Barbara Holden (née Gell) had been ill for 18 months before she died on 1st August 2014.

Barbara was born on the 15th September 1947 in the Central Middlesex Hospital, Willesden, the first born to Eileen and Joseph Gell. Her first home was ‘The Cot’, Horton, on the Bucks/Beds border. This was a different world, with tin baths in front of a coal fire, a cold tap and copper in the kitchen, and a toilet in a shed halfway down the garden. In the autumn of 1953 the family moved to the nearby village of Cheddington.

Although the church was half a mile or more from the village it was at the centre of village life. Barbara sang in the choir, learned to ring, taught at the Sunday School, played the organ for some services and went to the youth club. She also joined the tennis club; tennis became a lasting passion. Barbara went to the grammar school in Leighton Buzzard and on leaving school she went to Teacher Training College at Canterbury. By now a lapsed ringer, she was persuaded by two accomplished ringers in her geography set to take it up again.

Barbara remained in Kent for her first teaching post (1969-1972). She was fortunate to arrive in Maidstone when there was a great mix of young and experienced ringers and her ringing career blossomed. She went from ringing plain courses of Bob Doubles to a local band peal of Surprise Royal.

After three very happy years it was time to move on and Barbara moved to Oxfordshire to a teaching post in Carterton. She joined the ringers at Witney where she met Peter Holden, and they were married in 1976. In 1977 Peter gained employment in Cirencester and they moved to South Cerney. Simon and Mary were born and Barbara gave up work and felt privileged to be able to enjoy their early years together. In 1985 the family moved to Cirencester and, following a period of supply teaching, Barbara went back to full time work at the local school, Watermoor.

Barbara loved her job as a teacher. She could recall particular pupils from throughout her career that had made a big impression, usually because of some difficulty that she helped them to overcome. Some of the messages we’ve received since Barbara died confirm what a big impact she had on her pupils.

The family had many happy hours ringing together and visiting churches all over the country, including five years on the Young Bell Ringers’ Cycling Tour. When the children left home Barbara had more time for her two principal hobbies of cycling and ringing, but she also enjoyed sailing holidays to Norfolk, gardening and tune ringing on handbells.

Barbara made a significant contribution to ringing activities in her local area. In 1977 she became secretary of the Cirencester Branch of the Gloucester and Bristol Association; a post she held for 12 years. In 2004 she became a ringing master of the Cirencester Branch, organising courses, teaching bell handling and running the practice at South Cerney.

Barbara always brought a sense of purpose to what she was doing and it rubbed off on people. She was a natural organiser and leader, and this was particularly evident in ringing. There wasn’t much time for chit chat when Barbara was in charge, it was all action focused. Too much time between touches used to drive her mad!

Barbara particularly enjoyed teaching ringing. Her expertise as a teacher combined with her personality and ringing ability meant she was very good at it. So many of us learnt a lot from her, and she was always thinking about how to motivate and support new ringers.

Barbara rang over 650 quarter peals and 43 peals. Her ringing records reflect her increased interest in ringing whilst in Kent, a period of relative quiet with young children to look after and then a long period of ringing quarter peals to support local ringing. In more recent years Barbara also became involved with a regular quarter peal band at Bisley where she enjoyed the challenge of ringing surprise major, working up to a quarter of 23-spliced.

The family also joined the Corinium Cycling Club. Barbara became secretary of the club, a post she held for 6 years. She continued to look after the membership list until her illness. She also helped Peter with Audaxes (long distance cycle events) he organised; she made the cakes!

Barbara could be a formidable character. Known by some as “The Iron Lady”, her approach has often been described as “No nonsense”, and this was the case in family life. She ran the household to time! Punctuality was essential, and Barbara was never late for anything. That is not to say that Barbara wasn’t sociable, she could be, but it was reserved for sociable occasions. Her approach certainly didn’t prevent her from seeing the funny side of things or being light hearted, and it was worth the risk to pull her leg.

There are many other things to mention about Barbara. She was musical, typically playing the piano whilst waiting for everyone else to get ready to go out. She got plenty of practice because she was always ready so early. She enjoyed watching sport, particularly tennis.

She was a keen gardener and enjoyed growing her own fruit and veg. She was a fantastic cook, and Sunday lunches were a real treat, with multiple puddings. She also enjoyed playing games, especially card games and Scrabble. She was an avid fan of Countdown and she did Killer Sudoku every day, as she liked to keep her mind sharp.

Barbara was diagnosed with Cancer in March 2013. How she dealt with illness said a lot about her. She said “I don’t want to fight cancer, I just want to live with it”, and most of the time she was able to. She valued normality and being able to get on with life, whether that meant gardening, ringing, handbells, cooking or just being able to walk into town. Throughout the last year she knew that time was limited, but she didn’t make any radical changes because she wanted to continue the life she knew. She showed those around her the way to respond to her illness.

Barbara was thankful for a fortunate life. She made many lasting friendships in her 66 years, including from primary school, grammar school and college. The worlds of ringing and cycling are renowned for their camaraderie, and during her illness the family were inundated with messages of support, practical help and thoughtful gifts, for which we were very thankful; at times it was overwhelming, but it was a wonderful comfort and support.

Barbara enjoyed life. She’s encouraged us as all to move on, and we take comfort from her wishes and strength of character. She left us with many happy memories.


BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers