1922 - 2011

Bill was born in 1922 at Downhayes Cottage in Spreyton, Devon, where his father had moved from North Petherwin. He first learnt to handle a bell when he was asked to make a noise for the weekly children’s service at the age of 11. Spreyton was a call change tower and he caused some controversy by standing in for the ringer of the third at a competition and performing so well he became a regular team member at the age of thirteen. He won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Crediton and from there he went up to Cambridge University where he arrived at Queens’ College to read Natural Sciences in 1940.

Upon graduating he was directed into the Agricultural Advisory Service and in 1946 he transferred back to the University first as a demonstrator and then a lecturer in the Department of Agriculture where he remained for the rest of his career. He did not return to ringing until 1948 when the Master of the Cambridge Youths, Harry Martin, having somehow heard of a possible recruit cycled round to persuade him to go to Great St Mary’s; where he made his first excursion into change ringing under the watchful eye of Jim Quinney.

The Cambridge Youths contained some of the best ringers in the district and his progress was rapid, he rang his first peal, which was Plain Bob Major, in 1950 and conducted his first peal, again Plain Bob Major, in 1951. As well as the Cambridge Youths he joined the Ely Diocesan Association (EDA) and the Cambridge University Guild (CUGCR) of which he was the Master in 1951-2. He became General Secretary of the EDA from 1953 to 1959 and during this period was energetic in building up both the Guild and the EDA while leading attempts on new methods for both societies. Notable firsts being in 1959 ringing in the Guild’s first peal on 12 bells and in 1964 its first peal of silent and non-conducted Stedman Cinques. This was part of an ambition to ring peals of Stedman Cinques, Caters, Triples and Doubles all silent and non-conducted – unfortunately he never managed the Doubles.

Regrettably, a serious illness in 1959 meant for a number of years Bill had to rest his eyes in the evening and he had to give up his prolific peal ringing. He didn’t keep a peal book but of the 228 peals he rang for the EDA, 203 were rung between 1950 and 1959. He became President of the University Guild for 1961 to 1989 and Vice President of the EDA in 1965. In these roles he worked tirelessly to improve ringing in local towers by raising and teaching bands and encouraging promising local talent such as local vicar’s son Derek Sibson. He also supported successive Masters of the Guild in a tradition of advancing the Exercise which continues today. In its Centenary year, shortly before his retirement from the Presidency, the Guild celebrated by ringing 13 peals with 12 separate bands on the same day.

In his seventies and early eighties Bill continued to enjoy ringing outings with his family, visits to the annual Guild Week and would still willingly turn out as a helper at an EDA beginners’ training day, until finally his difficulty in standing forced him to give up. In 1988 he had founded a ten bell striking competition for the Societies within and bounding the EDA districts and this became one of his favourite outings. Weather permitting he would sit in the churchyard, puffing on his pipe while following the composition but much more importantly telling stories and keeping up to date with the news from his many ringing friends. It is therefore perhaps very fitting that his last ‘public’ ringing performance was in June 2010 when he presented the Ridgman Trophy to the winning band after an excellent competition on the new bells at Great St Mary’s where his change ringing career began.

TOM RIDGMAN

Bill Ridgman in the Guild

Bill joined the Guild in March 1950, and became Master in 1951-52. He was active immediately both in maintaining the bells at St Andrew the Great, and in steadily improving the standard of ringing. The bells were getting more and more difficult to ring, despite weekly oiling. This was done by the Master and Secretary (there was no Guild Steeplekeeper until about 1957) and who also put back sections of the wheels which fell off from time to time. On a couple of occasions bells jumped out of their bearings, when Bill had to invoke the aid of a member of the Great St Mary’s band to help him put them back.

In the end, this led to the recasting and rehanging of the bells in early 1957. The cost was reduced by preliminary works by Guild members, under the leadership of Bill, particularly in preparing holes for the steel girders and timber floor supports in the tower walls, and mixing and laying concrete pads to support the steelwork.

Meanwhile, during his period as Master, Bill organised peal attempts on practically every Saturday in Full Term, gradually adding methods and taking care to give undergraduates experience in conducting. This complemented the practices and gradually improved the standard of the service ringing. Bill’s membership and contacts with the Cambridge Youths and the EDA helped the building of bridges between Societies, leading for example to EDA peals including up to six CUG members in vacations, sometimes conducted by Peter Border in methods new to the EDA.

During Bill’s 28 years as President of the Guild he never missed the Guild Week in August, indeed that record applied throughout his membership of the Guild until very few years ago, usually for the whole of the week and invariably quietly generous in pubs and cafes. During his Presidency he invariably chaired the small groups deciding on the peal bands, a task which became more difficult as the numbers attending increased, but Bill’s diplomacy never failed. He was nearly always at the weekly practices, usually at St Andrew’s, generally quietly melting away just before the end, and of course he chaired the formal meetings and the annual dinners. Very often he would drive round to join the towers being visited on undergraduate cycle outings. In all of these varied Guild activities his presence was appreciated, perhaps more than he and the Guild members realised.

CHRIS JOHNSON

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers