Arthur C. Berry – an appreciation

Having first met Arthur back in 1967, when I was taught to ring at Hampton, our paths frequently crossed attending local practices and supporting the Southern Branch activities – something which continued right through to this last year. He rang in my first peal and we rang together (a total of 94) in his last peal which was for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (he having conducted the same method in the same tower for her Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees).

Whilst I had the privilege of also working alongside Arthur (or Bill as he insisted) over the past 16 years, gaining an insight into the world of craftsmanship with him being an accomplished woodworker, and applying our combined engineering skills in the many church and bell restoration projects he enlisted my help on, his desire to finish a job to the best of his ability never waned despite the usual and at times unexpected glitch that would befall today’s industry. His many bell installations across the Midlands and the South West are testament to this.

Perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to get along with people, whether it be by casual conversation, project management, teaching someone to ring or being part of a team. His quiet encouragement brought about many successful young (and equally as many not so young) ringers in the Vales of Evesham and Pershore – ringers who stick together as a band no matter what their ringing capabilities. He gave back to the ringing fraternity all the benefit he had received in his early days in company with the likes of Albert Grinnell, Arthur Jopp, Joe Johnson, Amy Thomas, Joe Newman, Ralph Perks, Jim Attwood sen., Harold Raxter and Geoff and Gerald Hemming. That underlying spirit of friendship and support he shared with them and shared amongst us, not just locally but nationally, will be sadly missed.

Despite leaving his beloved Pershore and its bells to move to Malvern following his marriage in 1979 he maintained his ringing allegiance to his local roots with Elmley Castle becoming his adopted tower. Almost single-handedly he revitalised ringing there, aided by his longstanding friendships within the immediate village population and the conviviality of The Queens, a place he often took his visiting ringing friends to. Cruelly his illness denied him seeing the Elmley Castle Bell Project come to fruition.

He was one of many ringing characters that have come our way from a rich vein of such in South Worcestershire who have now passed into ringing folklore. I will miss his spontaneity for life as a personal friend, a close working colleague and a fantastic ringing chum. May he rest in peace.



ACB – A view from the boundary by MJU

Roger has compiled the main local tribute for ‘Bill’. These words, penned as a friend from outside that immediate area, are what we might describe as "A view from the boundary," given Bill’s great love of cricket (NB: From here on it will be Arthur!)

I first met Arthur in the ringing room of St Peter’s, Upper Arley in Worcestershire on August 5th, 1964 when he came down from the belfry, spanner in hand, having been trying, with Paul Cattermole, to tighten up the third clapper to enable us to ring a peal. I was in Worcestershire that week with Michael Fellows of Stourbridge, who I already knew through Paul, he having been a regular at Putney during his London University days.

The attempt was stopped half-way when, with the clapper hitting the frame, it became obvious that this early example of Arthur’s engineering skills was not going to work. We were more successful that afternoon, however at Wolverley, scoring a peal to mark the millennium of the granting of the Wolverley charter by King Egbert, the first of 50 peals that I was to ring with Arthur and beginning a period during which, all teenagers together, we enjoyed the adventure of reciprocal visits between London and Worcestershire until – some of us at least – began to quieten down a bit when we got into our twenties. But the friendships have continued to this day. For me the Worcestershire weekends were always the best and went something like this:

Arrangements all made by post. My parents were not "on the phone" at that time (and I don’t think Arthur’s were, either.) His notes to me would all open with "Dear MJ" and close with "Yours ACB". Friday evening – train to Pershore. Picked up by Charlie (Mr Berry, of course, in those days) and taken to 25 Priest Lane where Arthur always gave up his room for me. Pershore practice at which Shirley Drew, sitting on the tenor box, would sort out everybody’s love lives for them. Two peal attempts on the Saturday, quite a few successful! Evening ringing with the Bredon Hill ramblers, a local group who had a Saturday evening practice at the various sixes around Bredon Hill. Back to Pershore. One in the Three Tuns followed by two or three in the Angel with Arthur’s pal George, before fish and chips eaten on the wall of the Roman Catholic Church opposite the Berry’s house. Sunday morning ringing at the Abbey, St Andrew’s and either Tewkesbury Abbey or Worcester Cathedral. (Except that, on one occasion, we went to Gloucester where, over coffee, Leslie Barry confided in us, "I rang a peal of Stedman at Ruardean with Wilfred the other Sunday. They’d been to Painswick on the Saturday and he billeted that Alan Patterson with us – he’s with you at Putney isn’t he? Told us over breakfast that down in London they call him "Mr Wonderful".) A Sunday lunch always of roast beef cooked by Claris (Mrs. Berry), the patient timing having full regard to the strategic importance of getting on time to one of the Comberton’s, or Bredons Norton or wherever the afternoon peal was to be. And finally, Charlie would drop me off, exhausted, in the fruit and vegetable van to catch the 6.25 home from Pershore Station, with bells ringing in my ears. I noticed only recently that the same train still runs but a few minutes later. They were the happiest of times, vividly brought to mind by lines from John Betjeman’s "Pershore Station."

The train at Pershore Station was waiting that Sunday night
Gas light on the platform, in my carriage electric light …
When sudden the waiting stillness shook with the ancient spells
Of an older world than all our worlds in the sound of the Pershore bells
They were ringing them down for evensong in the lighted Abbey near
Sounds which had poured through apple boughs for seven centuries here …

Roger has told us how Arthur began his working life as an apprentice carpenter, going on to become a very skilled craftsman. There is an example of his work in the City of London. After Wilfred Williams’ death in 1986 and a couple of years after the restoration at St Sepulchre’s, Holborn, the ASCY commissioned Arthur to construct a table for the ringing room as a memorial to him. When the table took some time to materialise, the Society got me to discretely ask him when it could expect delivery. "You’d better tell them I haven’t chopped it down yet," was his response. But it did arrive before too much longer and is a very fine example of his work.

Wilfred was also, unexpectedly, involved in Arthur’s election to the College Youths in 1970. I had proposed Arthur for membership and Alan Bagworth was going to second. But before he had a chance to get to his feet, Wilfred was on his, declaring, "Whilst at no time have I got any time for Mr Uphill, I have pleasure in seconding his proposition". Arthur had obviously impressed "himself" at some stage. And rightly so. For, on the end of a rope he performed as skilfully as with plane, lathe or augur. Quietly, with an easy style, good striking, few method mistakes, and calm conductor, calling 124 of more than 600 peals of which 85 were on twelve bells – a quite remarkable record given that his entire ringing life was spent in a rural community and that unlike, for example, the Fellows brothers who became involved at Birmingham, he was never a member of one of the regular 12-bell peal bands. Most of his peals were rung locally with Geoff and Gerald Hemming, the Fellows brothers, Jim Attwood, Roger Hunt, Ian Lloyd, Cliff Skidmore, Geoff Drew and Andrew Evans.

Quite a few of them joined the College Youths and were delighted when the introduction of that society’s peal weekend enabled them to join in and make a south Worcestershire contribution. They were all proud of their membership of the Ancient Society, not least Arthur. When he married Hilary at Pershore Abbey in 1979 he invited eight members of the Society to ring the wedding day peal at the Abbey immediately before the service. The successful peal was, however, credited at his request, to his beloved Worcestershire and Districts Association.

And for several years in the 70s a group of them would travel to London for the CY Dinner, stopping for a kebab at Piccadilly Circus on their way to catch the milk train home. In 1982, Arthur Fellows was elected to the Society and Martin brought him along to the dinner that year. They stayed with me for the weekend. The next time I saw Arthur (Berry) was at the National 12-bell Contest at Evesham. As he walked towards me, hand outstretched, in the churchyard his first words were, "Did the fuhrer have a kebab?"

In May 1985 he noticed that we were both coming up for 500 peals and suggested that we rang it together, which we did, on 11-12 at the Bell Tower, Stedman Cinques conducted by Tudor and, in the band, Chris Mew and Harold Raxter who, had conducted our respective first peals, Arthur’s having been rung a month before mine. I was delighted that he came to Putney exactly 21 years later to take part in my 1,000th.

In more recent years, as Roger has told us, Arthur made the, not too difficult, transition from carpenter to bellhanger. Combinations of both skills now adorn churches and belfries all over Worcestershire, the adjacent counties, and beyond. Each example will be a fitting reminder of Arthur’s craftsmanship.

Purely by chance, on the day after his Thanksgiving Service in Malvern, members of the ASCY were at Kidderminster where a successful peal of Stedman Cinques was dedicated to Arthur’s memory. A peal of bells absolutely transformed from a difficult, pretty tuneless 12 to the fine ring that they now are, not only through being recast by Taylors but also by the craftsmanship of Arthur’s installation.

When viewing the details of the bells, hanging on the ringing room wall behind the trebles the eye is immediately drawn to the very large lettering at the bottom "John Taylor and Co. Bellfounders, Loughborough." But, at the top, just above the inscriptions, is an image of a tiny bell, almost un-noticed, seemingly just part of the decoration. You have to look very closely to see, within that bell, the inscription, "Berry and Co., Malvern."

And that tiny inscription sums up my old friend, Arthur Berry, or Bill as he chose to be called in recent years. Understated, hardly noticed, almost just part of the scenery. But behind all that, quietly in the background, a solid, dependable, straight, honest man, admired I would say without exception by all who knew him and whose loss to those closest to him, his family, his friends and colleagues in and around Worcestershire and beyond, just before his 67th birthday, leaves a void almost impossible to fill.

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