Obituaries

William Leslie Weller MBE

Leslie, or as ringers probably better knew him Les, was born in the Sussex village of Itchingfield on 23rd April 1935. His father was tenant farmer of glebe land very close to the church, having inherited it from his father. Not only did his father farm in the village but he was very much involved in the church. This led to Les developing a love of the countryside and also as he grew older becoming himself involved in church life. Especially when a new vicar came to Itchingfield in 1940 with a young family including a son, Chris Godfrey, who would become a life long friend to Les. Chris and Les explored the local countryside together.

Les moved from the village school to study at Collyers Grammar School in Horsham. This had a big impact on him, further instilling the virtues that would stay with him through the rest of his life: Christianity, honesty, tradition but above all self-reliance. What you made of your life was really down to you. Collyers also brought him in to contact with Charlie Hone who subsequently taught Les to ring at Thakeham. At that time the Itchingfield band, which included Les’ father, just rang call changes. Keen to do more Les and other young members, which also included George Francis, ventured to different local towers. A very strong and enthusiastic band was built up at Itchingfield at that time as there were very few other pursuits available in the village.

The band rang some of the earliest peals of spliced Doubles including one on handbells. Les and George then started tower grabbing, the St Christopher’s Guild was formed for this purpose and cycling trips were arranged each year. These would be undertaken on bicycle and in some cases lasted two weeks.

The farthest they managed to get from home was to St Davids. As they all grew up motorbikes and then cars replaced bicycles.

From an early age it appeared that not only did Les develop a love of the countryside and country pursuits but became interested in antiques. This would be where his working life took him. His studies to become a chartered surveyor led to a delay in him carrying out his National Service but when he had completed this he found employment at King and Chasemore in 1959.

By now he was well established as ringer not just in Sussex but beyond, having met Pat Cannon when he had been in the area. The late 1950s and early 1960s were the golden time for Les’ ringing career. He was elected a member of the College Youths in 1955 only to resign after a few years when he came under the influence of Derek Sibson and the Beresfords, subsequently joining the Cumberlands. By now Les was ringing at Billingshurst and was one of those influential in the replacement of the ring of eight bells at that tower. He represented the SCACR on the Central Council from 1963 until 1973 and served as SCACR Treasurer from 1964 until 1969. This was about the time that ringing took more of a back seat in Les’ life with a young family and pressure of work.

He moved from King and Chasemore to work for Sotheby’s first in London and then as managing director of their Sussex office. He also became involved in the work of restoration at Chichester Cathedral, becoming the first chairman of its restoration fund. For all his work in this regard he was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2014. A final house move brought Les to worship at West Grinstead and after having read Simon Jenkin’s appraisal of that church in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches he was spurred into sorting out the points highlighted. This led to the formation of the Friends of St George’s, a society that has done much work on the fabric of the church over the years. He served for many years as churchwarden at West Grinstead being instrumental in making the church a vibrant centre for the community.

A serious accident whilst out horse riding about twenty years ago left Les requiring routine medical treatment and really brought his ringing career to an end, however this did nothing to diminish his interest in ringing. He was very much a man of the country and held traditional views on his church and life in general, he also had a strong Christian faith. He was well known widely across Sussex from the various aspects of his life which were remembered at his funeral service held in a packed church at West Grinstead.

To sum up it was said at his funeral that Les was a person who made you feel valued when he met you and who was always interested in what you had to say.

Prior to the funeral service a quarter peal was rung at West Grinstead by a band made up of resident Sussex members of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths:

West Grinstead, W Sussex. 1320 Cambridge S Minor: Geoff Rix 1, Michael Wake 2, Margaret Oram 3, Alan Baldock 4, Peter Wilkinson 5, David Smith (C) 6.

DAVID KIRKCALDY

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers