As usual, a capacity gathering filled the large dining hall of the Royal Hotel, Southampton, on May 4, and were treated to the excellent fare and service that annually makes this event so popular. It was with a tinge of sadness that we entertained Dr. S. Faulkner Allison in his final year as Bishop of Winchester; he has always shown a lively interest and given welcome support to the Guild. The principal speaker, Mr. Chris Woolley, is a well-known exponent of hand-bell ringing in its most intricate form, and it was probably a suitable occasion for the traditional handbell ringing that is performed before the speeches to break new ground, in the form of tune ringing. Eighteen members of the 23rd Bournemouth and 4th Christchurch Guide Companies (including Gilian and Catherine Davis) performed superbly upon 36 handbells, controlled, conducted and trained by Arthur V. Davis. Their two special compositions, three traditional airs and three hymns (which had the company quietly humming), drew forth lengthy applause and requests for encores. As Mr. Woolley remarked in his speech: "I wish I could ring handbells like that!".
The Guild master, Mr. Roger Savory, welcomed everyone, congratulated them on their perspicacity in applying for tickets before they were sold out in the first week in January, and commented upon the effervescent good health of the Guild. Earlier, during the evening, Petersfield and Buriton ringers had presented £39 towards the Bell Restoration Fund, as the result of organisation of a coffee morning by Nancy deCombe and Keith Sansom, while Richard Green and his walkers were busily collecting in money for a successful sponsored walk around Portsmouth district. Last July a competition for a new Guild membership badge was inaugurated and the master was able, during the dinner, to present the prize to the winning designer, Mr. A. V. Davis.
Mr. Woolley revived memories of ringing in Hampshire in the more sedate times of the 1930s, when any form of change-ringing was rare and acceptance into a band difficult. He was lucky in that his prep school at Lee-on-Solent employed the Rev. Bankes James as a tutor. Handbell ringing was taught to the boys, and Sunday afternoon walks to Titchfield enabled him to participate in a little tower bell ringing. Few complicated methods were rung; Bristol Surprise had just been deduced by Bankes James and called for the first time by George Williams.
The Bishop thanked the Guild for its good wishes in his retirement and replied to the toast of "The Guild" as president. In his usual lively manner he spoke of his pleasure in hearing the bells in his diocese; when vicar of a parish he had been forbidden to interrupt his bellringers during service ringing, and he had never subsequently dared to ignore this instruction! He did know that a lot of courting went on in towers and supposed that many of those present were married as a result of their ringing activities. In fact bells were rather like bishops - a unifying principle in church life. He was pleased that, in his particular interest, ecumenical unity, bells were found as part of religious life everywhere; even to the "tinkle" found in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The recent demonstration of ringing in the current weeks' TV series of "The Nine Tailors" he thought was excellent publicity and gave an insight of the intricacies of the art to those who knew nothing about bells or bellringing. The extreme example of the latter were those who wrote to him letters of complaint about the disturbance caused. In conclusion, he thanked all present for being disturbers and making the presence of England's churches obvious to all.
The style and delivery of Mr. Geoff Dodd must be unique, and he soon had his listeners convulsed in mirth as he described the reactions of his vicar and of his rural dean to the news that he was to deliver a speech at the Guild dinner. In proposing the toast of "The Visitors" he commented that a guild is judged almost entirely on the way it treats visitors in its activities. A learner is told he will be made welcome in every tower throughout the world, and this is a standard that the Exercise must maintain. As a "squaddie" in the Army, Mr. Dodd was a visitor to Chester, where they loaned him a bike, and to Plymouth, where they bought his beer. Mentioning some of the visitors by name, he reminisced about past ringing occasions and, as a finale, countered the Bishop's quotation from "King Lear" with one taken from "Reveille".
Miss Katherine Maundrell has for so many years been a resident member of the Guild that it is difficult to think of her as a visitor, as she herself commented in her reply to Mr. Dodd. She regretted that she was too young to reminisce about the past, which was probably as well since she understood that a successful speaker must always be a complete contrast to the one before. Her listeners indicated that such indeed was the case! Miss Maundrell commented upon the Bishop's retirement, in view of their existence as neighbours until her father's retirement from the Cathedral took him to the country parish of Icklesham, Sussex. She enlarged upon the Bishop's remarks concerning good publicity and said how pleased she was to be able to sit down in London and read the frequent reports about Guild functions in The Ringing World; it made the W. and P. seem very lively compared with some others. Complimenting the Guild upon its high standard of ringing, she said that she was very aware that her own success in peal ringing was due to the encouragement and help shown to her as a schoolgirl by the many Guild ringers who made her welcome at practices. This was an opportunity to thank everyone for their hospitality.
Although the Bishop excused himself from the informal, remaining section of the evening, after a day spent with a Diocesan Synod and with the Queen Mother visiting Exbury Gardens, the remainder of the gathering rapidly re-coagulated in the room where draught beer was available. In an atmosphere of handbells, clinking glasses, rustling of pages of "Ringers' Diaries", and tales of ringing exploits, the evening quickly passed, as it so often does in good company. Departure to the various corners of the large Guild area were accompanied by the frequent question, "When will you be selling the tickets for the 1975 Dinner?".
D. C. J.
The Ringing World No. 3295, June 21, 1974, page 513