Obituaries

Frederick Nelson Smeaton

15th May 1909 – 7th July 2013

Fred Smeaton is well known to any ringer who has visited Adelaide in the last 15 years. As recently as January this year he was still a regular attender at practices and service ringing to keep the minutes, but he would also call for Double Norwich or Stedman, and have no hesitation in praising good ringing, or criticising when the rhythm was off. When he gave up tower bells at the age of 99, he took up handbells instead, and many a pleasant evening was had with a bottle of Barossa Shiraz and some Bob Minor in hand. We shall miss him dearly, but we also celebrate a full and long life.

Fred was born near Sheffield and lived there until he was five years old. A few weeks before his fifth birthday, his father died. His mother, with three children under five, returned to her parents’ house in Withyham. The War intervened and the children remained with his grandparents while his mother, Emma, would come home every few weeks from her position as a maid.

Ringing played a big part in Fred’s teenage life in the 1920s after his introduction at St Michael & All Angels, Withyham. In his own words:

“I learned to handle a bell when I was about 13 or 14, after the men came back from World War I. My uncle taught me, but when I left home at the age of 17 and soon afterwards came in touch with the ringers in Brighton, where there were two strong bands at the time, my somewhat rustic style was corrected and I was introduced to change ringing. I very quickly learned Grandsire, Stedman and Plain Bob (Triples, Major and Caters) and was properly hooked. At one stage, after I acquired a bicycle, I was ringing at different practices every night of the week as well as weddings (we got five shillings then!), meetings or quarter peals on Saturdays, and service ringing three times on Sundays – if that isn’t a sign of mental illness (or mania) I don’t know what is!”

Fred was elected to the Sussex County Association in 1927 at the age of 17, but it wasn’t until April 1928 that he successfully rang his first peal, Stedman Triples, at St Nicholas, Brighton. There followed an active period of peal ringing around Sussex, with 29 peals of Triples to Royal over the next five years. Of particular note was a peal of Double Norwich especially arranged for his 21st birthday at Brighton, composed and conducted by his mentor, Frank Bennett.

Fred was a bright student from an impoverished background, but thanks to the good offices of Lord Buckhurst at his club, he joined the Midland Bank in Hove in 1925 as a clerk. In 1932 he was transferred to Bexhill-on- Sea and rang at St Peter’s until he was transferred first to Horsham, then Tunbridge Wells and then to Farnborough, Hants in 1937. On 25th March, 1935, Fred was elected a member of the Ancient Society of College Youths prior to the Bankers’ peal at St Olave’s, Hart Street. Unfortunately that peal was not recognised by the Society as another member of the band was not a member of the Society, but both the peal and Fred’s membership stood. Frank Bennett, however, was not impressed, as he had intended to nominate Fred to the Cumberlands! After this, ringing took a back seat, with just six more peals rung between 1936 and 1947.

Fred married Thora, in 1938 at Bexhill, who encouraged Fred’s obsession with ringing though she was not interested herself, and then came World War II. He was reserved until 1941, rejected for Air Crew, and eventually called up for service in the RAF, “where I made the mistake of letting them enrol me in a Group I Trade (wireless mechanic), thereby restricting my chances of promotion and a commission.” He was subsequently posted to the Australian Flying Boat Squadron (461) where he served for 2½ years before being posted to India, where he served out the rest of the war.

By then, Fred and Thora had two small boys, and with things looking grim in the UK, the family joined the ten pound pom migration to South Australia, arriving in Adelaide in November 1949, their immigration sponsored by his former comrades in 461 Squadron, some of whom were originally from Adelaide. Not long after, he found his way to St Peter’s Cathedral and the then struggling band of new ringers after the installation of the bells in 1947.

Fred was a regular member of the band until 1976. He rang just four peals in Australia, the first in 1953 at Walkerville for the Coronation, and three at the Cathedral. In 1963, he rang in the first peal of Major at the Cathedral, with George Pipe conducting from the tenor; the band also including Diana Pipe, Enid Roberts, Bill Pitcher, Brian Cox, Wilfred Robinson and Jack Roper. His last peal in 1975, Stedman Triples, was to welcome the new Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Revd Dr Keith Rayner, and was the first peal for Elizabeth Hill and the first in method for Anne Haskard, Bill Pitcher and David Bleby.

Fred served for many years as bursar of Pulteney Grammar School, before retiring to Aldinga in 1976, about 30 miles south of Adelaide. He would come in to ring occasionally, usually on ANZAC Day, until 1998 when Thora died and he returned to the city. Fred returned to ringing as one of his major pastimes, initially at the Cathedral until concluding that the bells were just too heavy. Thereafter he continued to ring at Walkerville and Prospect, including a quarter peal of 1290 Cambridge Surprise Major for his 90th birthday, and 1344 Double Norwich for his 91st. Although his mind was sharp, his body was increasingly unable to cope with the strain of ringing, and his participation shifted to keeping the minute books up to date. His last attempt in the tower was on a dumbbell in the new Adelaide Ringing Centre in early 2013, which he successfully rang up.

In 2008, handbell practices started in earnest and Fred was an early recruit, driving himself to our house from his apartment, part of an independent living complex, to learn Plain Bob Minor and an occasional course of Grandsire Triples. When he gave up his driver’s licence, several of the ringers, especially Stephanie Harrington and Matthew Ball, rostered themselves to keep Fred part of the ringing community. His 100th birthday was greeted with great acclaim by ringing friends around the world, although Fred claimed that his only real achievement was “keeping on breathing longer than everyone else”. At the 2011 joint dinner of the College Youths and the Cumberlands in Adelaide, he was toasted by the Masters for 75 years of mutually proud membership and recognised as the Senior Member of the College Youths. At 103, his last recorded ringing achievement, 36 Plain Bob Minor at the Queen’s Head, was published in The Ringing World and a calligraphed certificate was duly sent out by George Pipe.

We were fortunate to be able to compile nearly all of Fred’s peal records from the electronic digest of The Ringing World in June, and Fred fondly remembered the names of all of his ringing friends of the 1920s and 30s. With his body becoming increasingly frail, he moved into a nursing home in Walkerville in April. He was frustrated by the environment and would often be found by his visitors on a constitutional, visiting other inmates or halfway down Walkerville Terrace. It was very rare to find him in his room. His last ringing was on handbells, a touch of Bob Minor with Matthew Ball and me, and some rounds on 10 including my young children Charlotte and David. He continued to join us regularly for brunch after Sunday ringing and at the pub on occasion.

Reading this, you might think that Fred was an obsessive ringer with no other interests, but this is far from the case. He and Thora were hard-working parents, supporting sons John and Tim through Pulteney Grammar School and university, both boys achieving their doctorates. Then there were the family camping trips; his popular ANZAC biscuits; badminton; weeding the Aldinga scrub; grape-picking at Pirramimma with Thora to supplement their pension; bird-watching; and his fearless and competent adoption of modern digital communications technology. He enjoyed Angry Birds but he never joined Facebook.

Fred is survived by his sons and their families – John and Jan and their daughter Nikki and granddaughter Siena; and Tim and Carol, their daughter Anna and granddaughter Posy. His daughter-in-law Carol has, in particular, been Fred’s rock since Thora’s death in 1998, quietly and patiently performing the incessant telephone magic that gave Fred his independence until near the end.

On Sunday, 7th July, Fred had a lovely day in the Adelaide Hills with his family. He had a whisky back at Walkerville Residential Care, then dinner. Shortly afterwards, he felt ill and died about an hour later.

The tenors tolled at St Peter’s and St Francis Xavier’s Cathedrals, and at St Cuthbert’s in Prospect. A capacity crowd of Fred’s friends and family celebrated his life on 20th July with a glass or two of Barossa Shiraz. And Double Norwich sounded out from St Peter’s Cathedral to St Mary-le-Bow. We wonder what Fredie would have made of it all.

MATTHEW SORELL
with thanks to Tim Smeaton, Philip Goodyer (College Youths) and David Kirkcaldy (Sussex C.A.)

 


 

Report of the late Fred Smeaton’s first peal – transcribed from p.259 of The Ringing World 27th April 1928

SUSSEX C.A.

BRIGHTON, Sussex, St Nicholas
Thu Apr 19 1928 3h10 (18)
5040 Stedman Triples
Comp. Thurstans’ Four-part

1 Mrs F. I. Hairs
2 Frederick C. J. Turner
3 Fred N. Smeaton
4 Herbert Rann
5 Frank Bennett (C)
6 John Dearlove
7 Keith Hart
8 Ernest G. Higgin

BB BellBoard
CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers