The famous Bournemouth handbell band, which began during the war, when tower bell ringing was restricted, was mainly the result of the enthusiasm of Mr. Arthur V. Davis, of Southbourne, Bournemouth. The initial instruction was provided by the late Fred W. Townsend, and from 1940-49 over 100 peals were rung. During this period Arthur Davis had the satisfaction of calling the first handbell peals of Grandsire Doubles, Triples, Caters, Cinques, and also Plain Bob Minor, Major and Royal ever recorded in Bournemouth and district. The peal of which he is most proud is undoubtedly the Grandsire Cinques, rung in St. Peter’s belfry on September 3rd, 1946, as it was the first peal on 12 handbells rung in Hampshire, and first by a resident band for the Guild.
Arthur Davis was born on May 26th, 1900, and lived as a boy for two or three years in East London with his aunt, who was vergeress at the famous Red Church, Bethnal Green. He well remembers hearing the bells of St. Matthew’s every Sunday morning during this time. Later moving to Bournemouth, he won a scholarship to Bournemouth Grammar School in 1912. On leaving school he had a short period in a solicitor’s office in 1917, and was then called up in 1918 to serve in the Hampshire Regiment for 2½ years, being demobbed with the rank of sergeant. He then joined his father in the decorating business, and is now a master decorator in a small way of business.
Arthur began his long association with St. Peter’s, Bournemouth, during the First World War, when he joined the choir as an alto-chorister, a post he held for 40 years. He became interested in other activities, and joined the St. Peter’s servers, and was also elected a member of the Parochial Church Council. This latter appointment was to be succeeded in later years by election to the Rural Decanal Conference, and also the Winchester Diocesan Conference, on which he served for nine years. In 1936 he was appointed, honorary assistant sacristan, and during the second war he was in sole charge of St. Peter’s as verger and sacristan, doing the work in a part time capacity with the help of volunteers.
Arthur learnt to ring at St. Peter’s in 1925, being taught to handle a bell by Stanley E. Andrews, a ringer and chorister, who joined the band on coming to live in Bournemouth from Wisbech, Cambs. His first peal was Bob Major on April 9th, 1928, conducted by Fred G. Cole, who was unfortunately killed during the war, while on a test flight. He scored his first peal as conductor with Grandsire Triples at Poole on December 26th, 1932, and rang his first peal of Cambridge Major at Romsey on November 28th, 1938, conducted by George Williams. During this early period methods practised in Bournemouth and district were mainly Triples, with perhaps some Major at St. John’s, Surrey Road. Double Norwich at a District meeting was a luxury! All Arthur’s early Surprise peals were scored by looking up the blue line, and attempting peals with the Southampton and Portsmouth ringers, and he scored Yorkshire, Bristol and London without previous practice. His present total of peals is about 212, of which half have been rung on handbells, and he has conducted about 50.
In 1935 Arthur was elected captain of St. Peter’s, and was immediately fortunate enough to persuade the new Vicar (then Canon Hedley Burrows, later Dean of Hereford) that some bell restoration was necessary. He was successful beyond his wildest dreams, because the bells were not only rehung in modern fittings, but were all recast, thanks to the generosity of Mr. E. Dennison Taylor himself. During the war, while leading a band of voluntary fire-watchers and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel, under the supervision of the same Vicar (himself a fire officer), Arthur had the satisfaction of saving the bells and tower from destruction by fire on May 23rd, 1943, when the Germans made a severe daylight raid on Bournemouth.
During the three or four years immediately prior to the war. Arthur organised special practices for Surprise ringing, in conjunction with Mrs. Marshallsay, H. A. Mitchell (of St. John’s), W. E. Cheater (Ringwood), F. F. Rigby and others. Several quarter peals were rung, and the first attempt by a local company for a peal of Cambridge Major was lost only after 2½ hours’ ringing. When tower bell ringing was restricted during the war, Arthur, with the co-operation of the Rev. C. A. Phillips and George Preston, organised quarterly meetings between the local Districts of the Salisbury and Winchester Guilds, which were a great success. They were attended by upwards of 50 members, handbell ringing was available, and there was always a service at St. Peter’s, followed by a tea and social in the hall, or in the Rev. C. A. Phillips’ garden during the summer. A tune ringing band was formed and was in great demand to contribute to local concerts and entertainments arranged for the troops. Arthur has given numerous lectures on bells and bellringing to youth groups, clubs and local societies, etc., usually enjoying the help of the handbell ringers to give practical demonstrations and some tunes. With the arrival of Mr. Daniel T. Matkin in Bournemouth, the handbell peal ringing developed even more, into Spliced Plain Major ringing and two record lengths of Grandsire Caters and Bob Royal.
After the war, in company with Mrs. Marshallsay, Rev. C. A. Phillips and Mr. A. F. Martin Stewart as the organising committee, Arthur inaugurated the Bournemouth ringers’ rally and dinner in 1947. This function lasted for nine years, and all of them were most enjoyable, though attendances varied. Perhaps the most successful was during the visit of the Central Council in 1953, when Arthur had the privilege of organising the local arrangements to welcome the Council on behalf of the Guild. He has held the office of peal recorder for the Guild for 10 years, acted as District secretary for the same period, and in 1960 was elected a representative to the Central Council, which he feels to be a great honour and privilege.
Arthur was first married in 1922, and his first wife, Grace, was a great help to him in all his ringing activities. She was his “right-hand man,” especially in organising the rallies, assisting with peal record writing, and District secretarial work. They had two children, who both became ringers, John, who gained his London B.Sc., and is now mathematics master at Bournemouth Grammar School, has two children, and Mary, married and living at Southport, has three in her family, including twin daughters. Unfortunately, Mrs. Grace Davis died in 1955, after a very short and most unexpected illness had required an operation. This was a great loss to Arthur, and he was forced to give up much of his organising work, because of her help. In 1958, Arthur remarried, and he and his wife, Gillian, have a daughter aged two, who is quite used to visiting Christchurch Priory belfry, where her father and mother both ring for Sunday service.
Amongst other activities, Arthur is very keen on amateur dramatics. He was a founder member of the St. Peter’s Players in 1926, one of the leading Bournemouth societies, and was chairman for 12 years. He directed over 40 full length plays for them, and also produced and presented over 25 religious plays for the St. Peter’s Drama Group. These presentations took place in St. Peter’s Church and other churches, and he took the York Nativity play to Hereford Cathedral for two performances in 1953. He is now a vice-president of the society. Arthur has also played cricket for 45 years, and was secretary for most of that time. His first club was the St. Peter’s Cricket Club, which disbanded during the war, and afterwards joined the Old Bournemouthians Cricket Club, now one of the leading clubs in the district. He took over 100 wickets each season for 12 consecutive seasons for the St. Peter’s Club.
During the period that Arthur was captain at St. Peter’s, Bournemouth, a large number of ringers visited the tower, while on holiday. Joining the local company for service ringing and practices, they were usually impressed by the high standard of striking which Arthur insisted upon. In the past he was most happy when teaching beginners, and arranging a peal attempt for a first pealer. Although Arthur is having a lull in teaching and organising activities at present, he is still always willing to help in any way to further the cause of the art.
The Ringing World No. 2642, December 8, 1961, page 822