1937 - 2014

Dennis Hewitt was a quiet person who seemed to keep his many and varied interests separate from each other to the extent that most of his friends had only a brief glimpse of his full life. He was a very modest man, very thorough in everything he did. He seldom talked of his achievements which makes it difficult to pen a full and accurate summary of his life which included bellringing, historical research, walking and visiting places, archaeology, helping the blind and a Christian faith that few knew about.

Dennis was born in Walthamstow in 1937 and lived in the same house all his life apart from the war years when his father evacuated him and his sister Jean, to a farm between Dunmow and Great Bardfield in Essex.

The two children appeared to enjoy the experience for he often mentioned the lady who looked after them and he continued to visit her until she died a few years ago. The freedom of the Essex countryside clearly instilled a love of the outdoors and wild places which paved the way for leading groups of scouts and guides to Snowdonia, the Lakes and Peak District and more. He also explored these areas on his own, recounting one occasion, how he had to shelter overnight against a boulder in the wilds of Dartmoor when caught in bad weather.

At that time, he had his own transport in the form of a succession of motorbikes, some with a sidecar and later a Reliant Robin, which he was able to drive on a motorcycle licence. His means of transport had a tendency to break down – a regular excuse for late or missed ringing engagements!

One or two of his bikes ended up in the front garden whilst he tried to find spares and so did the Reliant Robin, which he parked on the road and sold to a passerby. Unfortunately, he did not have the necessary paperwork and subsequently had to pay a fine for “dumping” it in a neighbouring area. After this, he travelled by public transport or as a passenger in a friends’ car which was when the driver and any other passengers learnt of Dennis’ various interests.

He was educated at a local school and left there in 1952 to start work. During his career in shipping, he was based in the City, East London and latterly, near the Dartford Bridge. He became keen on computers and in the early days of their development he computerised certain functions of his work that were readily accepted by his employers. More recently, he put his expertise to good use helping his friends having problems with their computers and setting up and maintaining several websites.

He was a fine ringer and striker on any bell but will be principally remembered for his unobtrusive turning in of fairly heavy tenor bells with little or no apparent effort. It is thought that he was taught at St Mary’s, Walthamstow in the early 1950s by Fred Maynard and John Boyack after hearing the bells and wandering into the ringing room to find out what was going on. At that time St Mary’s had a good group of teenagers learning and progressing under the guidance of the older stalwarts of the band and this, no doubt, spurred him on.

We do know that he rang his first quarter peal at St Mary’s on 9th January 1955, conducted by John Ketteringham and his first peal at Isleworth on 10th November 1956, conducted by Harold Rogers. In all, he rang 975 peals for various associations and guilds including 409 for the London County and 293 for Essex. He was a regular on Kensington Ringing Weeks and rang with various other London and Essex based bands at different times as he was considered a very reliable and sought after ringer.

He was equally happy ringing Surprise Maximus or Doubles and even rang one peal of Minimus, but only ever conducted one peal. Interestingly, his first and last peals were Kent T.B. Royal, a method seldom pealed these days. Sometime in the late 1990s he realised he could possibly ring 1,000 peals but sadly, his heart attack and subsequent substantial loss of sight prevented this being achieved.

He rang for over 60 years at St Mary’s and for the past 35 years he had been corresponding member and Tower Captain. Since the Millennium he and others have been teaching new learners and he managed to sustain and stimulate the current band that faithfully ring on practice nights and, more importantly, each Sunday morning – something Dennis stressed as being a priority. In spite of increased sight and mobility problems, he was still regularly in attendance and was there on Sunday, March 9th only two days before his death and complimented the team on their ringing. He remained a faithful ringer at St Mary’s right up to the end and his unexpected, non-attendance at a Wednesday practice led to the local ringers going to his home and discovering the sad news from his neighbours.

Although St Mary’s had dual membership of the Essex and Middlesex associations, and was elected to the former in October 1955, he became involved in the London County Association and held various offices from 1958, when he became a Steward, to helping at the dissolution in 2007, serving as Master, Hon. Secretary, Trustee and others at various times.

He kept St Mary’s bells going and was a good supporter of his local Essex district and the local towers and was particularly fond of St Saviour’s, Walthamstow, where for many years he helped to keep those bells ringing. For his services to the Essex Association, he was elected as a Life member in 2004. He was also an active member of the ASCY. And he was a keen member of the Scouts based at St Mary’s church. With his love of the outdoors, he helped to lead many expeditions in the British countryside.

Sadly, Dennis was unable to complete his definitive research into the history of the bells at St Mary’s but a good transcript survives. It is hoped that will be completed as fully as possible and presented to the local historical society and published in his memory.

In recent years, he became concerned about the state of the St Mary’s bells and organised professional inspections of the bells, frame and fittings and obtained quotations for their restoration. An appeal fund has been set up and all donations in his memory towards this restoration would be very welcome. The local ringers hope that these donations will pay for the recasting of a new treble in Dennis’ name – a suitable memorial to a long and faithful servant of ringing at St Mary’s Walthamstow.

On behalf of St Mary’s ringers

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers