31st January 1928 – 27th October 2013

John Colin Ashworth – Colin to all who knew him – was born on 31st January 1928 and lived all his life (and indeed died) in the same house, 8 Church Street, Heptonstall; just a stone’s throw from the magnificent ring of eight bells in St Thomas’ church, which he looked after with total dedication for over 50 years.

He was educated at Heptonstall Grammar School and in 1946 he began his National Service, initially at Richmond, North Yorkshire and later at Shoeburyness, Essex. Returning to Heptonstall, he went to work for the Halifax Borough Parks Department, from which he gained a knowledge and interest in all things horticultural which stayed with him throughout his life. A spell working for the family business, Gibson Brothers of Hebden Bridge, followed, assisting first his father and later his uncle, until the business was sold in the mid-1960s. At that point Colin found himself in the fortunate position of not needing to continue working and embarked upon a retirement which lasted for 47 mostly very active and happy years.

Colin first learned to ring, at Heptonstall, immediately after the wartime ban on ringing was lifted. Initially progress was slow. As Colin noted in the personal records he kept meticulously for over 60 years of ringing: “Wilbert Southwell, Arnold Bowe and Jim Firth were my tutors and they were not competent change-ringers. All the old band of ringers were dead or beyond regular ringing. I could only ring a plain course of Grandsire Doubles off by heart for a long time”. In due course he was encouraged to travel to neighbouring towers to gain experience and gradually he made further progress, attending practices at Mytholmroyd and Todmorden. This eventually led to his first peal, rung “at the first attempt” as Colin’s records proudly note, at St Paul’s, Cross Stone, Todmorden on 28th July 1956.

By this time, Colin had developed an interest in visiting other towers and from 1957 he was adding 100 or more new ones to his list each year. This aspect of ringing remained a strong focus for Colin for well over 50 years, each new tower carefully recorded in his note books, often with interesting footnotes:

7th September 1959, East Witton, Yorks (6): “Flies in the dandelion wine offered by vicar’s wife. I would not touch it”.

26th July 1960, Southampton, St Michael (10): “Met Rev KWH Felstead and saw his filing system”.

12th March 1961, New Mill, Yorks (6): “I rang cartwheel Oxford TBM with the locals. They did not know I was an open-lead ringer”.

13th October 1993: Westminster Abbey (10) – a proud moment – “It rained all the way down, but fine in London. Parked near Russell Square underground (£10). 422 miles there and back. Touch of Stedman Caters and a course of Cambridge Royal. Had a drink after with Stan Mason and Jim Prior”.

28th December 1993, Church Brompton, Northants (4): “At the first pull RJP’s (Richard Parker) rope caught on a knob of a motor mower and it was thrown up in the air towards me and JK (Jeffrey Kershaw). It hit me on both legs and took some skin off my right leg below the knee”. But, typically, Colin took it all in his stride and he recorded: “We had a good laugh about it afterwards”.

1998 saw over 60 new towers, including number 5,000, and the pace only slackened after 2002, when the long-cherished ambition of 5,000 towers excluding fours was achieved. Colin’s final total was 5,180, including 5,011 with five or more bells.

Reading these note books tells you a lot about the man: meticulous record-keeping and attention to detail of course, but Colin’s notes, spanning more than 60 years, also give a real insight into other aspects of his personality: the enthusiasm, the camaraderie, the perseverance and commitment to eventually reaching the goal, the respect for tradition and achievement, the keen appreciation of an interesting fact or an amusing episode and, above all, the sheer fun of it all.

Collecting new towers was perhaps the aspect of ringing that Colin most enjoyed, but he was also a very competent and, at various times, very keen peal ringer. After the struggle to progress from plain courses of Grandsire Doubles “by heart” to his first peal in 1956, he rang peals more or less regularly from then until 2000, when he decided not to ring any more as he “might mess things up” (which of course he wouldn’t have done). In all, he rang 356 peals, mostly locally in Yorkshire and Lancashire, including 305 for the Lancashire Association and 70 peals at his home tower, Heptonstall. He was a diligent method ringer, always careful to strike his bell as accurately as possible and he rang peals on all numbers from five to twelve. The list includes Glasgow, Belfast and 62 peals of Spliced S. Major; London and Redcliffe Royal; and Stedman and Cambridge on all numbers, including 22 peals of Cambridge Maximus, his leading individual method.

He was a proud member of the Ancient Society of College Youths and would have achieved 50 years’ membership in 2014. His first peal with the Society, Stedman Triples at Heywood in 1965, has a characteristic Colin footnote in his records: “1 ASCY” in red ink.

Colin was also committed to maintaining and developing local ringing, establishing Tuesday night practices at Heptonstall, from which ringers at all levels have benefitted over many years and also supporting the local Rochdale Branch of the Lancashire Association, regularly attending meetings and serving as Branch Bell- inspector for many years.

Away from ringing, Colin had many other interests, notably shooting, which dated back to the 1950s when he was one of the Founder Members of the Todmorden Gun Club. Over the years he spent many happy hours on the local moors around Hebden Bridge, but as with his ringing, he was also keen to travel, to take up new challenges and develop his skills. In 1998 (aged 70!) he was admitted to the exclusive Woodcock Club of Great Britain. This is a rare and revered achievement in the game shooters’ world and, as might be expected, his certificate was proudly displayed on his living-room wall at 8 Church Street.

Which brings us to the parties. Dating back to the late 1950s Colin was always a strong believer in enjoying the social opportunities offered by ringing (and indeed also by shooting). For 50 years he hosted Christmas and birthday parties for a group of up to 30 ringers and other friends, initially at Higher Greenwood, adjacent to Heptonstall Moor, but from the 1960s onwards at 8 Church Street (or more correctly 8-10 Church Street, as it had become, following Colin’s purchase and conversion of the neighbouring cottage).

The word ‘legendary’ could be applied to various aspects of Colin’s life, but to none more so than the parties. Typically, Colin developed a winning formula and then stuck with it: a barrel (or sometimes two) of real ale, a plentiful supply of wines and other alcoholic refreshment and a four course meal, prepared by Colin himself, with only the minimum of assistance from others, even well into his seventies. The menu varied little: soup, roast pork or beef with all trimmings, trifle at Christmas and a splendid cheese board. Colin never really appreciated the vegetarian way of life and was proud of the fact that a few vegetarians were “cured” after tasting his roast beef or pork. After the meal, traditional pub games were played (no darts, though – our aim wouldn’t have been up to Colin’s standard!) and songs were sung, the words of some of which may well have surprised any late-night passers-by! The trifle deserves special mention: Colin had a stock of trifle sponges at various stages of hardening, the purpose being to maximise their potential for absorption. Many have been the newcomers to the parties who felt that they were coping well with the beer and wine only to be rendered shaky on their feet by the trifle. What they hadn’t appreciated was that Colin had taken the traditional sherry trifle concept on to another level.

And finally the stories. No account of Colin’s life would be complete without reference to his story-telling and his one-liner observations on people and life in general. Over the 30-plus years that I knew him, he always seemed to have a new story (or if not, a good old one) to tell and, like many others, my appreciation of Heptonstall past and present has been greatly enhanced by Colin’s tales. My favourite one-liner has to be Colin’s response to the 11-year-old trainee ringer who arrived for Christmas Day ringing at Heptonstall a few years ago, unable to contain his excitement with the new-fangled wrist-watch he had just received as a present. Eager to tell Colin all about it (and Colin was of course eager to listen), he said; “And the best thing is it will work 100 metres under the sea”. Quick as a flash and with the customary twinkle in his eye, Colin observed: “Ee, that’ll be useful”.

The affection and the esteem in which Colin was held were reflected by the attendance at his funeral on 8th November. Ringers from far and wide, shooting friends and parishioners and neighbours joined Colin’s few remaining family members, for a simple service in Heptonstall church, culminating with the singing of Jerusalem. The bells were of course rung before and after the service and as the coffin left the church, the tenor bell was rung for 85 strokes, as a final tribute before Colin was laid to rest in the family grave, a few feet away from the tower and bells he so dearly loved.


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