1930 - 2012

Norman was born at Exning, near Newmarket, Suffolk on 9th June 1930. During his early years his parents moved to Chichester where they ran a bookshop. Rumour has it that one of his early escapades there (probably in 1947) was to lock the ringers in the bell tower for a prank. Apparently he made the mistake of revisiting the scene of his ‘crime’ and was caught. Wisely he was not chastised for his misdeed but instead taught to ring.

Towards the end of 1948 he began his National Service with the RAF, serving mainly at Middle Wallop in Hampshire and holding the rank of AC/1. Nearly every weekend he hitch- hiked home and served at the Cathedral either as taperer, thurifer or crucifer as well as ringing. More than once he was flown from Middle Wallop to Tangmere and back again by courtesy of a Wing Commander who lived in the same area. In addition to ringing at every opportunity he found time to take up evening classes in English, Geography, Maths and Latin. After he was demobbed he worked for the West Sussex County Council in County Hall, Chichester. From 1952-57 he was Captain of the Cathedral Ringers.

He rang his first peal at Lockerley, Hants on 21st May 1949. Unfortunately his peal records were lost after he lent them to someone who wanted to bring their own peals up to date but died before returning them. They were never recovered. It is known that he rang at least 90 of which he conducted nine. Certainly in the late forties/early fifties he rang many peals, particularly with the late E. Winifred Keys and many other stalwarts of the time. Few of the ringers then had transport other than bicycles. Stories are told of them arriving for a peal soaked to the skin and of the men having to hang up their shirts to dry whilst ringing. Often they made their arrangements for the following week over a cup of tea not having phones at home. Sometimes they walked miles from the nearest station for a peal. Once, when a peal had to be cancelled because of a local illness, six ringers packed into one car and drove to another tower where Norman knocked on the vicarage door to ask for the bells for three hours – successfully.

Norman organised a number of ringing outings, the first being a monster two-week 700- mile trip to St David’s in 1951. Others were to East Anglia in 1952, Cornwall in 1953 and Warwickshire in 1954. The Cornwall trip was hilarious. There were no peals rung but several quarters. A large number of towers were visited, all organised by Charlie Sangwin of Bude.

Norman once mentioned that when he made his first move towards joining the Ministry in about 1954 he went before a CACTM Board whose brief was to assess whether his calling was genuine, and to decide whether he was a suitable candidate. For whatever reason he was turned down. He tried again successfully after a three-year period with the Mission to Seamen served mostly in Rotterdam. He also spent a while at The Mission’s hostel in East India Dock Road, not a very nice area at that time! He spent the following three years at Sarum Theological College. He was ordained Deacon in the Gloucester Diocese in 1960, and Priest in 1961 at Chichester Cathedral having served his first curacy in the parishes of Parkend and Clearwell in the Forest of Dean.

Norman became Curate at West Tarring in West Sussex from 1961-1965 where he helped to run the Church youth club. Some of its members would retire to Norman’s house for supper after Evensong and discuss ‘what would put the world to rights’. They also watched TW3 (That Was The Week That Was) on TV. On one of these evenings a bang was heard from upstairs. On investigation they found a hairbrush and another item on the floor well away from the dressing-table, the windows were shut and everyone had been downstairs. Norman informed them that it was the resident poltergeist. He was also vice-captain of the ringers and one evening asked if anyone would like to learn to be a bellringer. There were six volunteers, one of his recruits being a young teenager by the name of Roy Cox (one wonders whether Norman had learnt from his own experience how to find work for idle hands to do!). Roy remembers the patience Norman showed with the band when they were learning to ring down in peal: ‘Make any correcting adjustments small ones or you will be out of position the opposite way’ and ‘Look after the back stroke and the hand stroke will take care of itself’. He also taught several of the band how to splice a rope. In 1964 he arranged a 5-day trip for the younger Tarring ringers to the Isle of Wight, youth hostelling and ringing. He had been a keen YHA member, at one time becoming a warden at a Forest of Dean hostel.

When re-shingling work was being done on the spire at Tarring Norman asked the steeplejacks if he could go to the top of the spire in the bosun’s chair to take photos of the village. He took other people’s cameras as well as his own. A vast number of the old shingles ended up stored under his staircase for winter fuel which kept his fire burning for three winters! With today’s strict rules neither escapade would have been allowed. During his time at Tarring he also became involved with the Young Wives Drama Group (shortage of men of course). He is still remembered with affection by some of the now not-so- young wives!

Some might find it hard to believe but there were times when Norman could be a bit of a dare-devil. There is a photo of him on top of a tower in Hampshire holding on to its weather vane taking tower-grabbing into a new perspective! Two young ladies who rang with him at Chichester in the 1950s have revealed the following: “We remember Norman particularly because he was such a steady, reliable ringing chap and fun with it and he joined us on some of our eventual cycling ringing tours of Sussex churches. While he is best summed up as being very steady and reliable he stepped out of character once. We were on the roof of the campanile at Chichester having a look at the local worthies going about their business in the streets below when Norman took it upon himself to climb up on to the top of one of the corner pinnacles and stood there for some time, arms up in the air, swaying in the wind, while we nearly had unfortunate accidents. We considered him a much more interesting fellow after that”.

On leaving West Tarring he decided to emigrate to Australia, serving firstly as Assistant Chaplain at the main establishment of Geelong Grammar School at Corio, Victoria from September 1965 until December 1966, and then from January 1967 until May 1968 as Chaplain of Timbertop, its branch in the mountains north-east of Melbourne. He had initially agreed to stay for one term but ended up staying for three years. One of the resident pupils at the time was HRH Prince Charles and Norman would certainly have known him and administered Communion to him. Norman’s Divinity lessons were much enjoyed. He would sometimes take his classes out on to a lawn and tell them about modern saints like Archibald the Arctic and Father Potter of Peckham. Though informal and jolly in his relations with boys and colleagues, he was always dignified in performing the Liturgy – indeed, a model celebrant. He also had connections with Hobart in Tasmania. He made many friends in both places and was well-liked. He stayed in Australia for four years, coming back to Sussex when his parents’ health started to fail. A number of the friends he made have been entertained over here by Norman until quite recently.

When Norman returned to England he became Vicar of Chidham from 1969 until 1994; he retired in 1995. Chidham was not blessed with a ring of bells, just a chime of two. He gradually eased off his ringing and only rang about three more peals after his return to England, the last being in January 1970 conducted by his pupil Roy Cox.

When he retired he took up residence on Hayling Island at ‘Potter’s Paradise’. He produced lots of pottery there but at some stage gave it up. His interests since then have been in his painting, his books, his garden, and cooking. He also regularly visited car boot sales and farmers’ markets and enjoyed coach holidays arranged by his local nursery visiting well- known gardens and houses around the country. Almost every wall in his home was lined with bookcases, all arranged by theme. His garden could certainly be described as well stocked, containing thousands of plants.

After his retirement he did no more parish work in this country but made annual visits to Australia for several months at a time, taking care of parishes as a holiday locum in the Diocese of Wangaratta. One couple he had befriended regularly looked after his car while he was back in England and it is said that there was an Australian couple at his funeral. On one occasion he took on locum work on the island of St Kitts in the West Indies, a venture he chose not to repeat. For the rest of his time at home he took funerals at local crematoria.

One of Norman’s many friends runs a garden ornament business close to Guildford Crematorium. She tells how one day a hearse pulled up outside and out stepped this clerical gentleman. It was Norman on his way back from a funeral. He wanted to buy some garden ornaments. On his next visit he came in his own car and wanted to buy two larger garden ornaments. Could they deliver them to his home at Hayling Island? They duly did and he circle. The plate is displayed in pride of place showed his appreciation by laying on a meal for them when they arrived. They remained good friends from that time on.

Norman’s funeral work brought him into contact with the late Ken Tipper of Petersfield, who in his later years was working as a hearse driver. Ken assisted the Buriton band in those days and encouraged Norman back into regular ringing there, since when he drove up from Hayling Island every week. Norman really enjoyed his ringing, Little Bob and Stedman in particular, and occasionally Cambridge. One thing that he really loved to be part of was catching in Queens at the end of a lower. He would become even more animated when five bells were lowered and caught in ‘Weasels’. He would leave the tower still chuckling. Sadly his last ring was on the last Sunday in May. It had been apparent that his health was deteriorating and the following week he was taken into hospital. Later still he was transferred to a local hospice where he died on 10th July.

Buriton’s bells were rung half-muffled for the funeral service conducted by the Rector of Buriton, the Revd Will Hughes. Chief mourner was Norman’s sister Josephine. Although some of the local ringers unfortunately missed the funeral through holiday commitments, their numbers were augmented by others who had known him for many more years. As the funeral procession moved to the churchyard extension for the committal the bells were rung again, the burial ground being just the other side of the picturesque village pond and well within the sound of the bells Norman loved. The Buriton ringers will miss him greatly. They have always found him a very lovable character with a great sense of humour.

Thanks to Blanche Hunt, Sheila Padley, Frank Lewis, Hazel Dewey, the Revd Peter Blackman, Michael Collins Persse and Roy Cox for their contributions.


This peal at Fairwarp and the following quarter-peals have been rung to Norman’s memory.

Buriton, Hants. 18 Aug, 1260 Doubles (2m): Madeline King 1, Sheila Padley 2, Francis Ensor 3, Ron Vears 4, David Hughes (C) 5, David Hart 6.
Buriton, Hants. 1 Sep, 1260 Doubles (2m): Helene Tipper 1, Di Hart 2, Joy Martin 3, David Hughes 4, Ron Tipper (C) 5, Ron Vears 6. Both rung in affectionate memory of the Revd Norman Jordan Smith.

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers