I do hope John Eisel will not mind if I make a minor correction to his appreciation of Jean Sanderson (p.1251). Jean did indeed learn to ring at Norton in 1951, but it was ten years later before I arrived there. My father went into the Anglican ministry in his mid thirties and, following ordination in 1961, served his first curacy in the parish of Norton. With a ring of bells very close by I expressed an interest in learning to ring, but the tower captain sadly died before my tuition had properly got under way. Jean immediately stepped in and continued to teach me, providing as thorough an introduction as any learner could wish.

Norton has a light eight, but only a couple of miles away is the heavy eight at Baldock. Once able to handle a bell confidently I was encouraged to go to practices there, where much of my initial practical change ringing was learnt. Jean introduced me to its theory with remarkable clarity making use of six playing cards placed in a row and interchanging them to represent each successive change! I owe much of my early enthusiasm and progress to the opportunities she provided by taking me to ringing meetings and other events. On first Saturdays of each month the Northern District of the Hertford County Association met, and rarely, if ever, was one of these missed. On third Saturdays it was the Cambridge District of the Ely Diocesan Association; these meetings were usually preceded by a morning trip to Cambridge and a browse round Heffers. On one such occasion Jean (who described herself as a campanological bibliophile) spotted a second edition of Ellacombe’s Practical Remarks on Belfries and Ringers dating from 1861 and containing some interesting manuscript insertions (including the weights of the old ten at St Mary-le-Bow) by a previous owner. With her encouragement I bought it and it remains in my library to this day.

Of Jean’s 420 plus peals I rang in but eight, six of them at Norton; the other two were not surprisingly at Meldreth. The last of those at Norton, in March 1972, I arranged and conducted to enable her to ring the seventh and circle the tower – a very small but sincere ‘thank you’ from learner to teacher.

After moving to North Cheshire in 1974 my meetings with Jean were far less frequent, but we always exchanged news at Christmas time. Ever an avid reader of The Ringing World, she invariably spotted my ringing activities and later those of my son, commenting on them with suitable approbation. My last correspondence with her of substance was in February / March last year, and significantly centred round poetry; a subject, as John noted, of particular interest to her.

Our family visited Norton church on 30th October for the placing of my father’s ashes in the churchyard there. It seems something of a coincidence that my first visit for over thirty-five years to a place Jean and I knew so well, and indeed where she taught me to ring, should be on the day I subsequently learned she had died.

The ringing Exercise will very much miss one of its true characters – Jean’s contribution to it was both considerable and unique. There must be many ringers who, like me, benefitted from her knowledge and enthusiasm, and the infectious way in which she was able to communicate both.


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We first met Jean in 1962 in the ringing chamber of Stow-on-the-Wold parish church, she was on holiday and we were on honeymoon. She was asked whether she would like to ring the 27cwt tenor, an invitation that she accepted with enthusiasm. We had no idea who this larger-than-life character was but she was the sort of person that is not easily forgotten.

Eight years later, after a short spell in Worcestershire, we returned to our native Essex and met Jean again. She was helping the late Barry Couzens of Saffron Walden train bands at the newly restored rings at Ashdon and Hadstock and when they asked for extra assistance we went along to help. Jean and Barry were very close friends and ringing colleagues who both worked tirelessly in training new recruits. Their friendship was brought to an abrupt end by Barry’s untimely death in a road accident in France. This sad event hit Jean very hard but she tried not to show it and carried on the work of teaching on her own.

The long conversations mentioned by John Eisel in his tribute to Jean struck a chord with us. One winter’s evening, after a practice at Ashdon, Jean said that she wanted to speak to us. We suggested going to the pub for a drink with the rest of the ringers, but Jean said, “No, I can’t stay very long”. Over an hour later, getting colder and colder, we were still listening to Jean outside the church! When she finally decided that she really must go, she said, “Well, we could have gone to the pub for that drink after all,” a comment that we had no difficulty in agreeing with! Probably because of her size, she acquired the title of “Auntie Jean” amongst a number of her ringing friends. When visiting a tower with a particularly narrow spiral staircase, someone would say, “Auntie Jean wouldn’t get up here”.

Although it has been a number of years since we saw Jean, we have happy memories of her and know that her many friends will miss her.


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