Obituaries

John Richard Senior

1931 - 2012

Tower Captain, St John the Baptist Parish Church, Kirkheaton, Huddersfield

Richard Senior died on the 20th August 2012. He had been increasingly unwell for some time, but, in terms of ringing, seriously out of action only for less than a month.

Not until quite shortly before that had he begun to think actively of finding a successor as Tower Captain at Kirkheaton, but having made no progress with the idea, he was still very much in charge in that post, to the end, and it was only his death that ended a commitment that he had taken on upwards of 60 years before. It was already several years since the church had celebrated his half-century in the post. He was a lifelong member of the church, and his ringing career had begun when the Rector of the time asked him and a friend to think about bell-ringing when their voices were breaking and they had to give up being choirboys.

That was the start of a lifetime’s service of exceptional staying power and commitment. The ringing at Kirkheaton, which was at a low ebb initially, never looked back, and the record is of half a century and more of unbroken consistency and high standards. The consistency was often a struggle, as the numbers in the local band fluctuated and young ringers in whose training countless hours of time had been invested drifted away, but Richard’s priority was at all costs to maintain ringing for two Sunday services and the weekly practice, and regular ringing has never been allowed to lapse. He was equally committed to high standards, and would never allow the band to be satisfied with existing levels of method or striking skills. He was a keen contest ringer, and the Kirkheaton band was a regular winner of striking contests throughout the time of his leadership. Richard was a Life Member of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers, and always played a leading part in the Halifax Archdeaconry Guild, including a number of terms as chairman.

His exacting standards and leadership style paid off in the long term. Although new ringers were never forthcoming in sufficient numbers from the local church, he attracted people who were willing to give the commitment and make the effort, and never gave up on a learner who was willing to keep on trying. The result was a nucleus of a band that was usually just sufficient for reasonable Sunday morning ringing, augmented by a number of ringers from further afield, who were free and keen to come for practice nights and quarter peal attempts on Sunday evenings. It is hard to do justice to the value of such a record of sustained length and quality, but this, and its exceptional nature in an age of general short-termism and unambitious standards in so many areas of life, has become increasingly distinctive and appreciated as part of the life and witness of the local church.

The first Kirkheaton bells were a Whitechapel six, dating from 1818, and Richard had long nurtured a hope that it might become a peal of eight. Bringing this to fruition was the other major feature and achievement of his time as Tower Captain. At a time when this seemed quite unlikely for every imaginable reason, he was convinced that it was possible within the resources of people, skill and finance that were available, and eventually the various elements, including a design that would fit the tower, suitable bells, and the backing of the church council, came together. This led to a major project, by the members of the local team in many hundreds of hours of their spare time, to obtain the materials, build a new frame, dismantle and dispose of the old installation, and install the new frame in the tower. All was done in conjunction with the bellfounders, Taylors, who supplied the design and the bells and undertook the final assembly and hanging. The project, completed in April 1988 (and fully reported in The Ringing World of August 5th 1988), has proved a complete success, and Kirkheaton now has a fine 11cwt eight, which have been put to intensive and very good use in the years since then. It would never have happened but for the vision, leadership and skills of Richard Senior, and is a fitting monument to his long and distinguished record of service. (The six old bells were installed in St Clement’s Church, Sandwich, Kent, in 1990.)

A quarter peal (Oxford Treble Bob Minor with two covers) was rung for evening service on Sunday August 26th to commemorate Richard’s life. The funeral service at Kirkheaton on the 29th was attended by a large congregation of family, members of the local community, and ringing associates from far and wide. The bells were rung – unmuffled, for a ringer, in accordance with local tradition – before the service, and to a quarter peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major afterwards. Despite the sadness and mourning at Richard’s passing, it was a day of many reunions and great celebration and thanksgiving, all united by deep appreciation of a life lived well and to the full, of distinguished achievement, of long and valued relationships, and of the personality and character of a true Yorkshireman.

WILLIAM R. WESTON

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers