Obituaries

Dennis Chapman

Based on a tribute delivered at the Service to celebrate the life of Dennis A. Chapman on Thursday, 26th February 2015, at the Church of St John the Apostle, Marchwood, Hampshire, following handbell ringing by Peter Sanderson, Maureen Hanney, David Forder and Alan Elsmore.

Dennis learnt to ring on the glorious Taylor octave at St George’s, Doncaster, one of only a handful of eight-bell towers with a tenor bell weighing over 30cwt. He was somewhat nonplussed in recent years to find out from my son, Tim, through his work on Dove’s Guide that, in fact, it only weighed 29½cwt. He would say “It was like being clean bowled!”.

When big enough he joined the predominantly male band, learning, via Eric Critchley, blue lines of up to 35 Surprise Major methods. Bell ringing in Yorkshire benefited from the input of the Chapman and Sanderson families, and on Sunday, 22nd February eight members of his ‘Yorkshire family’ rang a quarter peal in his memory, conducted by Peter Sanderson and using a composition by Dennis. This added to the many peals and quarter peals rung recently in his memory. In 1949 he had passed the test of scoring a 720 unaided to become a member of the Yorkshire Association, and would later become a member of many other Guilds and Associations, including the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. In the 1980s he and the ‘ex-pats’ in Hampshire used to gather for their annual peal for the Yorkshire Association.

Strangely his first peal, of just three Minor methods, was rung in far away Norfolk as were peals two to eight. Most of us with grey hair, like Dennis, when aged 20 to 21, served Her Majesty by performing National Service – though not by ringing peals with Nolan Golden.

Dennis had four great loves. Second was bell ringing, and for this he was famous, all because of a number, 40,320 changes, “The Extent”. Bell ringers have regarded this as the final frontier, their almost unachievable Everest; but on 7th and 8th April 1761, 14 men rang all these changes, taking 27 hours; and swapping over bell ropes mid-ring. Nowadays, changing over ropes is not regarded as fair play or, as Dennis would put it, “They needed a roller on the pitch”.

On 4th March 1961, Frank Lufkin assembled a group, including Dennis, at Grundisburgh (9-2-24 in G) to attempt 23,111 changes, for practice. Alas this failed after 3½ hours.

On 18th November 1961 they assembled, this time at Loughborough Bell Foundry, to attempt the extent. After 16 hours and 25 minutes a mistake terminated this attempt, after ringing 32,912 changes.

They then heard that another band was also attempting “the extent”, but that their July attempt had also failed, after ringing 32,796 changes. Dennis’s band were ahead – just. They did, temporarily, hold the record for the greatest number of changes rung by eight men.

They met on 10th November 1962, again at Loughborough, and rang 22,064 changes before a mistake terminated the ringing after 10 hours and 57 minutes. As Dennis put it: “Someone bowled a few googlies!”.

Plans were made for another try.

Then, on 28th/29th July 1963, they heard that, led by Bob Smith, another group had achieved the extent, standing for 17 hours and 58 minutes.

Brian Woodruffe, the treble ringer of that successful achievement, has supplied this data. Dennis’s first great love was for Betty. They married at St Mary, Handsworth, Sheffield (12-0-2 in F#) in 1957, where she had learned to ring. Dennis had already commenced work with the CEGB in Canterbury, living with their good friends Mr and Mrs Bert Luck, second grandparents to Helen and Elizabeth. According to Revd David Cawley, their presence in Canterbury District resulted in a noticeable improvement in ringing standards, especially when Dennis became District Ringing Master. They became regular ringers at Canterbury Cathedral, and, in 1965 were both chosen to ring when Queen Elizabeth II arrived on Maundy Thursday to distribute the Dole. Both also received presentation boxes of Maundy Money. Bell ringing was still a male dominated activity, with no ladies participating in Dennis’s first eight peals. Even when I learned to ring in 1952, wives were listed in Guild Reports as though part of the husband’s property, Mrs D. Jackson; Mrs D. Chapman, and so on. The challenge to this attitude expressed itself in women’s emancipation. The equivalent in bell ringing was the establishment of The Ladies’ Guild on 26th October 1912. Betty supported all activities of The Ladies’ Guild and became their very successful, national treasurer. On p.110 of The Ladies’ Guild History can be found a photograph of a very lively Betty, being presented with an engraved, glass bell.

Dennis was always present with Betty at Ladies’ Guild meetings, ringing round the back end, and he probably met more lady ringers than any other male ringer.

In 1966 the family moved to Thornbury in Bristol (18-2-19 in Eb), where they became involved in massive fund raising for the re- hanging of the eight bells. Betty and Dennis were able to offer help to improve local ringing activity at Alveston. One of the band was Mrs Pam Copson, author of the Sherbourne Teaching Scheme and the One-per-Learner book. Bits of Dennis can be found in this famous instruction book. Another bit of Dennis came to the fore on 30th April 1967 when, at St Mary’s, Almondsbury, he called his famous quarter peal of 1287 Grandsire Triples for the first time. His peal ringing increased in number, scoring 52 for the Gloucester and Bristol and 9 for the Bath and Wells.

His third great love was for the inventions of George Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel et c. Those big, coal eating monsters, hissing and spitting steam, running to timetables devised by George Bradshaw and memorised by Dennis. He could tell you the destination, departure time of all that passed along the mainline. An added incentive in Gloucestershire was riding in the engine cab driven by the occasional, friendly bell ringer! This, he said, was better than watching England beating Australia.

The last move, in September 1974, brought them to Marchwood, where Dennis had been promoted as Administrative Officer at Marchwood Power Station.

They became members of the fairly recently re-hung, 1775 ring of six at Eling. Now his peal ringing really took off, although his peal book ends at 88. Dennis rang a total of 352 for the Winchester and Portsmouth Guild, conducting 22. His name appears on many peal boards in Hampshire churches, many peals were with George Evenden and quite a number with Canon Barry Fry. Dennis was also able to offer a supervising hand in Marchwood signal box or in the Military sidings, and there were always the four trains a day to supervise.

The Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in 1977 was marked by special events and much bell ringing. Using the experience of Dennis and Betty, the ringers at St Mary’s, Eling, worked hard to raise funds for the casting of two, lighter bells.

The dedication by the Bishop of Southampton on 13th December 1978 should have been the high point for the ringers. However they still needed to ring the first full peal on the eight bells, seven such peals having been achieved on the 1775 six bells. A national challenge to ring a peal in 1981, sponsored for the Church of England Children’s’ Society ignited the fund raising talents of those found in Eling belfry. Not only was the peal achieved, taking 2 hours and 56 minutes, but the sponsored money raised was greater than from any other band. A photograph of the ringers shows them at the Houses of Parliament, each presented with special, engraved glass bells by the Speaker George Thomas [see The Ringing World No.3663 (10th July 1981), p.606].

Over the next 30 years, Dennis continued to ring peals and quarter peals, being regarded as a safe pair of hands round the back end. His total of peals was 702, conducting 72. The last being a rare one at Eling last November. His was an even safer pair of hands as District Chairman during the centenary. Over the past year or two, with Betty needing more care, apart from practice nights at Eling, his ringing had been limited to some quarter peals on John Dodd’s light 10 at Awbridge. On Friday, 6th February, at Awbridge, in the midst of a quarter peal of Stedman Caters, his favourite method, he set his bell, sat down and left us.

DEREK and RUTH JACKSON

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers