shown by ringers throughout the area, and representatives were present at the gathering from the following towers: Basingstoke, Bishopstoke, Blackmoor, Brockenhurst, Christchurch, Fareham, Freshwater, Highclere, Hursley, King’s Somborne, Lymington, Micheldever, Milford-on-Sea, North Stoneham, Portsmouth Cathedral, Portsea, Romsey, Ryde, Sherborne St. John, Southampton, Stockbridge, Swanmore, Tichborne, Titchfield, Twyford, Wickham, Whitchurch, Woolton Hill, Winchester, and Yateley.
Among the visitors were Mr. E. Alex Young, hon. secretary of the Central Council, Mr. E. C. Merrett (Brighton), representing the Sussex County Association, Mr. C. T. Coles, hon. secretary of the Middlesex County Association and London Diocesan Guild, Mr. C. T. W. Coles (Walthamstow), Mr. F. E. Dawe (Woking), Mr. S. Quintin (Newbury), and Mr. G. Bull (Binfield). Canon Madge joined the members at the service, but was not able to attend the tea. The two next oldest members present were Mr. G. Williams, who joined at Soberton in February, 1880, and Dr. Beales, who joined at Weybridge in June, 1880. The twelve bells at the Cathedral and the six at St. Maurice’s Church were rung during the afternoon, and the members then sat down to tea together in the Masonic Hall. Canon Braithwaite presided, supported by the Master (Mr. G. Williams), Rev. N. C. Woods, the hon. secretary (Mr. G. Pullinger), the Rev. Canon Goodman, the Rev. S. M. Watson (St. Maurice, Winchester), the Rev. Harold S. Morris (Twyford), Mr. E. Alexander Young, Mr. J. W. Elkins, Mr. Wilfred Andrews, etc.
After tea, Mr. G. Williams announced apologies from several, including the Rev. B. C. Taylor (Binsted), Rev. F. C. Sear (St. Mary Bourne), the Rev. W. H. Thomas (Romsey), the Rev. Evan Jones (Hedge End), Mr. A. H. Pulling (Guildford), Mr. H. Barton (Ventnor), and others, He also read letters from the Rev. A. D. Hill regretting that, owing to rheumatism, he was unable to be present and conveying his congratulations. He wrote that he was proud to see that the Guild had grown and prospered so well. The Master also read a telegram of greeting, congratulation and good wishes sent by members of the Guildford Diocesan Guild at their annual festival.
Mr. William then went on to say that the Guild was founded on June 26th, 1879; he was elected a member on February 25th, 1880, and was probably the oldest member present that afternoon. There was very little ringing and very few ringers in those days, and one had to run all over Hampshire and Surrey to get enough men to ring a peal. The first peal was rung by the Guild on December 27th, 1881, at S. Nicolas’ Church, Guildford, and was conducted by Stephen Brooker, Of the eight who took part in the peal, Mr. George Sayers, of Ashtead, and Mr. C. Dudley, of Dorking, were the only survivors. The second peal rung by the Guild, and the first in Hampshire, was at Soberton, on January 17th, 1884. That was his first peal, and he was the only survivor. Not till September 24th, 1887, was a peal of Stedman rung by the Guild - the tower was that of St. Peter’s, Fareham; the occasion was the birthday of J. W. Whiting, and the conductor was J. W. Washbrook. The next peal of Stedman was by a resident band on August 26th, 1889, also at St. Peter’s, Fareham. This was the 50th peal by the Guild in a period covering just over ten years. It was only in recent times that peals in more advanced methods had been rung in Hampshire by resident bands. He would like to see more of the enthusiasm of the old days shown by the younger members in turning up for practices and for Sunday service ringing. In this connection, he passed on to them the remarks which he read recently in the annual report of the Sussex County Association, reminding members that ‘their first duty is to maintain the level of service ringing at the highest possible standard, sparing no pains to attain this end by punctual and regular attendance.’ Mr. Williams gave the names of the secretaries of the Guild during the 50 years of its existence as follow: Rev. A. D. Hill, 1879-81; Rev. H. A. Spyers, 1881-90; Rev. R. C. M. Harvey, 1890-96; Rev. C. E. Matthews, 1896-1902; Rev. E. W. Carpenter, 1902-06; Rev. C. W. Scott, 1906-08; Rev. W. E. Colchester, 1908-12; Mr. G. Williams, 1912-19; Rev. Sir John Herschel, 1919-21; Rev. N. C. Woods, 1921-23; Mr. G. Pullinger, 1923 to the present time. The Master concluded by extending a hearty welcome to visitors from other districts.
The Rev. N. C. Woods said he had two messages to give. One was from the Bishop of Portsmouth, their co-president, who rang him up that afternoon to give his very best wishes and blessing to the Guild, and the other was from Canon Robinson, who also sent his very best wishes (applause).
Canon Braithwaite, who was greeted with applause, said they were grateful to Mr. Williams for the information he had given them. It was always interesting to know the history of any society, because they built their future on the history of the past. They saw the great progress that had been made in the ringing in the diocese, and were glad to see such a large number of young men present on that jubilee day. He did not want to make a speech, but in his position as chairman he wished to give a toast - that of ‘Prosperity to the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers.’ He did this with all his heart, and he hoped that the towers visited that day would be pleased with their work, and that they would go on giving more and more advanced touches as they were able, commencing with simpler ringing and going on further and further. He appealed to the younger members to regard the advice Mr. Williams had given with reference to regular and punctual attendances, by which they would learn more and more of the great and beautiful art of bellringing (applause).
Mr. E. A. Young said it was very kind of Mr. Williams to mention him as a visitor. As secretary of the Central Council he felt he was there in a representative capacity, and, on behalf of the great body of bellringers throughout the country, he cordially endorsed all the good wishes that had been expressed by the chairman.
Mr. C. T. Coles (Middlesex Association) warmly congratulated the Winchester Guild - which was one of the first in the country - on its success during the past 50 years. In listening to what had been said about those early days, one could but feel that the Guild met a long-felt want. In congratulating them on the past, he wished them even greater prosperity in the years to come (applause).
Mr. E. C. Merritt (St. Peter’s, Brighton) also expressed the pleasure it gave him to be present, and added his congratulations on the jubilee.
Rev. S. M. Watson and Mr. F. E. Dawe also spoke. The latter endorsed what Mr. Williams had stated as to bellringing in the days when the Guild was started. There was a difficulty in getting practised ringers in those days; he was living in Devonshire at the time and they had to go all the way to Oxford to get a man to make up a peal of Grandsire Triples.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF RINGING SOCIETIES.
The members then attended evensong in the Cathedral, where the Rev. N. C. Woods gave an address from Zechariah xiv. 20, ‘The Bells - Holy unto the Lord.’ He spoke of the first importance of everything which concerned in any way the worship and praise of Almighty God, and said that by no means the least important item was the belfry. He therefore made no apology for addressing them on the subject of bells, bellringers and bellringing on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Winchester Diocesan Guild. ‘Worshippers,’ he said, ‘have, from time immemorial, been summoned to church by the ringing of bells; indeed, the church bells were, for centuries, the only means by which the people knew the time of day. The study of bell lore is an intensely fascinating one. It is so full of romance, and takes us back to early times in a way which cannot fail to hold us enthralled. Who does not know country villages - and, indeed, cities and towns, too - where very ancient customs still prevail in connection with bellringing? What memories bells bring back to us! What associations they have with important events in our lives! As time goes on, and people become less romantic in a utilitarian age, these old customs drop out one by one; but we, in this city, have at least one such ancient custom remaining - that of ringing the curfew at 8 o’clock each night.’
The preacher went on briefly to sketch the evolution of change ringing and the growth of ringing societies from the days of the Scholars of Cheapside, formed in 1603, and the Ancient Society of College Youths, established in 1637. ‘The 18th century and the earlier part of the 19th century,’ he said, ‘are well known as times when matters ecclesiastical were not as we would have them to be, and it is not surprising to read that ringers and ringing were greatly prejudiced in the eyes of the public. However, about half-way through the 19th century things began to improve, and in our own diocese we find our Cathedral ringers being taken in hand by two clergy, one a Minor Canon of this Cathedral, and the other an assistant master at Winchester College, who conducted a practice in No.4, The Close, on December 5th, 1878. In the following year, 1879, we find the same two enthusiasts organising a meeting at Basingstoke on June 26th, at which the Winchester Diocesan Guild of Ringers was actually established. In these early days of the Guild transport was very difficult, and we find that in order to attend a committee meeting at Basingstoke these two men had to walk from Winchester to Micheldever to catch a train to Basingstoke. We also find other members of the Guild walking or bicycling on the old-fashioned high bicycles, all over the diocese, to attend meetings, ring peals, and teach would-be ringers in a way which compels admiration. We even find one early member giving up a good appointment altogether in order to attend a tower to take part in ringing a peal, because his employer would not allow him to leave off for the day! It is a pride and joy to us who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Guild’s foundation to know that the two clergy, who were virtually our founders, are alive to-day - indeed, one of them is actually here this afternoon. It would not be possible to mention by name all those to whom the Guild has reason to be grateful, but I feel that it is only just and proper that the names of Francis Thomas Madge and Arthur Du Boulay Hill should be mentioned, as it is to them we owe the inspiration which brought our Guild into existence; and it was in great part their influence, encouragement and enthusiasm which inspired the early members, and caused the Guild - small at first - to become the flourishing institution it is to-day. In conclusion, I would say to the clergy, “Know your ringers, and appreciate the part they take in the worship of the sanctuary”; and to the ringers I cannot do better than quote the words of their present Master (himself one of the very earliest members of the Guild): “I always make a point of turning up to ring for each service on a Sunday, just in the same way as I go to my daily occupation; and I think it is no less than any incumbent can expect of his ringers, that they should endeavour to attend at least one of the services. If a ringer is a conscientious thinker he will feel it his duty, on principle, to do this.” God, Who has brought us through the first 50 years of our existence, bless and keep our Guild, now and in the future; and of His mercy pardon our shortcomings, and accept what we have done, what we do, and what we hope to do to His honour and glory.’
In the evening the bells of the Cathedral and St. Maurice’s Church were again rung, and parties were made up to visit Bishopstoke, Hursley, North Stoneham, and Twyford, there being a ring of eight at each of these churches.
The Ringing World No. 956, July 19th, 1929, pages 458 to 459