Mid-Devon Branch Zoom Meetings - June 2020

Thursday 4th June

When the Ladies Joined in – Janet Ritterman

A couple of years ago John Martin brought the Guild certificate record to the Branch AGM. This is a massive book which records all the members who have been presented with a Guild certificate. It was studied with enthusiasm by the members but evoked the question – why no ladies at the beginning and when did they join in? Janet took up these questions and did much research to answer them. She found that it was quite some time before there were any records of ladies ringing but then there was a whole band from Tiverton gained their certificates at the same time. It emerged that they rang mainly as a separate band but eventually merged with the main band at Tiverton.

This led Janet to look into this a bit deeper and she found that the ladies (or women – it became evident that there was a difference!) soon became regular ringers. One of the first was the wife of a Torquay ringer and she was soon showing expertise as a conductor – particularly in Grandsire Triples with the new band formed at Paignton in the 1920s. The aftermath of the second World War and the ban on ringing saw another surge in ladies joining the ranks. Nowadays many bands rely on women to keep the bells ringing.
There was much interest in what Janet had to say and quite a bit of discussion afterwards. Many thanks to Janet for a fascinating evening.


Thursday 18th June

On this occasion we did not have a formal topic but Nigel had suggested that we discuss our own ringing "journeys". How did we get into ringing? What three ringing achievements stood out?

These led to several different ways of entry – the traditional Choir as children leading to the tower in adolescence, family tradition and being persuaded by a ringer that they were dying to have a go! Many of the ringing highlights were first peals but being involved in re hanging of bells was another that was mentioned. Inevitably these experiences led to a discussion about how we should recruit in the future – especially after our enforced layoff. Getting involved with local schools was one suggestion and several said they hoped to pursue this avenue after lock-down. It was also obvious that personal invitations were another important way of recruiting. So altogether a useful evening

Thursday 3 July

St Leonard's Tower Newton Abbot – Peter Bill

This was a very well supported evening with 27 screens in use but several with more than one participant – follow that when we return to ringing!

Peter had prepared a very interesting feature on Newton Abbot and its tower. He started with a potted history of the town and the reason for its name. It was owned by the Abbot of Torre Abbey. He explained its significance as a town both due to its river and road systems and the fact that a market was (and still is) held here every Wednesday.

St Leonard's Chapel with its tower was then discussed and Peter had been able to find some evidence of how the chapel looked before it had been replaced by the new St Leonard's Church. The main reason for its demolition, apart from the fact that it was almost derelict, seems to have been that it was causing a major obstruction of important routes within the town. Many people will not be aware of the fact that the new church still exists. For some years it was an antique centre but soon it will be the Newton Abbot Hub and museum.

Peter then went on to discuss the bells. The distant history was not clear but it was obvious that once the bells came under the care of the town rather than the church they were considered an important part of civic life. Peter's interest in the bells started soon after he became keyholder in the 1980s. He realised that the centenary of the first peal on the bells was due in 1988. A quick check on the inscriptions of the bells showed that they were cast in 1889 – the year after the first peal! How could that be? Checking with the founders – Whitechapel, proved that the date on the bells was correct so – something did not add up! He then spent a long time searching the archives of the local paper and the true story soon emerged. The council had requested nine bells to be rung as a chime but also full circle. The Chime would have a barrel which played a selection of tunes. The work was entrusted to Gillette and Co. of Croydon. Eventually they were opened by a band of ringers from Exeter and there was obvious dissatisfaction with the result – the trebles could barely be heard and the eight bell ringing therefore sounded like bad six bell ringing. A peal was attempted but failed. Work was requested by the foundry and another peal attempted. This one was successful (in 1888) but still the bells were not felt to be up to standard. Eventually Whitechapel Foundry were called in and new bells cast. These were considered ok but the number had been reduced to 8.

So, this was the story behind the anomaly. Peter had written an article about it at the time (for the Ringing World) but he recently spoke to several local ringers who were not aware of it. This talk will now be made into a pamphlet which will be placed locally (and in the Guild Library) to make sure that it is not forgotten again. Again, there was much interest and discussion and all were grateful to Peter for such an interesting topic. We will ring at the Clock Tower with renewed interest. We also trust that suggestions (apparently raised from time to time) that it should be demolished are quashed for ever.

Future topics

Many of the Zoom meetings have started as a suggestion from a Guild Member. If you have any ideas please let us know, even if it is a half-formed thought – we might be able to turn it into something to interest others. It has been clear that quite a number of people that we don't often see at practices and meetings have been joining in. It will be interesting to hear any ideas as to how we can target these ringers once we return – should we continue with occasional talks, either remotely or in person. If you have any thoughts please let us know. We are very keen that the branch should support all ringers.