1915 - 2012

Doris’s long life was one of service: in her work; in her church life at St Nicholas’ Sevenoaks; and in the world of ringing, she was always a major contributor. She had high standards, and tackled everything she did with a quiet efficiency, usually unobtrusively. A keen, dry sense of humour was never far from the surface.

She was born in Sevenoaks and lived there all her life. Her education was at Lady Bothwell’s School Sevenoaks and Tonbridge Girls’ Grammar School, where she captained the first hockey eleven. She also played cricket for the school and for Sevenoaks Ladies.

Doris began her working life in an advertising company in London, being forced to leave after seven successful years there by difficult travelling conditions at the beginning of World War II. During the war she was a volunteer in the Auxiliary Fire Service, and drove fire engines in the Sevenoaks area. The majority of her career was at Kimpton Brothers in the City of London, where she was personal assistant to the chairman for many years. When retirement age approached, she was asked to continue working because of her value to the company. Doris’s condition for acceptance (which, with typical modesty, she did not think would be met) was that she be provided with a first class season ticket to make her commute more bearable: the offer was accepted with alacrity.

Her service to St Nicholas’ church was a central part of Doris’s life: she was a lifelong worshipper there; a member of the band of ringers from the early 1930s (and still ringing while in her nineties – she rang in the quarter peal celebrating her 90th birthday), and tower secretary for seven decades; for many years she was secretary of the PCC; and, after her delayed retirement, worked in the church office. During the 1980s she coped single-handedly with the parish administration. At the age of 73 she went on a computer course in order to keep up with modern technology in the office. In more recent years she could often be found there doing The Times crossword or playing solitaire on the computer in less busy moments!

As a ringer Doris was outstanding in her generation. She was a first class handler of a heavy bell (at a time when very few ladies even attempted to ring round the back end) and a reliable method ringer who made very few mistakes. She was at home ringing spliced surprise with the leading ringers of her day or helping a band of learners with basic methods. She was also a competent handbell ringer: her first peal was rung on handbells (Plain Bob Major at Whitechapel Bell Foundry on February 10th 1937), followed 10 days later by her first tower bell peal at Hadlow. She rang the tenor at Leicester Cathedral to Stedman Cinques (the first 12-bell peal for the Ladies’ Guild) and turned in Sevenoaks tenor to two peals of Yorkshire Major, one of which was rung non-conducted by an all-female band. In all she rang 529 peals (including 89 of spliced Surprise Major), a fairly modest total by today’s standards, but not inconsiderable for the period in which she was most active, when transport was less easy and ringing opportunities far fewer.

A member of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers since 1934, she served as Tonbridge District secretary from 1953 to 1960 and for many years as Tonbridge District representative on the General Committee. She also belonged to the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths, with whom she rang a number of peals. She was prominent in the Ladies’ Guild, which she joined in 1936. She was Vice-President of the Kent Branch from 1974-84 and Guild Secretary from 1951 until 1970. From 1951 to 1958 she also carried out the duties of Treasurer. She served as President from 1974 to 1976 and in 1981 was elected an Honorary Life Member. She represented the Guild on the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers from 1953 until 1983, when she was elected a Life Member of the Council: an honour bestowed on very few. For a number of years she took minutes of Council meetings and, subsequently, detailed notes for the Editor of The Ringing World which formed the basis of the reports published in that journal.

One glimpse from Doris’s later years provides a perfect summary of her attitude in life: when she decided to give up her house and move into the Sevenoaks Almshouses, she readily volunteered to take on the responsibilities of Deputy Warden. This was at the age of 78, a time when most would be happy to relinquish responsibilities and retire.

When Doris’s death was announced, I received an email from someone who had learnt to ring as a youngster when she was in her heyday, and had subsequently rung many peals with her. "A fine lady indeed", he wrote, "formidable on first acquaintance, but with a heart of gold; upstanding, principled and forthright; an excellent ringer." Amen to that.


Doris Colgate, teacher and inspiration

I didn’t realise how completely satisfying the experience of ringing was till the moment I returned to it after a 25-year gap. As the rope took my hands upwards and I had the familiar twinge of slight apprehension when ringing a new bell (particularly after 25 years’ gap). I heard the voice of Doris at my shoulder ... “pull straight down ... that’s it ... all the way.” My nerves vanished, and the meditative rhythm of the ringing action that is so particularly satisfying took its place. But then the reassuring, voice or image of Doris ringing has always been my model.

Light bells, heavy bells, long, short draught or springy ropes, her assured pull and steady rhythm made any ringing room seem a safe place. She of course is the person who taught me to ring and all that goes with it. A poke in the back ... “stand right up to the bells” ... “slow, quick, quick, slow” ... “I’m odd so I must go in”; mantras that I didn’t fully understand at the time but which came flooding back instantly with the understanding when restarting. And always the “pull right through”.

Personally I loathed my teenage time ... fair enough. Some love it, some hate it. I hated mine. Yet the ringing world was a safe, sane and accepting world. Whilst within the focused, exciting, real world of ringing, people weren’t categorised by any other feature than the answer to “what do you ring” and occasionally a height consideration ... “do you need a box?” I frequently did, but then Doris also often made use of one, ringing tenors with the ease and competence of the master that she was. Only the occasional bend of the knees required for a slight extra pull. Any style I might ever have acquired is certainly due to her.

That then is the inspiration and the debt that I shall always owe to ringing and to Doris Colgate and Dorothy Corke. For it was with these two ringing friends that I had the privilege of being taken to grab towers in Kent, Somerset, York and they (particularly Dorothy) did things in style. We didn’t just take our sandwiches, we travelled complete with washing-up bowl and tea-cloths, plates, knives and flask; and every trip was a wonderful exploration with a touch of classy adrenalin. After all, one doesn’t want to appear too pushy but nor are you going to miss a chance to nail a new scalp. More than once Doris has physically shoved me forward to ring in a crowded ringing room at a meeting, to achieve a ring before speeding to the next tower AND leaving time for our picnic lunch.

One of the many wonderful things I found on returning to ringing is that all of that dedication to teaching, nurturing the young ringers, style, adrenalin and enjoyment is all still there.

As I sat watching our fourth attempt at Bob Doubles this evening at practice all the components of challenge, encouragement and good humour were exactly the same.

And yes the first question I was asked when, flushed and breathless I arrived for the first time at my new tower, was, “what do you ring?”.

St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Kent 1971 - 1979
now of Carhampton nr Minehead, Somerset

See peal report on p.1192 and quarter peal reports on p.1199

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers