A memoir

Don learnt to ring at Thornbury, Glos. before moving to Bristol and joining the Cathedral band of ringers in 1960. From the beginning he was accepted as a good ringer and a capable conductor, who fitted in well with the young band which was developing under the leadership of John Hunt.

Don soon became a keen peal ringer and took part in some significant local performances. The ones that immediately come to mind include the first peal of Bristol and the first peal of Spliced Surprise Major on the Cathedral bells. Together with his wife Kathleen he took part in a peal of London S. Major in September 1962 rung by four husbands and their four wives.

In October 1962 Don rang in a peal at St Woolos, Newport which was the first peal of Yorkshire S. Maximus in Wales and in October 1964 he was in the peal of Cambridge S Royal at Bath Abbey, which was the first of Royal and of Surprise on the bells – despite the fact that they were augmented from 8 to 10 as far back as 1774. The last peal I rang with him was one of Stedman Cinques at St Stephen’s, Bristol in January 1983 which was the 50th peal together for Don and Peter Bridle. PealBase gives Don’s total number of peals as 374.

In our early days a ringing outing or peal often involved a rail journey, but in 1962 this changed somewhat when Dr Beeching started to close the GWR branch lines in the West Country. This forced me to buy a car in order to visit my parents and ringing friends in Devon. One of our earliest motoring expeditions was a week’s tower grabbing in Devon and Cornwall whilst Lis and I were still ‘L’ drivers under the guidance of kindly, patient Don who sat in with us as the required qualified supervisor.

From 1973 to 1979 the Exells joined the Baldwins, Bladons, Bowdens, Pipes and Taylors in the families’ summer ringing tours to Cornwall and latterly other coastal counties. The format was ringing in the morning, beach bashing and cliff climbing with the children in the afternoon and a booked evening meal at a local pub.

In the RW of 13th January 1984 p.26 there was an article by Pat Bird entitled ‘Silver Jubilee marked by the golden oldies.’ This referred to a peal of Pudsey S. Major at Bristol Cathedral by past and present members on 18th November 1983 to mark the 25th anniversary of the installation of the bells. Don was due to conduct the peal, but late in the day came the news of the grounding of the RAF VC-10s and Don had to stay on at work that night to help solve the problems. Fortunately a capable substitute conductor was available, but we were sorry that Don had to miss a special occasion.

Don and family moved to Tetbury in 1972 and he became the secretary of the local band. The last time his name appeared in the G&B report was 1989 at which time he left the area and we lost contact with him.

We were sorry to hear of his recent death. May his soul rest in peace.

Richard Bowden

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers