Alexander J. Martin 1920 – 2009
Alex (aka Alec) Martin, Vice-President, and past Master, Secretary and Treasurer of the Chester Diocesan Guild and for 50 years Secretary of the Wirral Branch, passed away on 18th January 2009, leaving ringing in Wirral without a well-loved character, and the wider ringing Exercise without one of its few remaining pre-war peal ringers.
Alex’s father was a saddler in Glasgow but the growth of the motor car industry caused him to move south in search of work. The family moved to Rock Ferry, Birkenhead where he found employment excavating the Mersey Tunnel. Sadly, he contracted pneumonia, his subsequent death leading, inevitably, to family hardship. Later Alex won a scholarship to the local high school which was good news except for some family concerns that unwelcome expense was incurred through the necessary purchase of school uniform.
Alex was taught to ring at St Peter’s, Rock Ferry in 1935, being elected to the Chester Guild in April 1936. The St Peter’s band regularly rang 720s for Sunday Service, Alex ringing in 73 of them in 47 different methods, including 41 Surprise. Ringing at Rock Ferry was suspended following war damage so the band, peal boards in hand, moved to Bebington. Later, in 1952, Alex settled at Oxton becoming Tower Captain there in 1959, remaining in that office for the next 48 years and leading the project for the augmentation and re-hanging of the existing 8 bells. This came to fruition, supported by donations from, and the labours of, local ringers, in 1970. In the early 1960s he was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Liverpool University Society (LUSCR) and, in 1966, a member of the Ancient Society of College Youths. He organised trips to ASCY dinners and impressed many with his ringing the 25cwt tenor (Alex could be described as diminutive) at St Botolph, Aldgate to a course of Bristol S Major.
Many stories of his time at Oxton are remembered fondly by local ringers. After Alex had moved to Oxton, practices there started to attract students from Liverpool University. Alex was a great "kitty master" for the post-ringing get-togethers in the pub, ensuring fairness in only allowing one drink per person in the round. However, his practice of always including a cigar for himself did not receive unanimous approval. He also had a somewhat flexible approach to wedding ringing, when the start of the service coincided with mid-afternoon pub closing times. One member of a wedding ringing band would be sent down to the Caernarvon Castle to order the beers just before the 3pm closing time. Those who were too young for the pub had to settle for an ice lolly from the Post Office. Ringers often wondered if the bride noticed that they were ringing only 7 when she arrived, and wanted a refund on the fee.
Alex was a serial office-holder of both the Wirral Branch and the Chester Guild. His first, unofficial, duty was to take the Minutes at a Branch Meeting at Bebington in 1946, when the Secretary was ill. Alex was confirmed as Branch Secretary (Treasurer too) at the AGM the following year. In 1968 he was elected Master of the Chester Guild, a rôle terminated prematurely in 1970 following the sudden death of the incumbent Secretary/Treasurer. Alex volunteered his services here and was to remain in this office until 1979. In 1980, in recognition of his long and much valued service, he was elected Vice President, and became the last surviving of only three lay persons ever to have been so honoured.
A born organiser, Alex encouraged attendance at Branch Meetings, organised car, ’bus and cycle outings, annual dinner and dance events (black tie occasions if you possessed such attire!), and treasure hunts – the list seems endless. For the 75th anniversary of the Guild, in 1962, Alex ensured peals were rung in 9 Wirral towers, far exceeding the couple rung outside the branch. As always, these peals included many ‘first pealers’. Nor was it just in terms of ringing that he made himself heard. One year, at a poorly attended AGM, he was instrumental in raising Guild Subscriptions four-fold. The membership was in uproar demanding an EGM in which heated discussion (it was well-attended this time) led to someone suggesting that half that amount would be sensible. This was seized upon with alacrity and the motion passed. In the Annual Report it was recorded that the amendment had been put by a Wirral Branch member and thus "the Scousers had won the day with ‘Shipyard tactics!’"
Alex was passionate about Bell Restoration Funds. One year he gave a splendid speech (as always) at the Guild Dinner (and subsequently at a Central Council Meeting) advocating his ideas. Although well received these were not acted upon until some time later. He was also a committed ringing teacher. Ringers from all over Wirral were invited to attend his practice nights at St Mary’s Birkenhead which, from the outset, were a great success, and which, together with later peal ringing, ensured that local ringing derived much benefit from his commitment and teaching skills. Some outsiders occasionally taunted him for his peals of Plain Bob Triples, but these were always tailored to the needs of his learners. He called first peals for at least 89 ringers. He continued teaching until he was no longer physically able.
When Alex completed 50 years as Branch Secretary/Treasurer (see RW No.4446, p.704), Wirral ringers presented him with a cheque which he, unselfishly, used to buy a Shield for the Branch 6-Bell Striking Competition. At the handover Alex was still using wax stencils to produce tower notices, though he was justly proud of what the branch had achieved under his leadership. Latterly, at meetings, his inclination to recall in detail the events of bygone years was often at the expense of expediency.
His first Peal (Rock Ferry, 11/4/39) of about 250 was 14-Spliced Surprise Minor, and other notable peals in which he took part included the first peals at both Liverpool Cathedral (Grandsire Cinques, 23/01/65) and at the new Addleshaw Tower of Chester Cathedral (Kent Maximus, 25/06/75). He conducted about 100 peals, including the first of Spliced S Major in Wirral. He rang in a peal of London No.3 Surprise Royal at Oxton to mark his 80th birthday, in September 2000. His last peal was in June 2003, and his last quarter peal in April 2006.
Following retirement his involvement with bell maintenance and refurbishment work extended to a number of Wirral towers, continuing until just short of his 82nd birthday. Although Alex was keen on maintenance, he was less keen about spending tower money, resulting in a certain amount of over-optimism in assessing the durability of bellropes. One ringer, being a bit short on funds, had to walk five miles home when Alex announced after ringing for a wedding that it was a ‘freebie’, as he was retaining the fee for a new rope! The church’s insistence on purchasing ten new ropes recently was endorsed by Alex with some reluctance.
Outside ringing Alex had a successful career in teaching, retiring as Headmaster of Bidston CofE School in the early 1980s. He was also an active Freemason, whilst his churchmanship saw him as Churchwarden at Oxton, member of the PCC, the Church Planned Giving and Finance Committee and the Fabric Committee. In all these he would be a ‘doer’ and not simply a talker.
Alex gave up ringing at St Saviour’s, Oxton, in 2006 no longer able to manage the steep tower steps there. Determined to the end, he returned, albeit briefly, to a former stamping ground at St Andrew’s, Bebington on practice nights.
Having survived two heart attacks some 30 years previously, Alex died in Arrowe Park Hospital on 18th January 2009. He will be missed by many but affectionately remembered, not least for his many anecdotes (‘Alecdotes’?) and side-splitting stories of earlier ringing jaunts. The funeral service at St Saviour’s on 28th January was well attended with over 30 ringers present. Half-muffled ringing before and after the service included a touch of Stedman Caters by an ASCY band. The reception, where professional caterers ensured all were treated to a spread worthy of any Branch Meeting, provided the opportunity for many happy reminiscences.
Alex leaves a sorrowful wife, Min, sons Ian and Christopher, daughter Barbara, 7 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
Compiled from a draft by Will Harrison (taught by Alex in 1964, Oxton tower captain since 2007) substantially supplemented by other ringers.