James Maxwell Pemberton of Bromborough, Wirral, latterly Shotwick, was a quiet, unassuming man, not given to temper, indeed a true gentleman. He was dependable too, a faithful supporter of Branch meetings, and never late – though never in a hurry – always ready to ‘go with the flow’, as he used to say.

Max learned to ring at Bidston, likely the reason for his life-time leaning towards 6-bell ringing, where he rang with his brother ‘Banky’ (see The Ringing World, No.4666, p.976). But he did love the bells at Bromborough, which, being a heavy eight, was quite unlike a local very light ring, the sound of which he described as “like running a stick along a fence”. He became a member of the Chester Diocesan Guild in 1948. In 1969, having been Deputy Ringing Master of the Wirral Branch for 2 years, then exchanged places with brother Banky, thus becoming the Ringing Master where he served for some 5 years. At the time of his death he had completed 45 years as a Guild member, this despite a lapse of 18 years. Max’s first peal (of at least 18) was at Bidston in 1948 his last being rung in 1971.

His lapse from ringing came about when he was suffering from a bad shoulder which, at the time, he attributed to ringing. In due course it became evident that this was not the case and he made a much welcome return to the ringing community, although not rejoining the Guild until 2005.

During his 25 years Tower Captaincy at Bromborough he taught literally dozens of people to ring on these less than friendly bells. An absolutely reliable ringer in both his striking and method knowledge (he enjoyed working out touches of methods such as Duffield and spliced Plain & Little Bob), together with his exemplary bell-handling and control, meant he was ideally suited to teaching. He was always patient, even with those others would find irritating, but he would also put people in their place when necessary.

One practice night the Vicar burst into the ringing chamber waving his arms shouting “Stop” Stop! You’ve had a good play twice yesterday [this was Service ringing] and the day before [a wedding]. All this ringing isn’t necessary and you shouldn’t be ringing after nine o’clock!” Some newly arrived neighbours had been on the ‘phone and clearly had wound him up. Max got him in a corner and told him very firmly that ringing is not for fun and requires commitment, dedication and practice, and (as the clock struck) it was only now nine o’clock. Max was nevertheless always perceived as the same friendly character wherever he went, although his family did call him ‘Vicious Max’ on occasions – but this was confined to his ten-pin bowling.

Prior to his marriage with Mary (they celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in July last year), Max had served in the RAF before taking up employment at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (now BNFL), Capenhurst. Following evening studies, he progressed to become a Senior Scientific Officer, completing over 30 years service on his retirement. He was good at DIY, very methodical and somehow never managed to get paint on himself. He turned these skills to good use in making method boards but especially the demonstration model bell with realistic clapper action.

Sadly, as his health deteriorated, ringing became increasingly challenging. He had already ‘transferred’ to Port Sunlight when there were no longer sufficient ringers for service ringing at Bromborough, but even here he was beginning to find the stairs more than he could manage. This took him to Shotwick, a ground floor ring, where his talents were much appreciated by the newly formed band there.

At the Coroner’s Inquest his death was attributed to mesothelioma, ‘an industrial disease contracted during his career at BNFL’. At the funeral service, some 18 local ringers, representing 8 Wirral towers, were in attendance with, additionally, two former Bromborough ringers. At the request of the family, a CD recording of bellringing (Cambridge S Minor from St Vedast, Foster Lane being specially chosen) was played as mourners entered the chapel and again as they left.

Max is survived by his wife, Mary, their children David and Clare, and grandchildren Christopher, Thomas, Kimberly, Nicola and Martin to whom we extend our deepest condolences.

Peter Humphreys

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers