1926 - 2010

During the course of our lives most of us will meet people who are an inspiration to us. For those of us who ring at Addingham and Ilkley, West Yorkshire, Betty Jackson was, undoubtedly, one such person.

Betty was nearly 60 when she learnt to ring, but succeeded in fitting a lifetime of ringing experiences into the next 24 years. She often said she wished she’d discovered ringing when she was younger, but her friends failed to see how she could possibly have found the time! Most of us who packed St Peter’s Church, Addingham, for her memorial service, had known her for many years, but few went away without some new knowledge of her extensive interests.

Born in Baildon in 1926, she started a science degree course on leaving school, with a view to a future career. However, marriage, and the birth of her son, Nigel, meant that this was never completed, although she did still teach science at a local school by, she claimed, ‘staying one page ahead of the pupils’.

When motherhood and her career meant that she needed to look for help at home, she hired a succession of au pairs, and immediately decided that this was a linguistic opportunity not to be missed. Her French and German skills soon improved, but it was the arrival of a young Spanish girl that made Betty decided to get to grips with a language of which she had no prior knowledge, her determination being ultimately rewarded by a translating diploma from the Institute of Linguists, specialising in scientific Spanish.

At the same time, she had gradually become immersed in the Girl Guide movement and was now rapidly rising up the leadership ladder, such that when the new county of North Yorkshire was formed, she was appointed County Commissioner.

Following a move to Addingham in 1978, she was soon drawn into the life of St Peter’s Church, chiefly through the choir, but she was always eager to become involved with any church group or event and many of these were to benefit over the years from her enthusiastic commitment and legendary culinary skills.

At that time, Addingham bells were not rung regularly, but one of her Guiding friends, who was learning to ring at Ilkley, suggested she might also like to have a go. Betty was now in her late fifties, and she was the very first to admit that she didn’t find this new challenge particularly easy, especially in the early stages. Arriving at an Ilkley practice night towards the end of a Betty handling lesson could be quite a nerve wracking experience, but she found our reaction hugely amusing, and it only made her even more determined to succeed. Which she did – and once the bell handling phase had been mastered, she worked out a game plan that would make up for all those lost years of not ringing. She befriended other late learners and newly retired ringers in the area, and for several years they toured all the local practice nights looking for any, and every, opportunity to ring.

Plain Bob was mastered, her confidence grew and she rang a few quarter peals before moving on to learn Grandsire and her favourite method, Stedman. She recognised that this was going to be a very serious challenge, but with her trusty Steve Coleman book by her bedside and intensive homework, she knew she would succeed. She moved on to Cambridge Minor, and on one or two heady occasions, even attempted a plain course of London. In 1994, aged 67, she was delighted to achieve her long standing ambition of ringing a peal – although she was quite adamant that it was not an experience she intended to repeat!

No opportunity was ever missed for expanding her ringing horizons. Holidays in New Zealand and visits to relations in Vancouver meant she never left home without the necessary contact details for the local ringers. She heard about Bob and Gail Cater’s ringing tours abroad, and was soon signed up to go to South Africa. A few passing comments from myself and my husband about Leeds University past members’ reunion trips were quietly noted, and before long, she and her friends were on their way to first Ireland, and then the Channel Islands, with us.

But her ultimate desire was to see regular ringing again at Addingham, and Betty was prepared to make this happen. She was now nearly 70, and knew she didn’t have the skills to teach bell handling or train a band, but she had the ability to charm, persuade and cajole those who could. As tower captain, she provided the energy and determination to create a completely new band and ensure its continued success, until ill health forced her to retire in February last year – when she was 83! And even then, she was still able, for a while, to rustle up her legendary lemon cake for the ‘service’ break at Addingham weddings.

Her commitment to ringing was only one small part of a long life lived to the full – one in which the desire to give and participate far outweighed any desire for personal glory. She will be remembered by so many people whose lives she touched, but for the ringers at Ilkley and Addingham, she was the ultimate proof that the success of a local band is built more on energy, enthusiasm, co-operation and good humour than the ability to ring multi-spliced methods. We shall never forget her.


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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers