Another of the brilliant coterie of men of a fast disappearing generation has been called home. Henry Law James, priest, one of the men who have led the thought of the Exercise and influenced the development of the art of ringing for something like forty years, has been gathered to his fathers. His death has come with work still uncompleted, but he has given to ringing the benefit of his great ability in no unsparing measure. There is probably no one with a greater knowledge of the deeper problems of the science than he had. They had been his study for nearly half a century; he revelled in them, and his mathematical mind enabled him to plumb many depths which defied others less gifted. There was no greater authority than he upon method construction and extension, and he, with others, has left a practical legacy to the Exercise in the "Collections of Methods" which have been published by the Central Council.

He has been one of the greatest composers that the Exercise has ever had; not that he produced peals in large numbers. His claim is based on other grounds. He did not compose merely for the sake of "getting" peals; had he done so he could doubtless have produced them by hundreds in all the methods in which this is possible. Like his distinguished contemporary, the late Rev. C. D. P. Davies, his serious work was devoted to some specific end, to obtaining peals with new or hitherto undeveloped properties; or to new features of composition. One of his greatest contributions to this phase of ringing was, perhaps, his exploration of Minor, which made method "splicing" possible. He was the first to show the manner in which a number of Minor methods could be joined up into true extents and by his peal in the four best known Surprise Major methods he extended the scope of "spliced" ringing into a field hitherto un-approached.

There was originality in nearly all that he did - as there is with men of real genius. Not all of his opinions met with popular favour, and some of the views which he put forward were definitely "turned down" by the Exercise, such, for instance, as the assertion which he made some years ago that a peal of real Stedman Triples, Caters or Cinques had not yet been rung. He used to describe the peals in this method which he himself had taken part in as in the "Norwich variation," and while in later years he let the subject drop, he nevertheless, championed it with considerable zeal in the days when he was endeavouring to convert the Exercise to his point of view. He was always dogmatic and unbending in his opinions, and whenever they clashed with conflicting ideas, he was forceful and, to waverers, convincing in argument. But these occasional differences only accentuated his independence of thought and were typical of the originality of effort which marked his work for the Exercise. To his labours for the cause of ringing in other directions reference is made elsewhere, but this much must be said here that, particularly in his younger days and before failing health laid a restraining hand upon him, he stimulated the practical side of ringing wherever he went. In Gloucester, at Cambridge and in Lincolnshire he did more than useful work for the art. The death of Henry Law James is a severe blow to the Lincoln Diocesan Guild, to the Central Council, of which he was a distinguished member, and to the Exercise at large, but the results of his labours will live on.

The Ringing World No. 1090, February 12th, 1932, pages 97 to 98



We greatly regret to record the death of the Rev. Henry Law James, M.A., Vicar of Surfleet, Lincs, and one of the outstanding personalities of the ringing Exercise. Mr. James had been far from robust in health for some time, but his final illness was of short duration. He was confined to the house with a cold for a few days, but on Thursday, January 28th, having arranged a peal attempt, he met his band of ringers at the church, but the ringing lasted only a few minutes, for the Vicar was obviously far from well. He went straight home to bed and stayed there by order of his medical adviser. Up to the morning of Tuesday in last week he appeared to be making good progress, but unfortunately in the evening he took a turn for the worse, and on Wednesday, about midnight, just after his brother, the Rev. E. Bankes James, had arrived, he breathed his last.


Mr. James was 63 years of age, and was born into the Church, His father was Canon George James, Rector of St. Michael's, Gloucester, and his mother the daughter of the Rev. Edward Bankes, Canon of Gloucester, Bristol and Norwich, and Rector of Corfe (Dorset). Educated at Malvern College, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. (honours) in the Natural Science Tripos in 1889, the Rev. H. Law James was at first science master at Stamford Grammar School, and, after being ordained deacon in 1891 and priest in 1892, was assistant curate at St. Martin's, Stamford. From there he went, in 1898, to Surfleet, where he did a wonderful work in the restoration of the church. When he first came there the fabric was in a very dilapidated condition, and the interior fittings consisted of the old high pews and a three-decker pulpit. Mr. James immediately set to work to raise funds for its restoration. The church was reseated, the walls repaired, the tower arch opened out, and the floor of the tower lowered about 4ft. to get to the bottom of the west door. Then followed a new organ, rood screen and loft, new high altar and the repair of the exterior from the east end of the church to the top of the spire. He transformed the building from a state of dilapidation to a beautiful country church.

On one of his early visits he found in the tower a clock about 400 years old and said to the churchwarden, "I am going to make that clock go," and he did. One day it struck 120.

Also in the tower he found five bells, in an old wooden frame, the middle one of which was cracked. This he proceeded to mend himself. He turned the bell upside down, plastered the side up with clay or something similar to hold chemicals, added a few electric wires and left it, paying a visit every few days to see how the cure was proceeding. This, however, was one of his very few failures in life, for the treatment was of no avail, and the bell was eventually recast at the expense of the churchwarden.

A new treble was added for the coronation of King Edward VII. This was hung by the Vicar and his churchwarden, and although at the station at 9 a.m., it was hung in the tower and had been rung to two 720's before 9 p.m. In 1913 Mr. James, at his own expense, added the four trebles, recast the present 6th and tenor; and rehung the whole peal in a new iron frame.


His ringing activities, which had begun early in life, were stimulated and rapidly developed while he was at Cambridge University. Although the University Guild had been founded in 1879, no peal had been rung for it when he arrived on the scene, and, with the later advent of his brother, the Rev. E. Bankes James, rapid progress was made with handbells. On April 28th, 1890, Mr. Law James called the Guild's first peal, Bob Triples, rung "in hand" by the Rev. A. H. F. Boughey, Edward B. James, Henry L. James and C. F. Wedemeyer. It was also the first peal by the Guild's president and Mr. Wedemeyer. A peal of Bob Major, in which the tenors were rung by Mr. (as he then was) C. A. Clements, was the prelude to the first peal of Double Norwich Major ever rung on handbells, which was accomplished for the Guild on February 23rd, 1891. Both these were conducted by H. L. James. He also conducted the first tower bell peal for the Guild, which was rung at Sawston on April 17th, 1894,which, incidentally, was the first peal by, among others, the present Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild (Rev. C. W. O. Jenkyn).

About the time of his coming to Surfleet there were four different ringing associations in Lincolnshire. These he thought would be better amalgamated, so in 1899 he convened a meeting in the Chapter House at Lincoln Cathedral, and the Lincoln Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers was formed. From then until his death he filled the office of Ringing Master, and right well he carried out his duties. He feared no one, and if he had anything to say, he said it. He was loved and respected by every member of the Guild, and they have sustained a loss that can never be replaced.

He was the principal advocate of the scheme for getting the bells at Lincoln Cathedral recast, and afterwards, as a memorial to members of the Diocesan Guild who fell in the war, augmented to twelve, and he called the first peals, Cambridge Maximus and Stedman Cinques, on them. The former was a great performance and a noteworthy achievement for all concerned. Among other peals which were of conspicuous interest were the first (and only) peal of Superlative Surprise Royal, rung at Surfleet, very largely, we believe, to establish a claim to the title for Shipway's method. Mr. James also took part in what was, at the time, believed to be the first peal of Cambridge Surprise Royal, and the first peal of Double Norwich Caters. His peals of Minor included the first peals of seven true 720's in 8, 9 and 14 methods, the last being in Surprise methods and demonstrating for the first time the possibilities of method "splicing."


It is not so much for his peal ringing, however, that the Rev. H. Law James will be remembered as for his work in composition. He was one of the greatest composers the Exercise has ever had. This side of the science appealed specially to his mathematical mind, and he was constantly searching for new avenues of advance. He has given us peals of Grandsire Triples, Stedman Triples (the first seven-part peal ever produced), Caters and Cinques, London and Superlative Surprise Major, Superlative and Cambridge Surprise Royal, Double Norwich and a seven-part peal of Kent Treble Bob Major. Perhaps, however, his greatest contribution of all was his peal in the four Surprise methods - London, Cambridge, Superlative and Bristol - which opened up an entirely new field of Major ringing.

On matters of both ringing and rehanging of bells his advice was sought throughout the whole diocese, Church authorities and Church Councils applying to him where trouble arose. Many a beautiful peal has been rehung following his advice. At Lincoln Cathedral we have a specimen of his practical knowledge. His advice was sought by those in authority and taken in every detail with regard to the twelve bells, bell chamber and belfry. The result one hears when ringing Lincoln bells, for they are one of the best light rings of twelve in the country, and heard everywhere, both inside and outside the tower, to the best advantage. One of his last consultations was over the rehanging of Boston bells. In conjunction with Mr. E. H. Lewis, president of the Central Council, a report was submitted to the Restoration Committee. As a result, an order has been given for a new peal of ten.

The Rev. H. Law James was one of the most distinguished members of the Central Council, on which he represented the Lincoln Diocesan Guild. He served on many of the committees, and for years was one of the members of the Methods Committee, which has been responsible for the publication of the various collections of methods - Minor Methods, published in 1907 and revised and reissued last year; Major and Cater Methods published in 1926. He was still engaged upon work in connection with future publications. Mr. James was also a member of the Standing Committee and the Records Committee.


The story of the Rev. H. L. James' early ringing days, as told by his brother, the Rev. E. Bankes James, will be read with interest:-

"It was in 1878 that the clock bell, Great Peter, was last rung up - for the funeral of Sir John Seymour, Canon of Gloucester - and I well recollect going up the Cathedral tower with my brother to see her raised.

"We were living in the Deanery at that time, and every now and then, when we were having breakfast, he would start up with a cry, 'Oh, there's the Cathedral bells.' Then came a wild rush up to the ringing chamber. He led the way, and I panted far behind. He was then 10 years old, and it must have been about this time that he learnt to handle a bell.

"We both went to Malvern College in September, 1883, and it was the jubilee year, 1887, that really was the opening of his career as a change ringer.

"The old ring of six at the Priory Church, Great Malvern, were to be augmented to eight and rehung. He went to see the six, and wrote an article on them, which he sent to our school paper, 'The Malvernian.' The article that he wrote escaped the notice of the editors, but was sent to the printers, and came out in the paper, much to the surprise of the former. It was then, copied into the Malvern local paper, and his notes on the old mediæval convent bell, which was condemned to be recast, raised such an outcry amongst the local archæologists that a subscription was raised to save the bell, and it still hangs in the old Priory Church tower.

"It was at this time, too, that, he urged my father, until he persuaded him, to start a scheme for the bells of St. Michael's Church in Gloucester, which were increased to eight for the jubilee, and the Society of St. Michael's Juniors was founded on September 8th, 1887.

"He rang his first peal, Grandsire Triples, on Jun 30th, 1888, at Upton St. Leonards, conducted, by W. J. Sevier.

"It was on January 21st, 1898, that he took part in a peal of Cambridge Surprise Royal at St. Mary's, Cheltenham, which we thought at the time, though erroneously, to be the first peal of Cambridge Royal ever rung. At all events it was a most important peal, as it gave new life to the method of Cambridge Surprise. The next day he left us at Gloucester, and came to take up new duties as Vicar of Surfleet.

"He afterwards was in an attempt for a peal of Cambridge Maximus at Cirencester, which failed after ringing 1,000 changes, and that, I believe, was the first time that 12 bells were 'turned in' for Cambridge."

Mr. James, who was a bachelor, was extremely fond of boys, and gave much time and spent much money in his efforts to make the Surfleet Troop of Scouts, of which he was Scoutmaster, one of the most virile in the county. As a young man, Mr. James was a fine athlete, and he was the possessor of several cups won for sprinting. He was also a keen cyclist, and had covered the length and breadth of the country on his pedal machine.


With simple yet dignified ceremony the mortal remains of this devout and revered parish priest were laid to rest in Surfleet churchyard on Saturday. The coffin was carried to the church on Friday afternoon, and was guarded throughout the night and the following day by relays of parishioners and Boy Scouts.

The Rural Dean, Canon B. Nicholas, read the opening sentences of the funeral service, the remainder being taken by Bishop Hine, an old friend of the dead Vicar. After the playing of the Dead March in "Saul," the procession, headed by the choir, proceeded to the grave, which was near the chancel door. Over 600 parishioners and friends gathered in the churchyard to pay their last respects to their beloved Vicar and friend. The hymn, "On the Resurrection Morning," was sung, and then a course of Grandsire Triples was rung on the handbells by Mrs. Rupert Richardson 1-2, Frederick W. Stokes 3-4, Rupert Richardson 5-6, George W. Fletcher 7-8. About 20 clergy were present at the funeral, among them being Rev. G. H. Clark, president of the Elloe Deanery Branch of the Lincoln Guild, and Rev. D. Rowlands, president of the Southern Branch. Among the ringers present, in addition to the members of the Surfleet company, were Mr. G. W. Fletcher, hon. secretary, representing the Central Council, Mr. J. Oldham, of Messrs. John Taylor and Co., Loughborough, Mr. F. W. Stokes, Blankney, secretary of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild, Messrs. G. Ladd, J. Phillips and C. T. H. Bradley, secretaries of the Elloe Deanery, Eastern and Southern Branches of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild, Messrs. J. A. Freeman, H. M. Day and W. E. Clark, Ringing Masters of the Lincoln, Southern and Eastern Branches respectively. Numerous members of the various branches were also present.

Afterwards a muffled peal of Bob Royal was rung at Surfleet Church. A half-muffled peal of Treble Ten was also rung at Rochester Cathedral.

At the Middlesex County Association meeting at Isleworth, on Saturday, the hymn, "Let Saints on Earth," was specially sung at the service, and later a tribute to the late Mr. James was paid by Mr. J. A. Trollope, and the members stood in silence as a mark of respect.

The following is the list of peals rung by the Rev. H. Law James:-

Tower bells.Handbells.Conducted.
Doubles in 4 methods22
Minor in 1 method76
Minor in 2 methods22
Minor in 3 methods11
Minor in 4 methods55
Minor in 5 methods64
Minor in 7 methods77
Minor in 8 methods43
Minor in 9 methods21
Minor in 12 methods11
Minor in 14 methods11
Minor in 16 methods11
Bob Triples212
Bob Major21111
Bob Royal1410
Bob Maximus1
Grandsire Triples1638
Grandsire Caters18110
Grandsire Cinques11
Stedman Triples52417
Stedman Caters148
Stedman Cinques11
Double Norwich Court Bob Major41633
Double Norwich Court Bob Caters1
Double Norwich Court Bob Royal11
Kent Treble Bob Major22218
Kent Treble Bob Royal43
Kent Treble Bob Maximus11
Kent Treble Bob Major (Granta Var.)111
Kent Treble Bob Royal (Granta Var.)11
Cambridge Surprise Major1311
Cambridge Surprise Royal1711
Cambridge Surprise Maximus11
Double Oxford Major33
Little Bob Major4
Little Bob Royal2
Oxford Treble Bob Major43
Oxford Treble Bob Royal11
Surfleet Treble Bob Caters22
Superlative Surprise Major95
Superlative Surprise Royal11
Canterbury Pleasure Triples1
Canterbury Pleasure Major11
Gloucester Surprise Major11
London Surprise Major22
Double Oxford Court Bob Royal11
Double Bob Royal11
Double Bob Major1
Single Norwich Court Bob Major11
Cambridge Court Bob Major2


The Ringing World No. 1090, February 12th, 1932, pages 105 to 106