Obituaries

Richard Frederick Bowditch

10th October 1947 – 31st March 2014

Richard was born in Fallingbostal, Germany. His father was in the army and the family moved around for some years but eventually settled in North Wootton.

Richard was 14 when he was part of a group of youngsters from North Wootton who were rounded up by the Revd Simon Riddley to learn to ring. He continued ringing until the age of 18 and also regularly pumped the organ during services at North Wootton church.

He finished school in December 1962 and went to work in the foundry at Sheldons of Wells where he was to serve an apprenticeship. He was pleased to be starting work but had to check in the dictionary to discover what a foundry was. He completed his apprenticeship at the age of 21 having passed his advanced City and Guilds in foundry practice.

At this age Richard took up tug of war. Over the next 24 years he competed in Switzerland, Southern Ireland, Holland and Jersey and his teams won many trophies before Richard felt it was time to retire.

He also competed at power lifting and his strength was remarked on by his peers; especially as he didn’t eat meat.

At the age of 30 Richard started working for himself full time at his foundry at Dulcote where he continued for 35 years until he was forced to retire through ill health. He was very proud to complete 50 working years and stated that he had no regrets about retiring any earlier as he loved his work so much.

Over the years Richard made many incredible things including brass ornaments, ornate handles for windows, a brass cannon that he actually fired, parts for a reproduction vintage car, a commemorative plaque for former manager Bill Shankley on the gates at Liverpool football ground, parts for steam engines and six very large plaques that are now hung on the entrance walls to Wimbledon Tennis club. He also made a Pindaric plaque which was placed in the Olympic stadium for the 2012 Games as commissioned by Boris Johnson, a coat of arms for Prince Charles’ estate and between 1989 and 2013 he cast over 462 bells. The largest bell that he cast was about 2.5cwt and the smallest around 6oz. He cast several mini rings in addition to those he installed in his own garage.

Richard returned to bell ringing when Jackie’s daughter, Lisa, asked him to join the band at Shapwick Church. He never looked back and ringing became a great passion which played a major part in the rest of his life.

In 2002 Richard and Jackie moved into their new home, Great Orchard. Richard was very particular about his requirements for this house, the garage of which had to be at least 20 by 30 feet. He discussed reducing the size of the house as he considered it was too big but quickly changed his mind when the architect indicated that the garage would also need to be made smaller if this was done.

He put his own mark on the house with things he made himself including a large clock and a weather vane. He also cast his own ring of eight bells which were hung in the ‘huge’ garage. These bells have been enjoyed by many ringers as has the hospitality provided by Jackie, including countless cups of tea and slices of cake.

Richard was tower captain at Pilton for many years and enjoyed teaching new ringers. He acted as my Assistant Ringing Master from 2005 until his death. He loved ringing at Wells Cathedral – I remember his joy at successfully completing quarter peals of the Standard Eight Surprise Major methods, and eight-spliced, ringing the 56cwt tenor. I also remember my own panic trying to conduct Superlative whilst being acutely aware that it was only a few weeks before that his appendix had burst!

Richard established a regular quarter peal band from members of the Glaston Branch. When he became too ill to comfortably ring for any length of time on tower bells we were pleased to attempt quarters peals on his very own bells. Our last success was 1250 Yorkshire Surprise Major on 12th February. Richard rang the treble as he felt he would be unable to concentrate on the method.

In February 2013 Richard started suffering shortness of breath and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and fluid around the heart. There were further complications and it wasn’t until August that he was finally diagnosed with lung cancer and given six to nine months. Devastating, especially as he had always been so fit and healthy.

Richard accepted his fate without complaint and stated that he had no regrets in his life. His only fear was that he would be leaving Jackie and he dreaded the day when he wouldn’t be able to ring any more.

There has been much ringing in Richard’s memory, including the following quarters rung in Glaston Branch towers by his friends.

Jackie has asked me to pass on her thanks to everyone who has rung for Richard, sent messages of condolence and/or came to the service of thanksgiving for his life.

BEVERLEY PERRY
Glaston Branch Ringing Master

The above is based on memories of Richard as delivered by Jake Cowling at the service of thanksgiving.


 

Richard Bowditch – The bell founder

I first met Richard in the mid 1980s when my father wanted some decorative castings made for a brass lantern clock which he was making. Having looked up “Mendip Alloys” in the yellow pages, we set off in search of the foundry, and eventually found Richard in the disused power house at Dulcote Quarry. Richard was a skilled foundryman who used sand moulds and floor moulding techniques to produce the most complicated of castings in aluminium, brass, bronze and cast iron. From exhaust manifolds to cast iron guttering, everything he made was produced with finite care and precision.

I remember Richard looking at the casting pattern which my father had made, and immediately recognising it as something which he had made before. He disappeared into the darkness at the back of his workshop and reappeared a few minutes later with a very similar casting pattern. I remember asking Richard if he had ever cast a bell, at which point he grinned and said “not yet, but I fancy having a go”. It turned out that Richard was a lapsed ringer who had recently restarted ringing and trained a band at nearby Pilton. Richard was an excellent heavy bell ringer. He thoroughly enjoyed turning in Wells Cathedral tenor to Sunday afternoon quarter peals. Together we rang over a hundred quarters and a handful of peals.

Richard cast my first bell in 1989, an experiment in Gun Metal (we had no bell metal at the time). I hung the small 7lb bell, with my father’s help, in the garage at home. Richard cast me several more bells and, with the engineering skills of David Marshall (the Midsomer Norton variety), we tuned them to the pitch of an old electric keyboard. My ring increased to five, then six and eventually eight in 1993. The mini-ring was an instant success, and I was asked to build rings for other people. With the help of David Bagley in 1993, we learned how to tune more accurately, and having been offered some scrap bell metal, we cast and tuned several other mini-rings. In 1995 we developed a more regulated set of casting patterns based on thick handbell shapes which produced a more musical and uniform sound and therefore formed the standard for future mini-rings which we produced.

In 1996 I formed my own engineering and bellhanging company, based around the production of mini-rings, school bells, small church bell restoration and maintenance. When new bells were required, I generally assisted Richard with the mould making. Richard then cast the bells and I machined and tuned them.

An interesting project came our way in 1998. We were asked to cast replica medieval bell for St Peter’s Church, Pertwood in Wiltshire. H B Walters described the original Pertwood bell as one of the highlights of his bell hunting career, a beautiful long waisted bell cast in the 13th century, inscribed AVE MARIA +. Following the redundancy of St Peter’s Pertwood, the bell was vested with Salisbury Museum. The Giles Family of Pertwood Manor, purchased and restored the Church to its former glory, however their attempts to restore the original bell to its turret were thwarted, as the church fell outside faculty jurisdiction. Following lengthy negotiations, we were given permission to borrow the Pertwood bell, to enable us to make a replica. With the help of Jonathan Leslie of Lazarus, the upper part of the bell was cast in the lost wax process, with the lower part of the mould being made of sand. The two parts being weighted together. Following successful casting and some careful fettling, the end result was practically identical to the original (apart from lacking 700 years of patina!). Future bell hunters may well be fooled into thinking this bell is the original – however the casting date plus a small inscription was added to the inside! The original and the replica sounded almost identical.

The success of the Pertwood bell led us to consider other replicas. Both Richard and myself always admired the work of Gillett & Johnson, and a chance opportunity came in 2004, when I was commissioned to restore the 1920 G & J chime of eight bells (tenor 2cwt) at Kennerleigh in Devon. Whilst the bells were removed to allow the support steelwork to be replaced, Richard and I studied the profiles of the bells and took impressions of their shapes, to enable us to accurately reproduce the bells in fine detail. Richard cast himself an exact replica of the Kennerleigh octave. I managed to buy an old vertical turning lathe and rapidly, with the help of Bill Hibbert’s tuning software, taught myself to harmonically tune bells. We later hung his new peal in the garage at Great Orchard (the beautiful home which he and Jackie had recently had built). We also produced a set of aluminium patterns to enable us to continue to cast G & J profile bells using a two- part sand mould process (we subsequently extended the range to cover over two octaves).

In all, Richard cast around 470 bells ranging from 6oz through to 21⁄2cwt. Included in this total are seven peals of twelve, ten peals of ten, twenty three octaves and twelve peals of six. Many of these are privately owned, however we did cast a new peal of eight for St John the Baptist, Tolland in Somerset. We also completed church bell augmentations at Egloskerry in Cornwall, Hannington in Hampshire and St Agatha’s Portsmouth.

Together we have cast, tuned and hung bells all over the UK and throughout the world. Our bells can be found in the Republic of Ireland, Germany, France, USA, Canada, the Solomon Islands, Portugal and Spain. The last three large bells which Richard cast were for a clock chime in Thetford, Norfolk. The casting quality of these bells was flawless in every respect.

When Richard told me of his diagnosis, he was adamant that the bellfounding should continue. Shortly afterwards Richard closed the Dulcote foundry and passed the furnaces onto colleague and fellow foundryman Mark Prior who runs a foundry near Yate. The bell patterns and specially made moulding boxes remain in my care. Richard subsequently oversaw the casting of several more bells with Mark and myself, to ensure that bell founding continued as he wished. As I write we have orders for over 30 new bells to be cast this year.

There is little doubt that I owe my career in bellhanging to Richard. His boundless enthusiasm and endless skills were a true inspiration to all who knew him. With Richard’s support, nothing was ever too difficult. His infectious smile will stay with me forever! A true gentleman, friend and colleague who will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace dear friend.

MATTHEW HIGBY

BB BellBoard
CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers